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(courtesy The Truth About Guns)

“Know your target and what’s beyond it” is the red-headed stepchild of the four rules of gun safety. Most people fixate on the “what’s beyond it” part– and not without reason. The most likely mistake when not following this rule: shooting at a target and hitting something that isn’t a target. A target, not a person. Despite gun control advocates’ [disingenuous] hand-wringing, I’ve yet to encounter a defensive gun use where a [non-police] armed civilian shot at a bad guy and hit a good guy. But the first part of this rule — know your target — is where bad things are more likely to happen. At home. For example . . .

Recently, at exactly 3:30am, I heard the distinctive thump of a schnauzer jumping off my bed. Normally, the sound lets me know that Rosie has a pressing need to defecate. If I don’t get out of bed and put her outside, she leaves a gift on a 200-year-old Afghan rug (her favorite repository). Groggy as a drunken sailor, I rousted myself and headed downstairs. Without a gun. Mistakenly, but in this case, fortunately . . .

I turned off the alarm, opened the back door and called my canine. Nothing. I went back into the house to find her. Rosie Von Schnauzer was standing in front of a half-opened hall closet, staring into its depths. I knew someone was in there, hiding. Luckily, my brain was working well enough to make a quick assessment. If it had been an intruder, Rosie would have been barking an alarm, not wagging her tail.

When I caught sight of a tie-dyed T-shirt I knew my daughter and her sleepover guest were hiding in the closet. I called them out and dressed them down. “Staying up late is one thing,” I growled. “Not identifying yourself in the middle of the night is another.”

So now you know why I wrote “fortunately” for not carrying a gun downstairs. If my daughter’s BFF had seen me holding a firearm and reported the incident to her parents that would have been the end of Farago sleepovers. And maybe her friendship with my daughter. Maybe a lot of friendships. (Not fair obviously, but that’s how things sit in the liberal heart of The Lone Star State.)

Of course, it could have been a LOT worse — if I didn’t abide by the “know your target” gun safety rule. There are more than a few examples of homeowners shooting the “wrong person” in a bump-in-the-night scenario. A drunk entering the wrong house. A cop who failed to identify himself properly during a wrong-house raid. The home owner’s own child.

It is imperative that you ID a target in your home before resorting to an armed response. And don’t get to thinking that simply calling out is enough. Years before the closet episode, I sensed a stranger hiding in some bushes in my back yard. “Who’s there?” I demanded, putting my hand on my gun. No response. In a flash, a teenage boy jumped out of the bushes and leaped the back fence in a single bound. An aspiring boyfriend for my teenage step-daughter.

Point taken?

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  1. This hypothetical situation sounds like daughter doesn’t have a BFF in the first place, if there is a problem with you protecting the house the BFF and everyone else is in. Daughter can find another one. Plenty out there.

    • Have you raised a pre-teen daughter? Their friends are EVERYTHING to them. Regardless of justification, regardless of my feelings about armed self-defense, I’d hate to ruin her social life.

      • No jab intended, Rob.

        Yes, I have raised a pre-teen daughter, she is 15 now. We made it through so far to the beginning of the season of learning to drive. hehe

        I guess we are in agreement, as I’m certainly not looking to torpedo any of her relationships with other girls. If something goes bump in the night at a strange time during a sleepover, I probably won’t handle it with first thought of what BFF’s parents hypothetically might think if the girl (who may or may not see anything regardless) goes home and tells the parents something. I would however, first expect to encounter one or both of the girls during said sleepover night.

        Heck, my wife has taken the daughter and a friend out for the evening and they came back earlier than expected, to me cleaning the rifles. She still hangs out with that same friend.

        If something happens with the girls parents as a consequence and can’t associate anymore… I still say it can be smoothed over, or at worst, my daughter has options just because of how she is at making friends. Additionally, if it can’t be smoothed over, perhaps the relationship ain’t that deep.

        We all are different and make and prioritize our own decisions, so I guess YMMV?

  2. A drunk entering the wrong house or the cop raiding the wrong house are not examples of failure to identify the target. Those are justifiable home defense shootings.

    • I agree, given the gaps in information. I think what he was going for, though, especially by putting “wrong person” in quotes, was to differentiate those scenarios from a true home invader with evil intent or a burglar.

      • I know what he meant. I just think he is wrong and suggesting dangerous information. The burden to identify robber from drunk is not on me. The fact that a person kicked in my front door announces their identity loud and clear. Not my call to make. They made the call and have to suffer the consequences. There is no gray (or grey for you uppity folks) area here. You can train for shoot/no shoot scenarios and this one is on the shoot side. Breaking and entering with an occupant inside may result in your death. And that is the way it should be.

        • Have fun in prison, then, or the morgue. If you shoot a cop, even one (and his ten closest friends) who’s mistakenly raiding your house, you’re in for either a very long legal fight or a very short firefight.

          Those outcomes are a lot worse than you plugging an errant drunk. So, yes, there is such a thing as shooting the wrong person, even within the context of a legally justified shooting. Your theoretical lack of gray areas will run head first into the murkiness of reality, should that day come. Good luck with that.

          • Have fun in Heaven (giving you the benefit of the doubt) when you hesitate to act and you get killed. What makes me more likely to find legal trouble or be killed by an errant raid than you to be killed by a true criminal because you wanted to have a chat with the fellow that just busted in your door in the middle of the night?
            I’ll take my chances that the person that broke in is a bad guy vs. the alternative of wait and see logic, which is illogical.

        • Generally speaking, the law states that you may use lethal force when you are facing an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. You may credibly argue that you’re facing that kind of threat when someone breaks in (in an ipso facto kinda way). The police and prosecutor and/or judge and jury may agree. But I don’t want to shoot someone unless I know they’re trying to harm me and mine. Again, YMMV.

          • Everybody keeps warning gun owners to “know the law”. Generalities are not good enough. Specifically speaking, lethal force is authorized against a home invader in GA.
            What if I had dogs that mauled a person that broke in only to find out that “he had the wrong house”? Why don’t you write an article telling people with dogs to lock them in a cage at night. That way they can still bark to warn you and the intruder but there will not be a chance that the wayward drunk gets killed by your pets.

        • Who said “have a chat” was a viable option? If you’re ready to forfeit the debate, then just concede. You don’t need to resort to a false equivalence to surrender indirectly.

          Now, as for your asinine argument, the fact is that police raid a certain way. Typically, that’s with instant entry, overwhelming force, in the middle of the night, while announcing themselves and tossing stun grenades. Your entire premise is shaky at best, as you’re unlikely ever to get a shot off.

          Likewise, a drunk enters according to a pattern: half an hour of screaming and banging before finally falling in through a window or something equally lame.

          A home invasion takes all forms, but those. Even thugs posing as cops aren’t going to be able to pull off the complete mimicry.

          If you can’t discern the difference between those events quickly, such that your default response is shoot first and pull your head out of your butt later, then “take your chances” is an apt description of your approach. You’re just taking chances, reckless chances, and not thinking. You’ll get yourself or someone else senselessly killed. You shouldn’t have firearms. You’re a menace.

          The proof? You’ve had all day to develop a half decent counterpoint here. Yet, all you’ve come up with is that mirroring me Heaven thing, and some third rate strawman absurdity about having a chat. No way you’d be able to make a smart call in an emergency.

    • Justifiable or not, I would not want to shoot someone who stumbled into my house by mistake. The cop thing, well . . .

      • He gave you little choice. I don’t want to shoot anybody no matter what their intent but I am not a mind reader so I must assume anyone breaking into my home is there to harm me. Hesitation may cost you. I might have a chance to evaluate out on the streets but when a stranger just broke into my house, one of us is about to get tore up.

    • You dont get to shoot police. The other officers will insist said victim properly identified himself.

  3. This is a good start, Robert, but there’s more to it. Too many people don’t keep their doors and windows locked, for starters. If someone has to enter with a key and, possibly, an alarm code, the chances of mistaking someone who belongs there for an intruder are seriously reduced, if not eliminated. An actual intruder would have to break in, creating noise that isn’t going to be mistaken for much of anything else. A child or a house guest should know not to sneak around at night, seriously – but one would not be likely to mistake them for an intruder without the break in noise, and probably the family dog going nuts.

    If a person goes to bed impaired in any way, whether from cold medicine or drinking, etc., or even if they are commonly groggy and unable to think clearly when awakened, especially when awakened suddenly… they really should invest in a bedside safe of some sort, so the time needed to access the gun would give them time to wake up. Locked doors, dogs, alarms and so forth would probably give them enough time.

    And absolutely, everyone who keeps a gun should give all this some serious thought, make plans and practice them regularly, just like fire drills. And a class in “shoot/don’t shoot” is a valuable investment.

    • Hmmm….not the best counterexample. For one, that story dropped off the radar about five minutes after the initial “good guy shoots victim!” hysteria splashed across the headlines. That suggests to me there’s more to the story that they’d rather not report. Really, where’s the follow-up with the “victim” and what’s his take on armed private citizens stepping up to help? Just crickets.

      Moreover, the original reporting is conflicting. Some make it sound like the man injured was visting the Valero station itself and was attacked on his way back to his truck. Others report that he was out by the bus stop, on the perimeter of the gas station property, when he was attacked and struck on the head by the attackers.

      Why would someone drive to a gas station and move beyond the far edge of the property to the bus stop? Where’s the proof that his head injury was from the shooter’s round(s), as opposed to the attackers’ blows? There’s no follow-up reporting on the doctor-determined , exact nature of his injuries.

      Where’s the proof that the shooter, who fled the scene, was a true bystander and not involved with the injured party? How calm and cool he was, this innocent bystander, at a gas station bus stop in the middle of the night in a known drug trade area, to be able to collect his shell casings before departing the scene as police raced to respond.

      This sounds like the shooter and injured party were there to buy drugs. The injured party got smashed on the head by the other two guys. The shooter fired on them as they stole the injured party’s truck. Then the experienced shooter and purchaser of street drugs (and probable felon/prohibited possessor) covered his tracks.

      I’m not seeing any good guy with a gun here, nor any innocent shooting victim (possibly no shooting victim, at all). The paucity of solid evidence in the case could reasonably support either narrative, so it shouldn’t be cited as being dispositive of anything.

  4. In house perimeter check every night.
    Everything locked.
    All inside doors open to let my beast of a dog have feel run of the house.
    That dog goes off if a squirrel farts at night.
    It would take a break in to get in , it wouldnt be a good thing .
    Motion detector night lights through the house, dog cant trip them only people.
    If its 3 am and the lights are tripped its time for beast mode.

    • Yep. Q&A session has expired once you breach the threshold.
      I take “know your target” to mean that you know that you are shooting at something you are willing to put holes in and possibly kill and you have a clear sight picture. It does not mean, “I know why you broke in so you are going to be dealt with”. You could ask the guy I suppose because we all know that thugs don’t lie.
      “Who are you!?”
      “What are you doing in my house?!”
      “Why did you break my door in?!”
      “Are you alone?! Is there someone else outside?!”

      “Oh, okay. You’re just lost and your car broke down and you are by yourself and had too much to drink. That’s a relief. I’ll just put down the gun now and call you some help.”

  5. If the guy who shot the firemen had followed this rule tragedy would have been avoided. All four rules are equally important and should always be kept in mind. Nice post

  6. We used to share a nanny with this dimwitted couple. We made the mistake of giving them a house key. On the night before we were going for a visit to my in-laws the other mother got it into her head to come over in the middle of the night and drop off some photos. When I heard her rattling around downstairs I got up, grabbed my pistol and cautiously started down the stairs. I saw her before she saw noticed me and quickly hid the pistol behind my back. I read her the riot act. I mean how stupid could someone be to barge into an spook’s house in the middle of the night?

  7. Crime victims have shot bystanders, they just do it a lot less often than cops do, partly because they know exactly who to shoot at.

    I recall a jeweler exchanging shots with a robber and clipping a woman in the parking lot.
    When searching for a link to it, I found this one, which I hadn’t seen before:
    A stray bullet traveled out of the shop in the 3100 block of West 63rd Street and struck Sammie Thomas in the head and face as he drove by, according to the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

    The suit alleged that the elder Vasquez used excessive force when he fired in the direction of the street.

    Also found this for the ‘only ones’ file:

  8. ” A cop who failed to identify himself properly during a wrong-house raid.”

    Brandon Watson did not shoot a cop who failed to ID himself after breaking into Watson’s home, he didn’t even shoot at them, although at least two of them were aiming at his center of mass and he could have lawfully killed them both.

    What Watson did was fire a ‘warning shot’ out a window, striking nobody, but endangering who knows how many neighbors, and frightening a cop in his yard. How he managed to avoid being on the receiving end of a pair of mag dumps from the home invaders who already had laser sights trained on him is a mystery to me, unless they had already ID’d him as an innocent before aiming at him.

  9. RF,

    What about the homeowner who shot at the firemen who were breaking into his home? He (presumably) did not wait to identify the intruders. Where do you come do on this in regards to “Know your target and what’s beyond it”?

  10. A man in Burleson, TX killed a sheriff’s deputy raiding his home 2 yrs ago and was no billed by a grand jury. And he was a drug dealer.

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