There are three aspects to at-home armed self-defense: preparation, execution and avoiding execution. OK, that last one’s a bit overly dramatic. Only thirty-three states have the death penalty. Even in those states that do the eye-for-an-eye thing, the chances of getting the needle after shooting someone in your home are shark attack small. But one thing’s fo’ sho’: if you do implement a ballistic solution during a home invasion you are in a world of trouble. You need to do everything you can to avoid legal retribution before, during and after an armed incident. The NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection in the Home‘ is an excellent resource, but it has two serious flaws . . .
First and foremost, the NRA’s spiral-bound armed home defense primer does NOT tell you what you need to know when it comes to dealing with the 911 operator. Here’s their counsel:
Tell the emergency operator that you think someone has broken into your home. Give the operator your name and address and tell him or her where you and all other family members are in the house and that you are armed.
Oops! You also need to describe yourself and any other friendlies. “I’m 5’11”, brown hair, wearing glasses and a blue T shirt.” (YMMV)
It’s absolutely vital that the responding law enforcement officers know what you, the good guy with the gun, look like. Conveying your name, address, location and personal description is so important, and so difficult under stress, you should keep a card with a script in your safe room. No really.
The Guide recommends you describe yourself to the 911 operator when the cops arrive (Making Contact with Police on the Scene). Too late. And then there’s this . . .
Once you have given the information to the emergency operator, do not hang up. Remain on the line until the police arrive on the scene and you establish verbal contact with them.
I disagree. As we’ve discussed here before, the 911 operator’s job is to keep you talking. They’re trained to ask you a bunch of questions and give you instructions. Some of the answers may be helpful to the responding officers. Most of them aren’t; the operators are simply trying to keep the caller calm. Some of the 911 operator’s advice may be sound, but it’s crap shoot; their directions are based on general principles rather than your specific situation.
Bottom line: you cannot afford to take the risk of exchanging more than basic information with the 911 operator, or listening to their advice. You’re best advised to give them the minimum amount of information required to respond and put down the phone. (Whether or not you should hang up discussed below.)
Anything that distracts you from the task of defending your life (including panicked family members) could result in your death and/or the death of your loved ones. While The NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection in the Home understands the dangers of schmoozing with 911, their solution is deeply misguided.
If the intruder approaches the part of your house where you are hiding, you will have to shift focus from talking to the emergency operator to dealing with the intruder. Put the telephone down and prepare to defend yourself, but do not hang up the telephone.
How is the average homeowner supposed to know when that “moment of truth” arrives? How fast will they be able to make the switch from conversationalist to combatant, even in terms of bringing their phone hand into the fight?
Truth be told, once an armed self-defender establishes a “life-saving” psychological bond with the 911 operator, they are highly unlikely to break it. As in it ain’t gonna happen. Home defenders should start as they mean to finish by not starting, if you know what I mean.
All 911 calls (and most emergency calls) are recorded. If you are forced to shoot an aggressor in self-defense, the 911 recording of the encounter could later prove crucial to your legal defense.
It could also prove crucial to your legal prosecution. Keep in mind that it’s not just what you say on a 911 recording but how you say it. A prosecutor/judge/jury could misinterpret your nervous laugh as murderous glee.
Any real time recording of events also raises thorny questions of what you should have done. You will be compelled to explain your thinking at every stage of the incident when, in all probability, you have no idea what you were thinking.
If you don’t hang up on the 911 operator, if you put the phone down, remember that everything you say can and will be used you in a court of law, should it come to that.
My second issue with the Guide . . .
In the section on Fifth and Sixth Amendment Protections, the Guide provides newbies with the cardinal rule for any defensive gun use: STFU (Shut The F Up). This is the third part of the Holy Trinity of Armed Self-Defense (prevention, survival, aftermath). On this aspect of home defense, the Guide’s advice is clear—but nowhere near emphatic enough.
When the police arrive, you can [not should] refuse to answer their questions until your attorney is present. Of course, you should exercise some common sense in this: you may not need a lawyer to respond to such questions as “Where’s the bathroom?”
That is an astoundingly bad piece of advice. Asking for the bathroom is a common police ruse. On their way to the restroom, an officer will scan areas outside of the crime scene for evidence, and then claim they “happened” upon it. Evidence that can be used against you: gun magazines, liquor bottles, unsecured firearms, anything. It’s all fair game.
The only sensible response to any question: “My life was in danger. I want to speak to an attorney.” Nothing else. Nada. Zip. Where was he standing? Did he have a weapon? Nope.
Some gun gurus recommend low-level cooperation with the police so that you don’t seem uncooperative and, thus, guilty. They’re wrong. The only other thing you could say to the cops: “I will give you a full statement after I speak with my attorney.”
The Guide dances around the problem of on-scene police interaction with a disclaimer:
Even before you become involved in a defensive shooting, it is highly advisable that you speak with your attorney exactly what you may and may not say to police should you have to use a firearm in self-defense.
How many gun owners are going to ring up their brief and say “Hey Steve, what should I say to the cops if I shoot someone?” Even if they did, an armed civilian shouldn’t trust the legal advice of an attorney who hasn’t defended a police officer or civilian against a charge of unlawful shooting.
The big question in my mind about the $19.95 NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection in the Home: would I recommend it to a newbie?
On everything other than police interaction, the Guide is spot-on. When it comes to keeping an armed home defender’s ass out of jail, the Guide falls woefully short. So . . . yes. But only if I handed the new shooter the Guide with the above bits highlighted with the words “See me about this” in the margins.
Yeah, it’s that important.