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Whenever a newbie asks me what firearm they should buy for home protection I respond with a simple question: do you have a burglar alarm? I find it incredible that someone, anyone is willing to go to all the trouble and expense of acquiring, mastering and (potentially) deploying deadly force without first considering the option of scaring the bad guy or guys away. And many of the people who do have a burglar alarm don’t use it. The internal sensors ring false a few times—kids, late night snack, dog, etc.—so they just forget about the whole thing. And most of the people with alarms don’t have panic buttons. Or use the system during the day. Anyway, it’s not all about deterrence. (Did I mention that most people with alarms don’t have lawn signs?) It’s also about creating an early warning system. For example . . .

David and Jennifer Jennings will never forget what happened early Sunday morning inside their home in a quiet Surprise neighborhood near West Greenway Road and North 168th Avenue.

“That’s where he came,” explained David Jennings.

Through an unlocked door, police say 18-year-old Ivan Sanchez [above] burglarized the home passing from one room to the next, “He grabbed this black bag right here,” said David, and in the process he noticed a gun next to David and Jennifer’s bed.

“The gun that I had to protect my family was pointed at me,” said David. Then his wife told us. “It was close, it was close and he just kept saying, ‘Don’t’ move. Don’t move.’ Really quiet, really serious.”

Oops. The fact that Dad managed to fight back and subdue the intruder without serious injury or loss of life (as reported by is laudable. But his mistake shouldn’t be yours.

Leaving a firearm in plain sight by your bed is not sound strategy—especially if there are children in the house. There are plenty of small, quick-access handgun safes that will remove the possibility of unauthorized access. They can be locked tight during the day (removing the need to move and store your defensive handgun every morning, should it not be your everyday carry gun as well).

But more than that, letting the bad guy get up close and personal before you’re aware of his/her/their presence was his first mistake. So . . .

Two words: alarm and dog. If you have both, you have a pretty good layered defense system that will allow you to stay ahead of the self-defense curve. Which is the only place you want to be if your home invaders come a calling.

Oh, and don’t forget Dad’s advice: lock your windows and doors. Duh.

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  1. I’ve got a yorkie-poo that goes off like a claymore when the neighbor down the street farts. No one is sneaking in my house, ever. Best home security investment I’ve made, plus she’s fun.

    • And I thought in incessant, continuous, ear-splitting yapping from tiny dogs serves no useful purpose other than selling headache medication…

      • So did I until my wife got a little Tibetan Spaniel. I was curious about the breed and found out that in the old days the Chinese used to use them on their perimeters. They can see great and have amazing hearing and would alert the guards and the big dogs whenever someone would come near the perimeter. I thought he was crazy at first because he would just pop up all the time and then a few minutes later a car would pass by the house.

  2. “I find it incredible that someone, anyone is willing to go to all the trouble and expense of acquiring, mastering and (potentially) deploying deadly force without first considering the option of scaring the bad guy or guys away… Through an unlocked door, police say 18-year-old Ivan Sanchez [above] burglarized the home…”

    Because false alarms give the police cause to search you home, and some people prefer their privacy. Or you could always just lock your door and let this guy burglarize some other unlocked home.

    • There are tricks to avoiding unwanted police visits (which don’t necessarily lead to a warrantless search). For example, an alarm monitoring company can call to see if everything’s alright after a false (asking for a safe word).

      • Yes, that and reading a manual and explaining to those that live there that having an alarm is not just a quirk but just as valuable as a fire alarm.

      • Another option is one of the self-installed alarm systems. Some are noisemakers only, while others have cellular capabilities and can be set to call your phone or another number if desired.

        • At the very least spend $10.00 at Lowes and get a four pack of those ones that stick on your door and sound an alarm when the door opens. They work on windows too.

          They work on dresser draws, cabinets and anything else you want to be alerted of being opened during the daytime as well.

        • “Justin says:

          March 19, 2012 at 11:53

          Another option is one of the self-installed alarm systems. Some are noisemakers only, while others have cellular capabilities and can be set to call your phone or another number if desired.”

          Yeah, we have those on top of ADT. They have different sounds so it lets me know which part of the house I am hearing.

  3. As it is said on the intro of Schoolhouse Rock, “knowledge is power”. Knowing danger is afoot puts you more at an advantage than sitting in blissful ignorance in the family room waiting to be victimized.

  4. Agreed that you should set your alarm, have a dog, keep your gun out of plain site, etc. but how about LOCK YOUR DOORS?!?

    The first thing that stood out to me in the story is that the guy entered the house through an unlocked door.

  5. If the man forgets to lock his door, what makes you think he would remember to arm his alarm?

    • Some people don’t forget. Some people just don’t care or have kids that don’t care. It isn’t always cut and dry. My parents always lock their front door but never lock the back in case someone (family) forgets their keys. Considering that this is the most common place that someone breaks in the stupidity of that habit is astounding to me.

  6. I have a 75lb. Chow as a first line of defense. He will defend my two girls to the death. Just last night my wife came in from a walk (with a friend) through the front door and he virtually flew down the steps not knowing it was her til she stepped in. She commented it was very intimidating.

    Outdoor landscape lighting and limiting shrubbery around the house is also good.

  7. Robert,

    Thank you. I’ve made comments here at TTAG how there appears to be far too much reliance on guns (semi-auto vs. the revolver debate aside) as the first and last defensive measure taken and used. I’m no expert on home defense against intruders. It seems common sense to me both to prevent/discourage an intrusion and a possible later legal defense asset in the case of when an intruder is shot to have outer layers or barriers before needing a gun. Having numerous outer layers as a non-violent deterrent I think might help demonstrate that a gun was only used after other measures failed. Ralph would be needed to give actual legal insight and advice.

    A few I generally think about are: fence, alarm, dog(s), video cameras, intruder resistant window glass and doors (locking them too — duh!), and a solid front door with a peep hole.

  8. Get a LOUD alarm, but not a monitored alarm. The ‘call the cops’ from the monitoring company is worse than useless, 98%+ are false positives, which means any department with a clue won’t respond at all, and those that do will so down prioritize things that, if the alarm was otherwise silent, the burglar will be able to open a UL Listed RSC (30 minutes with a crowbar) and walk away before the cops arrive unless you are living in a small, low crime town.

    But the NOISE of the alarm brings attention from the neighbors, wakes you up (if, in the rare chance the burglar is skulking while you are sleeping) and, night or day, occupied or not, pretty much keeps the burglar from sticking around.

    But don’t bother with an alarm until you get in the habit of locking the F@#)(#* doors. Most burglaries are during the day, and enter an unoccupied house through an unlocked door or window. Even in low crime areas like where I live, there is about a 1 in 200 rate per year of a house-unoccupied, daytime burglary. Which means you need to be stronger than your neighbor (but not much more than that…)

    And any self defense gun should be locked up. There are tons of great options, and since night-time burglars are so rare, I have a hunch that the odds are about the same of a kid in the household getting an unsecured gun if you don’t secure your weapon.

    (Based on my rough recall that ‘kid shot by found gun’ reporting happens at close to the same rate as ‘burglar chased off by gun’ reporting in the greater bay area, and both are rare enough that they make the news)

    • “…98%+ are false positives, which means any department with a clue won’t respond at all, and those that do will so down prioritize things…”

      Not all are that way, I was rammed by an Evanston, IL cop responding to a false positive alarm during the day. I was at a stop, and that cop definitely didnt slow down.

    • Good advice. I’d just say that if your super-loud alarm goes off by accident, I feel it would be best practice to visit your neighbours and apologise, especially if it was 3am.

  9. Electronics these days are so good and inexpensive that systems can be built to function in a way which suits anyone’s arrangements. You can also install motion detectors partially encapsulated so that they’ll detect people (if they’re not crawling) but not your dogs. Not locking the doors is more than careless. I’ll pass on the reduction of shrubberies and ornamental trees, as do most of my neighbors. We just keep adding more. The last creep to trigger an alarm hid in the bushes a half-block away, feeling he was safely hidden in the jungle of rhodos. Fool. The local PD uses TI to scan the area when called for an attempted break-in.

  10. A dog just would not fit in my lifestyle, but I do have a watch cat. No, I’m not kidding. He will alert if anyone is near my door and will run toward the door — not away from it — growling loud enough for me to hear him. He’s done it his whole adult life.

    He alerted yesterday, so I opened to door to find a neighbor — who I don’t trust. The neighbor babbled something unintelligible and left. The cat got a treat of peanut butter, his favorite.

    I’m alarming the access points next week.

    • My cat runs away. If he isn’t by the door when we come home – bad. If he isn’t near us when home – bad. He has a deathly fear of strangers (used to be a stray) and will run and hide when he hears or sees one.

    • Your report of this remarkable cat is the best argument I’ve heard for cloning. Has to be some special genes in there to elicit a growl at a human. Put me on the wait list.

  11. In the last two late-night home invasions in my city the occupants were awakened by the BG’s standing in their bedroom. In one, the wife was raped. In the other, the homeowners just lost posessions – including their gun. At the minimum, get a dog. Even at that, nothing is fool-proof when you are not at home. We’ve had neighbors with active alarm systems who have been burglarized during the day. They just grab & run.

  12. What happened to locking bedroom doors? Its bad enough leaving your house open. But your sleeping quarters? Damn.

      • I’m an apartment dweller with a sturdy steel door with two deadbolts that go right into an all-around steel doorjamb. That’s the only doorway into my apt – no fire escape, either.
        My bedroom door has a lock on it, and it gets locked every night and every time I’m able to come home and grab a quick snooze.
        Defense in depth is a great strategy – the best of all outcomes is that the BG simply sees too hard of a target and moves on…

  13. ***WARNING*** Noob loooking for guidance!

    So now that you’ve been warned, I have this conunndrum: I have two home defense firearms and I read here that the first rule of using a gun for home defense is to “have a gun.” But here’s my question. If I put my firearm in a place where it’s easy to reach when needed, it’s also easy to steal (obviously not so if it’s on my person, but that’s abother question). Given that the number of occupant-absent burglaries far exceeds the number of home-invasions, it seems to me that I ought to be willing (on at least some level) to risk loss of the firearm in the interest of being able to use it for personal defense. There are things I can do to mitigate this, like hiding the guns, but if there easy to reach, they’re going to be likewise easy for a burglar to find.

    Thoughts? guidance?

    • If you’re not going to take it with you, fast access gun vaults are an effective option.

    • Use any of the fast combo safes.

      EG, for a shotgun, use a Shotlock. For a pistol, a MiniVault (NON-biometric, the biometrics are IMO, not reliable enough). These are very quick access, but can stop a kid or a casual burglar from taking your gun, as they require serious time with a crowbar to open without the combination.

    • Hide it in plain sight. Take a disposible diaper. Color it appropriately with yellow food dye in water, and with some chocolate. Leave it in a convenient kitchen or laundry trash can when you go out. Take the magazine with you, if legal, else store it nearby but elsewhere. Professional burglars routinely steal small safes these days. It’s just a common place. That’s why they call them professional. -and don’t let the chocolate get on the gun….

  14. Pros for owning a dog. A dog still works when the electrical power is off. A dog works 24-7. A dog needs no access code to disarm, he knows who you are, and doesn’t belong. A dog is portable with no need for adapters/chargers. A dog typically has a longer lifespan the most modern electronics. Minimal “installation” fees, and can be used in any new residence you move into with no transfer fees. Can be un-installed in 10 seconds with no repairs needed to the house.

    As to locking the doors, we lock the doors ALL THE TIME. I didn’t grow up that way, we used to lock up at night, but now the doors are always locked.

  15. If you own your home, defensive gardening can help. Plant roses in front of your first floor windows. They look nice and deter window prowlers. In some places I’ve lived, I changed the doors so that they open out rather than in. Harder to pull a door open than to kick it in.

  16. Get a REAL dog.

    There are breeds of dogs that are guard dogs of hundreds of years of breeding. Get one.

    Look particularly to livestock guarding dogs. These are large, territorial breeds that give no quarter when their space is invaded.

    • Livestock dogs are not really good for families in a home though, Dyspeptic Gunsmith. They are big and messy and don’t generally like being inside at all. Those are the type of dogs I grew up with and I wouldn’t trust them around my kid. Ridgebacks are a nice, family friendly dog with a hunting drive. I would recommend those. I should also note that American Dobermans are nothing like their German counterparts. American dobys are sissies compared to the much more aggressive German doby.

      • Look into the Akita. We had a female for 14 years. Absolutely beautiful animals that live their entire life dedicated to protecting their pack. The females are very good with children, even young children. They take on a certain maternal role. The breed does require extensive training though. The training is tedious and must be done with each family member so the animal understands its role in the family hierarchy. They are extremely territorial and will stand their ground against anything. When I was very young, maybe 8 or 9, my brothers and I were home with our mother. Out cleaning lady and her boyfriend decided to try to break in to demand money/goods. Our Akita immediately halted the attack. There are few things scarier than 100 pounds of pissed off muscle and teeth making a charge at you.

  17. Common sense is not always common. The simple things like locking doors and windows, exterior lights, alarm, dog, etc are often overlooked by many people. My generation has been conditioned to think that we are safe in Suburbia.
    I live in the Quad Cities in Iowa. Nasty gang problem here, home invasions are too common. The thugs here are brazen. A common theme I notice is they like to come into the house through open garage doors or garage doors that do not lock.
    On a related note has anyone seen the commercial where the couple tries to save money by ditching their alarm for a guard panther? Funny stuff.

  18. I once lived in a rented house. I awoke one night to find an intruder standing at the foot of my bed. Fortunately nothing serious happened. I had a gun on the floor beside the bed, hidden from the intruder. I grabbed it and started shouting. He ran; I followed. He got away before I got a clear shot at him. I lost my wallet, and my wife lost some jewelry.

    The doors were locked. The intruder broke in through a kitchen window. The bedroom door didn’t have a lock.

    Ironically we were to pick up a dog the next day, which we did. The landlady had the doors and windows alarmed so there wouldn’t be a repeat.

    Ever since then I’ve insisted on a burglar alarm, or a dog, in every house I’ve lived in. We keep the doors locked during the day. The first floor windows are alarmed, as are some of the doors. The interior has a motion detector. I have guns hidden around the house so I’ll always be near one. I think I have protection in depth. Fortunately I’ve never had to test it.

    I don’t currently have a dog. The motion detector prohibits that. I do have two very friendly cats, that I can lock up in the back porch at night when the burglar alarm is turned on. During the day they will run TOWARDS the door when they hear someone at it. Not much of a threat to intruders, but definitely a warning device.

    • Sorry to hear that you’ve been invaded. A word in your ear: do NOT stash guns around the house. There are so many ways that can go wrong.

      Carry one on your person, and keep one (locked) in your safe room. Shotguns are good for a last ditch defense. IMHO.

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