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The rabbi likes to start aspiring handgun owners on their ballistic journey with a simple question: could you kill another human being? With all due respect, I think that’s a profoundly silly question. Unless you’re a Quaker—and maybe even then—the sight of another human being trying to kill you and/or your loved ones tends to remove moral doubt. Moving on, there are some important steps a home defense handgunner should take before they bring a firearm into play. (“Play” in this case meaning the exact opposite.) Here are four pre-gun steps that help reduce the odds of needing to use lethal force, and increase the odds of being able to do successfully . . .

1. An alarm system

Given the emotional, legal and financial impact of shooting someone in your home—not to mention or the possibility of shooting the wrong person or losing a gunfight or the god-awful mess—it’s best to keep your powder dry. Think of a handgun as a last resort: the one with the backed-up toilet and parking lot view that you’ll never want to visit as long as you live.

An alarm system is your first resort, or line of defense. Just alarm the windows and doors; interior motion sensing systems are an invitation to false alarms, which lead to dangerous complacency. An alarm system you don’t use is no better than one you don’t have.

Whether or not you want your alarm to alert the local police directly or go through a monitoring system (which calls you and tells you to chill while they notify the police and the perp slits your throat) or just makes a lot of noise is your call. Or the computer’s if the system’s automatic.

Even if the alarm system doesn’t scare off a home invader, it gives you extra time (and incentive) to run, hide, attack and/or get your gun. As you will learn, the more time you have to get your proverbial shit together, the better you and yours’ chances of surviving a home invasion.

2. Two gun safes

There are two places for your gun: on your hip or in your safe. As you can’t sleep with a gun on your hip (even on a Tempurpedic), you’ll need not one but two safes.

First up: a steel box that can’t be moved or breached when you and/or your family aren’t at home. Although safe number one can be hidden away, remember that children must be taught firearms safety. They’re clever little bastards who can defeat any security system. If you’re contemplating a plan A and B (a handgun and a back-up long gun), buy a safe that accommodates both genres.

Buy a smaller safe for storing your handgun by the bed at night. Keeping a combat-ready handgun out “in the open” is illegal in many states and a bad idea besides. Not only can children and invaders access the weapon, but you need time to wake-up when facing the possibility of a ballistic confrontation. Anyway, the dangers of wielding a handgun in a semi-conscious state outweigh the advantages of a ten second or less lag time.

3. A Firm Commitment to Home Carry

Home invasions tend to be nasty, brutish and short. If an attack occurs during the day, you’ll never get to a remote gun in time to use it defensively—even if we’re talking about the next room. In fact, you’ll waste precious temporal resources trying to foot-race a perp to your gun. Worse, by fixating on firearm acquisition, you’ll exclude other, more effective non-gun self-defense options, including pepper spray and knives (gory but true).

[I know that non-firearm defensive skills are ineffective or, indeed, impossible for elderly or handicapped home owners. These are also the people least likely to make it to a remote firearm in time to protect themselves or their family.]

Home carry means that you’ll need to buy a gun AND a holster, which impacts the size, type and caliber of weapon that you’ll [eventually] purchase. The good news: unless you’re mistakenly trying to protect your brood from the reality of your armed home defense, you don’t have to carry concealed ’round the old homestead. Outside-the-waistband holsters are MUCH more comfortable than concealed weapon systems.

4. Professional training

On the face of it, home defense is easy. You point the gun at the bad guy and pull the trigger. Provided you have the weapon on your person and know how to draw and operate your firearm (semi-automatics can rival remote controls for “what the f button do I push now?” complexity). And understand the laws regarding lethal force. And have the bad guy or guys in sight. And know which one to shoot first (if at all).

And can fire the gun accurately, under life-or-death pressure. Whilst knowing whether you should be doing so from behind cover or concealment (understanding the difference between the two). And knowing how to shoot from various positions (standing, prone, one-handed, etc).

There’s no way to master all these elements on your own. Get professional self-defense training before you buy; you may find a home defense handgun is more trouble than it’s worth. And you’ll certainly have a much better idea of which gun and holster combo suits you best.

Training isn’t expensive; most ranges offer private instruction for around $30 an hour, including gun rental. That said, the total cost of armed home defense adds up quickly: an alarm, a couple of safes, a gun and holster, ammo, range time and pro instruction can easily drain $5k from your bank account. In the first year.

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I consider armed home defense an all or nothing deal. Either do it right—spend the money, make the preparations, wear the gun—or don’t do it at all.

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  1. My big safe will be inaccessible in an emergency, it is on the 1st floor while the bedrooms are on the 3rd. We have no children (And I am not worried about the cats operating the weapons. If they had opposable thumbs they could feed themselves!) But I really haven't found any good reason to buy a small bedroom safe. When the alarm goes off we will have just enough time to find our glasses and ready the weapons. (Maybe even jump into sweatpants, ear protection, shooting glasses, shooting gloves, tell the computer to bring up all the house lights, and answer the call from the alarm company.) fumbling with a safe, IMHO, is an unneccesary added step. We do not live in one of the People's Republics, so we don't have to worry about idiotic gun storage laws.
    As to the argument that the invader(s) will have access, I believe that we will be able to get to the weapons on the nightstands faster than the intruder can run up 2 flights of stairs. I do agee with all of your other points though.

  2. "We do not live in one of the People's Republics, so we don't have to worry about idiotic gun storage laws."

    Bob H, in the People's Kommonwealth of Massachusetts our "Castle" law requires homeowners to gently probe our attacker's psyche and ask his permission to retrieve our firearms from one safe and our ammunition from a different safe before we shoot. Then we have to pay their estate for pain and suffering on account of their deprived youth. Aside from those trivialities, we're pretty secure here.

  3. If someone is in my home, uninvited, I have no time nor inclination to answer alarms or open safes. They need to be dealt with NOW! NOW! NOW! My families safety trumps any other notions.

    That being said, get a dog. Does not matter what breed or size. Best alarm made. Ever.

    I like the idea of "home carry". A favorite saying of mine is "if pants are on, gun is on." I also have a long gun to retreat to(or fight to, I suppose. )


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