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“The victim came to the residence, startling his brother awake inside,” reports. “The brother, 21, who was armed with a handgun, mistook him for an intruder and shot him.” Oh dear. How’d that happen then? Well Tommy, the blue-on-blue shooting was much like an airplane accident: a number of safety failures lead to tragedy. The mystery surrounding the fratricide—including the unstated possibility of bad blood—is positively Shakespearean. But let’s take a look at this incident from a more practical, more Shrekian point-of-view . . .

“Layers,” Shrek told Donkey. “Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

Venn diagrams aside, the onion metaphor’s significance lies just below the surface. The bulb’s layers protect the onion plant’s seeds (provided the onion industry doesn’t get to them first). In the same way, layers of protection surrounding Shrek’s heart keep him from revealing his non-Ogre-like tender feelings, layers of home security protect you from Ogres.

Some people think they don’t need any “extra” security layers. They reckon a loaded gun is their home defense system; a trusty firearm and a little situational awareness is all they need to protect the good guys from bad company, should push come to shove.

While it’s better to have a gun when you need it, it’s even better to have a gun and not need it. As the old saying goes, the only gunfight you’re sure to win is the one you don’t have. Here are five ways to increase the odds of not having a gunfight in your home and, hence, reducing the odds of shooting the wrong person.

1. Be aware of your social circle

Rhode Islanders have no degrees of separation. Everyone knows everyone. Ah, but how well does anyone know anyone? Well enough, I suppose. If the people circulating in and out of your home environment were mostly dangerous you’d probably be dead, seriously injured or a felon by now. Just ask the people who run ran crack houses.

That said, tens of thousands of middle class folks welcome their friendly neighborhood pot dealer into their home (plying him with red wine that impresses him about as much as My Left Foot.) Equally, there’s another outbreak of cocaine and heroin use amongst suburban teenagers in middle class communities, where parents assume that their kids’ new friends’ sniffles are viral in nature.

How may of us make the link between in-home drug abusers and potential violence? How many bar a relative or friend with a bad alcohol, pill or powder habit? What about friends or family with severe mental issues? How many homeowners hire “independent” workmen, dismissing companies who screen their employees for criminal records and citizenship as too expensive?

I’m not saying an armed homeowner should be paranoid or a hermit or an armed paranoid hermit. I am saying it’s important to keep a close eye on the people coming in and out of your home. A bunch of best buds dropping over for the game? Chill. Strangers making the scene with a couple of bag of memory chips full of unlistenable music and friggin’ awesome weed? Time to spool-up the old OODA Loop.

2. Let people living or staying at your house know you’re armed 

We don’t know whether or not Brother Two knew that Brother One kept a bedside gun. If Brother Number Two had known that his relative was armed and (thus) dangerous he might have signaled or delayed his entry.

Be that as it may, I reckon it was Brother Number One’s duty to inform Brother Number Two about his after-hours firearms-based defensive strategy.

Anyone staying overnight in your house or having after-hours access to your home should know that you’re a man with a plan—and at least one gun. You may not want to discuss your exact defensive plans but you might want to tell all house guests about the bro-on-bro violence above in horrifying, gruesome, invented detail.

Finish relaying the cautionary tale with a simple, “Anyone who doesn’t identify themselves when observed or challenged after bedtime in this house is putting themselves in mortal danger. Side effects may include loss of blood, eviscerated internal organs and death.”

Or something like that.

[I take this one step further by open carrying when workmen are in situ. There are plenty of stories of workmen who return to their employers to engage in criminal activities, including rape and murder. Why not nip that idea in the bud with a peaceful display of firepower?]

3. Light your house

Bad guys may be dumb but they aren’t stupid; they know exterior lights raise their chances of detection (by curtain-twitching neighbors where applicable). Illumination also aids apprehension (when the cops eventually arrive). A motion-activated exterior light can mean the difference between a burglar choosing your house or someone else’s.

Interior night lights in strategic locations are also critical to armed home defense. In the worst case scenario, lights make it more difficult for invaders to avoid . . . you. In the worse case scenario +100, interior lights make it far less likely you’ll shoot the wrong person.

4. Alarm your house 

When the day’s business is done, alarm the perimeter of your house or apartment. Not because a triggered alarm will summon the cavalry (when seconds count the police are only minutes away). Because an alarm gives you time to think. To assess the situation and take appropriate action.

True story: my eldest daughter triggered the alarm at 1:30am one night in an entirely incredibly effort to “get some air.” “It’s me! It’s me!” she cried out. No boyfriend was harmed during the making of this anecdote.

It just goes to show that the inadvertent Cain and Able deal above might have been avoided if the homeowner had alarmed his house. “Cain, is that you?” “Who’d you think it was the Queen of Bathsheba?” “Turn off that bloody racket. “It’s the alarm.” “Turn it off.” “No YOU turn it off!” “No YOU turn it off.”

Alternatively, the ill-fated brother might have known the alarm code. He may have disabled the alarm, come in and then faced the lethal threat. Which is why I recommend an alarm system with a beeping keypad and don’t share my key fob activation switch with my children.

5. Know your target

A firearms instructor once told me “If someone’s in my house and they’re not supposed to be I’m going to shoot them.” I get that. But I also view the story of fratricide above as a stark warning that things are not always what they seem. Even with all the security layers above and others not discussed (e.g., dogs), unlikely events can occur, putting the wrong person in the crosshairs.

It could be a drunk who somehow evaded all your security measures and stumbled into the wrong house. Maybe it’s an undercover cop who got the wrong address. Maybe it’s a kid’s friend who thought he’d dress up like a burglar before Halloween. Or something.

There’s only one 100 percent correct definition of the right person to confront with lethal force: someone who poses an credible, imminent threat to your life and limb or the lives and limbs of other innocents.

I prefer the word “confront” over “shoot.” I don’t want to shoot anyone. If I can warn off a home invader, I will. If I can assume a defensive position with my daughter(s) and wait for the cops to arrive and stop the threat on my behalf, I will. I will not be a victim but I will not take a human life—unless I absolutely must.

I want to know what I must know to take a human life: whether my target’s friend or foe. Anyone who shares this perspective needs to calm down as best they can and give themselves the time needed to make sure that the person in your sights needs shooting.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Practice assessing targets; looking at hands for weapons, searching for a belt-mounted badge. And get some force-on-force training.

You are the final layer of home security. By adding pre-you layers to your home security system you’re helping make sure that a home invasion doesn’t occur in the first place. Or, if it does, you have options before you initiate a ballistic solution. Onions make you cry, but the tears following a “negligent discharge” are endless. Think ahead. The life you save may be your own, or belong to someone you love.

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  1. I live in a nice upper middle class neighborhood full of overpaid bureaucrats, military and spooks. It is pretty safe. The only people who may be out to get me are a bunch a “evilserbs” for what I helped do to them in 1999. I am hoping they have forgotten about me but just in case there is I always have the assistance of John Moses Browning to help me deal with them.
    When my son comes home we have a rule. If he is going to be out late at night he is to call us just before he shows up. We do this so he won’t startle the dogs and cause me to come down with a gun.

  2. Good article, I would like to add, if at all possible, get a dog.
    It doesn’t have to be a guard dog, even a yappy little mutt is an alarm system that is self arming and knows family and friends. Instead of a shadowy figure in the house, you get a sibling/child saying “Quiet Benji, it’s me”

  3. take advantage of the fabulous technological age you live in and buy one of the cornucopia of security camera systems available. it lets you see: downstairs, outside the front door, the back yard, the garage, the basement, etc without having to physically go there.

  4. Waking up with someone in my home that I didn’t know used to be called Sunday morning. Now it’s called a home invasion. I guess that times have changed.

  5. Some good advice. The extra layers will give you time to group, assess, get to safety, and even keep you from needing to explain squeezing the trigger on an innocent.

  6. If it’s an undercover cop with the wrong address he needs some… motivation to do the job properly, which is never, I emphasize NEVER something provided by the department after the fact of wrong address raids. If ANYTHING the department congratulates them for doing their job “following orders” and publicly pities THEM if they were so traumatized by shooting an innocent in the wrong building. Then maybe two years later the family gets a check for the amount the government assessed as the bare minimum value for the damage. If a cop sees a gun in your hand you are going down if they have to send the whole force into your house, the address will no longer matter. The culture of cops can do no wrong even as they are plainly doing wrong is freaking insane, cue the defending arguments for it.

  7. So you have each window as its own zone? Do I understand that correctly? Is there a way to, for example, have all the “living room windows” on 1 zone? I have 7 opening windows plus a glass door in my living room. It seems like a lot of trouble to have each window set as its own zone. Family room is another 5. Kitchen is 3, bedroom is 7, etc etc etc. Actually thinking about it, if you are limited to 32 sensors then I’d probably need 2 of those X10 alarms (23 windows that open on just the west wall of my house), we have 5 fire/smoke sensors, plus motion, glass break, and obviously more windows and then 6 doors.


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