(courtesy orlandosentinel,com)

“The woman was asleep in her bed and thought she heard an intruder enter the house,” orlandosentinel.com reports. “She told police she heard the person quickly approaching her, so she fired a single shot. She then discovered the person was her daughter.” Too late. “Emergency medical crews took the daughter to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries.” Click here for the heart-rendering 911 call. No really. It’s something you need to hear –  so that it never happens to you or someone you love. Here’s how to avoid that horrific fate, starting with a simple rule:

Know your target and what’s beyond it. This rule of gun safety is especially but not exclusively applicable to the dreaded “bump in the night” (BITN) scenario. Think it couldn’t happen to you? Two things to keep in mind:

1. Teenagers

If you have any you should know that teenagers are prone to sneaking in and of houses for romantic trysts, a quick toke or a private cell phone conversation. And I don’t just mean your teenagers. Other people’s teenagers are also likely to enter a dwelling unbidden in search of genetic immortality (for lack of a better term).

2.  Drunks/druggies

Drunk/drugged people have been known to break into the wrong house – believing it’s theirs – in the middle of the night. Yes they’re trespassers. Yes, the police, prosecutors, judge and/or jury would likely give you a pass should you perforate them in the mistaken belief that they’re a “proper” home invader. But do you really want to go down that road?

How do you avoid shooting the wrong person? Don’t shoot anyone unless you’re certain that they pose a credible, imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm, an imminence is imminent (i.e. you or other innocents are in the process of being attacked). In terms of BITN, here are three ways to minimize the possibility of a deadly mistake – for you or someone who seems like they’re a bad guy, but isn’t.

1. Alarm your house

As JWT says, security is an onion not an egg. The more layers of security you have, the harder it is for someone to penetrate that security, the more likely it will be that by the time they get to you they’re a lethal threat. An alarm system not only scares off home invaders, it forces free-range friendlies to ID themselves (ask me how I know). Also have a panic button. If you hear something untoward and the alarm didn’t trigger – say a teen disabled it – trigger the alarm.

2. Turn on the lights

When it comes to BITN defense, some armed Americans plan to to maintain “the element of surprise” by laying low – in the dark – until it’s “go time.” You don’t want the enemy to know where you are! I know my house, they don’t! These people buy flashlights for their gun and talk about “clearing their house.” In the dark.

Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, turn on the lights. This serves two important purposes. First, you can see what you are – or are not – shooting at. Second, the “and the lights are on at Comiskey Park” response tells the [real] home invader that you’re awake and aware of their presence. While not all bad guys will scurry like cockroaches in an instantly lit kitchen (I lived in Atlanta) when they know a homeowner is engaged, some will. That is ideal.

Remember: we’re talking about home defense. While some might say the best defense is a good offense, that rule doesn’t apply here. The best defense is a defensive position, waiting for the bad guys to come to you. Or, hopefully, not. The last thing you want to do is “clear” your house of bad guys; there’s a reason cops do this in teams. Under some circumstances, you may have to. But you don’t want to. Especially not in the dark.

So, while the light may help the bad guy see you, they’ve lost the advantage of surprise, and you’re sitting or standing there, ready to stop the threat.

3. Call out!

In the story above, a simple “Who’s there?” might have saved the daughter’s life. A drunk wanderer might also respond to a shouted enquiry. As for a bad guy, they probably won’t say “it’s me, the bad guy,” but your question will let them know they are not unanticipated. Again, most home invaders don’t fancy a violent confrontation with an armed defender. Again, you should take a defensive position, ready to eliminate someone uninvited who doesn’t respond. Best case: after you see them.

Question: do you shout “I have a gun!” (By the same token, some armed Americans reckon the sound of a racked shotgun provides a strong disincentive for a home invader to continue his/her/their attack.) This is a judgement call. Personally, I would – knowing that I’m in a strong defensive position, ready to do what needs to be done. It’s also an excellent idea for any police investigation of defensive gun use – especially if you’ve called 911 and left the line open (do NOT schmooze with the operator).

You can and should add other layers to your home defense onion: exterior lighting, security cameras, a posted alarm warning, mirrors that give you a view around corners, strong locks on doors and windows, dogs, closed interior doors, etc. But the bottom line remains: know your target and what’s beyond it. [h/t SS]

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38 Responses to Guns for Beginners: Three Ways to Avoid Shooting The Wrong Person in Your Home At Night

  1. Wow this is a tragic story. While it is easy to avoid directly shooting the wrong person if you identify your target, over penetration is still a problem. I live in a single story house with long hallways and open areas but with very thin walls. Handgun rounds and buck shot will certainly end up in near by rooms with a miss. The thought of using bird shot or anything other than HST saddens me.

    • Unless you live in an all brick house, bullets and buckshot will penetrate outside walls, too. It is of some help that your neighbors are smaller targets simply because they aren’t as near as a family member in the next room. But it’s no substitute for knowing your target and, if shooting is justified, hitting it.

  2. My dad used to “escape” when he was older and not quite right in the head. I’d hate to think of an old man in his pajamas getting shot by someone eager to protect their home.

  3. Yeah I just read this on FB. SAD…when I was a youngun’ I used to sneak around. No problem with my sons-too lazy to leave(mom spoils the hell outa’ them) …sigh. Stay safe tonite and HAPPY NEW YEAR !

  4. Here is a simple rule that everyone in your home MUST know and obey religiously: ANNOUNCE YOURSELF EVERY TIME YOU ENTER YOUR OR SOMEONE ELSE’S HOME!

    If it is late in the night and your family members are sleeping, then you may want to announce yourself more quietly or simply talk quietly to yourself as you prepare to settle in for the night so that your other housemates know who you are.

    And one more thing: DO IT EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS SUPPOSED TO BE HOME!

    I cannot overstate the value of that last directive. Last year my friend asked me to stop by his house to let myself in and retrieve something for him. I asked if anyone was home so that he would call them first and let them know that I was coming over. He knew that his children were in school and his wife was out for the day and assured me that no one was home and there was no need for him to call his wife. So I went over. Upon entering the door to the empty house, I announced myself anyway. Guess what? His wife had unexpectedly returned home. Fortunately she knew my voice and was incredibly relieved to know that a good friend was walking in for a legitimate reason. Even though she was not armed and I was not in any significant danger, it spared her a half minute of terror … and potentially even calling police for what would obviously end up being a mistake.

    • That’s what my family has been doing for years. It works great. Also we jingle the keys a bit after entering. We figure if you let yourself in with keys you probably are not a home invader.

    • Hey I yell “Dad’s home!” or something goofy-and the grown sons and wife make noises too. I know when I was an errant teen I used to sneak in a 2nd floor in the dark(long ago and far away)…

  5. When one arms oneself they must remember that bad things may happen.
    I always remember Murphys rules. The most pointed 1 being, ” anything you do can get you killed, including doing nothing.”
    We all must do the most and best we can to protect others and ourselves. But remember it can all go wrong.
    That price is part of being armed.

  6. I cannot fathom firing a weapon blindly unless responding to incoming fire. That is just ludicrous. The story doesn’t make sense. The woman claims to be scared, yet didn’t wake her husband? There must be more to it.

  7. I never come home late unannounced; too dangerous.

    One night, I made too much noise outside while entering my home and was met at the door by an armed wife with a G17.

  8. My father admitted to me years later that he came “that close” to doing the same thing to me when I was a teenager, sneaking in the house after curfew. I would never fire unless I was sure of my target.

    As an adult, I was out for a run one night and it unexpectedly started pouring down rain, so hard I couldn’t even see. We lived in a condo complex where all the units were in identical groups of four. I sprinted to what I thought was my unit, my key worked and I burst into the living room. The lights were off and I started calling for my wife. It was actually not my unit. Thank heaven no one was home. The first thing I thought of was that if I had been in my living room and a guy came blasting in the door, acting agitated and yelling some gal’s name, he would have been taking rounds.

    SA has to be a bi part of SD, before, during and after. And you always have to be sure of your target.

  9. My gf understands why I might tell her “stay right there”. No questions asked. Anyone else moving after that risks being shot. Having a Scot Terrier that behaves like he has been trained, somewhere back down the road, to clear rooms helps too.

    • I let folks around me know that *at all times* they need to stop what they’re doing and follow my orders, or risk being shot.

  10. Personally I wouldn’t say “I have a gun”…. I would say “we have guns!” Even if i was the only one around. Make em wonder how many of you there are.

  11. I have switches all over my home that turn dark into light. It’s magic!

    I also have two sensitive instruments built into the front of my head that permit something called “vision.” Remarkable!

    Because of the latter, I did not shoot the plumber who came into my home unannounced a few months go. I assure you that he is quite unharmed.

    Well, he wasn’t completely unannounced. He did call to let me know he was coming, but the two sensitive instruments built into the side of my head didn’t detect my phone ringing. I’ll have to look into that.

  12. My brother use to leave the house all hours of the night as well as return all hours of the night and almost got shot multiple times by his wife. She found out why he was leaving and solved the problem. She divorced him.

  13. Yes, know your target. Use a safe room with a gun, flashlight, phone, and a lockable door. If someone breaks down the door, they are a threat. Challenge the potential threat before you shoot. Train with a flashlight. Take a course that includes firing your gun in the dark. Train often.

  14. 1. Wireless security cameras outside and inside.

    2. Home security system/alarm.

    3. Lighting outside and inside.

    4. Security challenge question/answer.

    5. Boomstick.

    Layered defense reduces risk.

  15. Yeah, you could be careful like that, or you could just keep a drop gun with each of your family member prints on it just in case.

  16. “An alarm system not only scares off home invaders, it forces free-range friendlies to ID themselves (ask me how I know). ” Bullshit!!! Multiple B&E’s in my suburban area over the holidays. Audible alarm and ID challenges were like water off a duck’s back to the perps. They paid absolutely no attention to them. In and out in less than 2 minutes with the loot. Alarm systems just make sheeple feel warm and fuzzy and make the monitoring companies rich.

    • Yet it might scare off some perps, so why not. Also, maybe more importantly, it will almost certainly either scare off a “wrong house” visitor, or at least penetrate enough to make them say “wait i don’t live here.” I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that an alarm is THE solution. However, if someone has gone through multiple layers and is ignoring the alarm, you can be pretty sure they are up to no good. The more layers of your defense they get through, the more likely you are justified in shooting them.

    • Well said sir. That so very true! Peeps just need to know arming oneself with a firearm comes with a train load of responsibility. Know your target before you pull. and don;t leave the damn gun lying around where anyone else has free access to it. That’s how kids get in trouble.

  17. Great article…very convincing from my perspective. Especially the part about turning on the lights. Makes so much sense that it changed my thinking on the matter. God forbid I have another home invasion (first one was years ago – my metal softball bat and home run swing greeted the invader at the front door – got lucky there), the lights will be on at Comiskey Park. Mr. Farago, thank you for this.

    • Knock, knock! McFly! Hello!

      You’re going to have to read paragraph #2 to find your answer. don’t be alarmed, it’s a short paragraph.

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