“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:
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).
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]