Personal Defense Tip: Don’t Shoot Through An Exterior Door

Shooting through a door is usually a bad idea. Your ability to see your target is at best obscured or totally nonexistent. And it may be difficult to show that you believed that you were confronting an imminent, deadly threat. Shooting through an inside door may be less problematic than one that’s an entrance to a building. A person who has retreated to a bedroom or bathroom and who has locked the door may have fewer options than someone who is defending an entrance door, but still isn’t recommended.

If someone has already broken into a residence, they have shown themselves to be a threat. This is the essence of the Castle doctrine in most states. But shooting through a door violates one of the cardinal safely rules: know your target and what is beyond it.

In one case in Las Vegas, the home owner, a fire department captain, wasn’t prosecuted for firing through his door and severely wounding an innocent bystander. Prosecutors ruled that his actions were reasonable, given the circumstances. The “reasonable person” standard applies to what the person making the decision knew at the time, not what the reality was.


“There need not be actual danger when somebody defends himself or herself,” the prosecutor said.

Whenever evidence of self-defense exists, Daskas explained, the burden shifts to prosecutors to disprove the claim. In this case, prosecutors determined they likely could not.

“We put ourselves in the shoes of the homeowner, and we ask ourselves, ‘Would a reasonable person in that situation have the right to defend himself and his family members from that apparent danger?’ ” Daskas said.

The shooting occurred at 2:00 a.m. when the homeowner was awakened by the banging on the door. The person banging on the door had a nearby party, was intoxicated, had left his car keys at the party and thought someone was playing a joke on him. The shooting took place in a neighborhood where the houses were quite similar to each other.

The victim, who had also attended the party, was approaching the door to tell the other partygoer that he was at the wrong house when the homeowner shot through the door a few inches from the peephole. In this case, the homeowner was sued by the victim. A settlement was reached for the limit of the homeowner’s insurance.

While shooting through the door was found to be justified in this case, it’s a bad idea. You may not have a great deal of time once the integrity of the door is breached. A damaged door, locks, or a broken window will go a long way to show that you were reasonable in your actions. The use of deadly force is more easily justified when the intruder has partly penetrated your defenses. A good example is this video from Washington state, in which the intruder with a machete destroyed the entrance door as he tried to force entry.

If you are thinking defensively, a stout security door or a stand-off barrier of some kind is a good solution. They will give you more time to assess the situation, and an intruder who has breached them will have shown a serious intent to violate the sanctity of your castle.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Gun Watch


  1. avatar Gordon Wagner says:

    Motion-detector controlled sprinklers… an idea I like more and more. Can I be sued for spraying water at someone banging on my door at three in the morning?

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      This is America, man. You can be sued for anything.

        1. avatar Mongoose says:

          Ha. That was my buddy’s dad.

  2. avatar SouthernPatriot says:

    Prosecutors and/or judges in the states which have the Castle Doctrine interpret differently that law allowing the use of deadly force to protect one’s family and self. Once the outer barrier (a stout exterior door) is breached or is almost breached and imminent danger is evident, a citizen is justified in shooting.

    As Dean stated, ” [Stout exterior doors or a barriers] will give you more time to assess the situation, and an intruder who has breached them will have shown a serious intent to violate the sanctity of your castle.”

    My father and mother confronted a very large thug and armed home invader in their home about 15 years ago. There was no arrest, no trial, and no long term incarceration paid by taxpayers. A dear friend faced an attempted armed home invasion, but when the told them what they were facing when they completed breaking in his door, they decided to try somewhere else (a convenience store about 2 miles down the same road).

  3. avatar drav says:

    The second I saw the picture of the house I said ” That sure looks like Vegas…” sure enough I scroll down and I was right lol

    1. avatar MeRp says:

      Yeah about 90% of the single family houses there seem to be nearly identical to this one…

  4. avatar Ralph says:

    “Shooting through an inside door may be less problematic than one that’s an entrance to a building.”

    Oscar Pistorius would not agree.

    1. avatar Tex300BLK says:

      Wrong, Oscar Pistorius would totally agree with shooting through closed doors, a fact he maintained all the way till the gavel fell… the person who would disagree quite heartily would be Reeva Steenkamp…

      1. I’m pretty sure that in that case, the bullets were flying in the wrong direction through that door.

      2. avatar Ralph says:

        I’m sure that Blade Runner disagrees now.

  5. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Just from a moral standpoint I don’t think that you’re justified in shooting someone through the door just because someone is pounding on it at 2:00am. It’s most likely as in this case, a drunk at the wrong house, or it could be someone in distress. Now if the intruder starts yelling threats through the door that’s a little different, but I still don’t see the need to shoot before the door is actually breached, if you have a firearm trained at the door from a defensive position. Once the door is breached you have every justification you need, both for your local DA and your maker, to open fire.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Even shouting threats, That’s time to call police. I know, it’s a PITA at 2 AM, but who wants to shoot somebody? He comes through the door, his a$$ is mine.

      1. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

        Shouting threats establishes the ill intent of the person on the other side of the door, although it doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of it being a drunk at the wrong house so I still wouldn’t shoot through the door. I wouldn’t advise against calling 911, but odds are the trespasser will be long gone by the time the cops arrive.

        1. avatar Alan Wayne Rose says:

          As long as you’re doing everything right, having a 911 dispatcher on the line provides audio of the event as it unfolds. Audio that can get you out of jail (or buried under it). I’d prefer to have hidden cameras pointing at both sides of the door. If things go badly in your decision making, hope the cops don’t find them.

    2. avatar J. Zoss says:

      I tend to agree but it somewhat depends on ones definition of breached and the how fast the intruders progress is. For most that equals about a second unfortunately. If it is clear he is getting in he gets no time benefits from me.

      If a door is working as hoped at first but the person starts making real progress towards breaking it open or creating a hole in it I won’t necessarily blindly shoot through the door but I am also not necessarily going to wait until they can freely enter either before I take action to end the threat.

      Of course nothing remotely like that happened here and there was no justification for firing a single shot.

    3. avatar Hannibal says:

      “pounding,” yes. Kicking? Different story. Who knows which it was.

  6. avatar Tsn4 says:

    The machete thing happened in Idaho. Used to have family in that town.

  7. avatar actionphysicalman says:

    I had someone trying to kick my apartment door in at 4am or so 20 some years ago. I kept the lights off and waited with a 1911 leveled at the doorway. I had very good vision and they would have been illuminated from the hallway. Not sure if I should have yelled to them that they were likely at the wrong door instead of staying quiet like I did. I may have been too frightened to say anything. Thankfully the door was fairly stout and they gave up before they got in. There was only about 12 feet possible between myself and the door so it would have had to have been a quick decision.

  8. avatar TT says:

    The shooter is damn lucky he didn’t go to jail. It looks to me like the shooter’s position as a high-ranking employee of the local government helped the local prosecutor decide not to charge the shooter far more than any belief that it’s reasonable to shoot people through doors. I have a tough time seeing what threat someone knocking on your door poses that justifies the use of deadly force.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. I’m not clear on how pounding on a door (no matter what time it is) represents ability, opportunity AND jeopardy and that the threat of death or bodily injury is imminent.

      Thought as a I read the story: “One set of rules for them, a different set for us.” That prosecutor seemed to be falling all over himself to justify the shooting.

      1. avatar J. Zoss says:

        Agree with both of you.

    2. I see attempted murder. Should have called police to report what would have been a drunk and disorderly charge.

      The guy wasn’t trying to break in. He was trying to get someone on the inside to open the door. This should have been the reasonable assertion by the homeowner. When did stupidity become a defense?

  9. avatar Gabe says:

    This incidet is “Shotgun Joe” endorsed!

    1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Just get your double barrel Fudd shotgun and fire through the door! Make things tough on Girl scouts though.

  10. avatar JackieO says:

    If that was in NY, say hello Dannemora, your new home.

  11. avatar LarryinTX says:

    Doesn’t that pic show the shooting was in front of the GARAGE door? What is that about?

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      Pretty sure that’s just a Google Street View screenshot. Those aren’t evidence markers.

  12. avatar J. Zoss says:

    It isn’t free but a confrontation ending this way is mostly avoidable and also without making your house look like the entrance to a prison block. It is easy enough to keep both men that were present from breaching his door if that had been their intent.

    The ability to see and communicate with people at your door is more than just convenient. It is nice for letting strangers that show up at your door at odd hours that they are in danger if they intend to force their way in. It goes a long way towards preventing unnecessary loss of life and all the emotional and legal baggage that go with.

    Shooting mostly or completely blindly through a door should only be considered in rare situations where conventional methods might not work. It can have its place if a situation dictates but based on the report this was obviously not it.

  13. avatar NJ2AZ says:

    agree with other posters who have said this smells like a “one set of rules for them..” situation. Can’t agree with shooting through the door just because someone is pounding on it. Like others said, id probably assume defensive position, get 911 on speakerphone, and be prepared to fire IF the door was actually breached. easy to armchair QB though..

    this is why the first thing i did when i recently moved was put a steel security door on my entryway. Someone determined could get in, but it should would be a production..and at that point i’d have no doubt a threat was imminent.

  14. avatar Shire-man says:

    Nonsense. Biden says blast both barrels through the door and there’s no way the VPOTUS doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  15. avatar Soccerchainsaw says:

    Not too long ago in my CC class (in NC) we were taught that it was somehow less ambiguous to shoot someone before they actually entered your home but were trying to break in. Once they got in you had to go through more mental games to determine if they were actually a threat. Pretty much universally, everyone in the class thought that this was completely ‘bass ackwards’. This wasn’t just the instructor’s interpretation, there was a video by the State Attorney General that spelled this out. How eff’ed up is that?

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      We have it much easier here in California. If they get through the door, it is presumed that the occupant acted in reasonable self-defense when he/she opens fire. Defense has nothing to prove–the prosecutor has to show that the occupant did NOT have a reasonable fear of imminent great bodily injury or death.

  16. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    Well ya’ll took my Biden barbs…but just racking the shotgun would scare any bad guy LOL.

  17. avatar Jon says:

    If you’re really concerned about safety, positioning cameras around the house that are accessible from your “safe room” might also be a good idea. You can also place one of the cameras at an angle in front of the door of your safe room. Then, if you need to shoot the intruder through the door, you will know roughly where they are and where to shoot.

    Having infrared cameras in your house will also let you know where in the house they are without having you dangerously trying to clear rooms one-by-one.

    1. avatar Jon says:

      Oh, I meant around the INSIDE of your house, not the outside:

      “If you’re really concerned about safety, positioning cameras around the house that are accessible from your “safe room” might also be a good idea. “

  18. avatar Jon says:

    “We put ourselves in the shoes of the homeowner, and we ask ourselves, ‘Would a reasonable person in that situation have the right to defend himself and his family members from that apparent danger?’ ” Daskas said.

    Oh, is that so? I thought it was “What can I pin on them to accuse them of murder and put them behind bars.” Trying to find out if they are innocent? Suuuuure, don’t make me laugh.

  19. avatar Fug says:

    Only way I am blasting through any door is if I can tell they are trying to break it down and I know they’re not cops. At that point I would feel confident it was a threat and missing is less likely.

    Still could be risky depending on exactly where you live, I would probably wait for a partial breach and make some attempt at verbal deterrence.

    Really makes me think about getting a weatherproof spy cam for the entrance to the home. Good for home security as well as avoiding salesmen and missionaries.

  20. avatar Royal Tony says:

    IGOTD easily. The pisser is the friend attempting corral the drunk is the one who got dosed.

  21. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    Didn’t a similar incident as this happen in Detroit with a drunk girl on the porch banging on the door and the homeowner was convicted of manslaughter?

    1. avatar karlb says:

      Yes, but that IGOTD did not have the good sense to be a high ranking fire fighter.

  22. avatar Bungameng says:

    We just had a shooting through the front door case decided in the Czech Republic.

    A SWAT was called to arrest a Serbian guy who legally owned some firearms. They were breaking down his front doors with the usual “police, police” shouts when he opened fire (he claimed he thought they are some criminals). He shot only one round and the gun jammed (limp-wristed Glock I guess), hitting one of the cops in part of torso not covered by ballistic vest. Fortunately the mass of the door slowed the bullet down quite a lot so the tissue penetration was not devastating.

    The charges were attempted murder, 10-18. Court found him guilty but reduced sentence to 5 years in prison.

    The original case for which they had the arrest warrant and house search warrant proved to be fruitless.

  23. avatar John says:

    One rule for them, another rule for the rest of us.

  24. avatar Cam says:

    I have a morals question for everyone.

    If someone breaks into your house and you managed to get them at gunpoint, do you hold them there until police arrive or do you shoot them? Does your decision change if they’re carrying a gun or knife or nothing?

  25. avatar Larry says:

    You would think people would know you can’t shoot through a door? This is why some people should not own a gun. If you are that stupid, then God help you! You SHOULD be prosecuted!

  26. avatar Bill Baker says:

    Just as sort of a correction, but the link and the article says the machete thing happened in Washington state, when in truth it occurred in Pocatello IDAHO; a town not far from where I live.

  27. avatar OldLawProf says:

    What Castle occupant in the days of castles would have be let the barbarians breach the walls?

    There was a reason for moats, drawbridge, strong gates, and tall walls. There still is. An attention seeking knock is different from a breaching attempt in both duration and degree of force displayed.

    If they are trying to breach the door, you need let them succeed.

    Use good judgment, act, then SHUT UP and ask for a lawyer.

    1. avatar OldLawProf says:

      Typo in original. SHOULD be “need NOT let them succeed”.

  28. avatar Alan Wayne Rose says:

    Every time I see the “Don’t shoot through the door” argument, all I can picture is Jack Nicholson’s face as he leers through the axe hole in the door, saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!”

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