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In my series How to Defend Your Home With A Shotgun (Chapter Four by the end of this week), I counsel home defenders never to underestimate their enemy. I stand by that assertion. Even if a home defender is as stupid/high as the one in this story, it is not safe to assume that “your” home invader will display a similar lack of common sense. And remember that this attack, like most, started with extreme violence. “74-year-old Hosie Harris was in his 15th Street home about 11 Monday night when someone came into his home and bedroom and demanded money according to sheriff’s deputies,” reports . . .

The suspect later identified as Lee Andrew Johnson, hit Harris with a stick or club on his face and head. Detectives say Harris kept a loaded .22 rifle next to his bed but Johnson picked up the rifle and pointed it Harris. Harris told detectives Johnson was unable to fire the rifle because the safety was on so Johnson put the rifle down When he did, Harris said Johnson turned away and continued looking through his personal items in the closet a few feet away. Harris picked up the rifle and shot the suspect twice.

And now, a word about gun safeties . . .

This story illustrates the importance of leaving your gun safety on: it prevents an idiot from killing you with your own gun. The safety has saved countless (someone really should count) policemen and soldiers from being killed with their own weapon.

Most gun gurus will tell you that there’s only one way to store your home defense weapon: loaded, with one in the chamber, with the safety on. All you need to do at that point is disengage the safety and fire.

To which I will add two things. First, if there are rug rats anywhere in the vicinity, the loaded gun should be stored in a safe. A simple keypad is best, with a repeating two digit combo. Second, make SURE the safety’s on before you put the gun down/away.

Just today, an Onalska, Washington teacher shot himself to death whilst moving guns around in his safe. (A rifle bolt caught the trigger of another weapon.) Assume the safety ISN’T on when moving/removing the weapon/weapons. Muzzle discipline lads! Muzzle disciplne!

Second, I’m not a big fan of gun safeties. Gasp! I know: the external safety is the last line of defense against accidental discharge and that whole killed with your own weapon thing (as above). I prefer to leave the safety off—on an empty chamber.

Racking the shotgun or pulling the slide is my safety. [Note: I am careful to keep my guns WELL separated in storage. I NEVER over-crowd my safes.] Both of those movements require major muscle movement, not fine motor skills. When your bloodstream gets an adrenal dump, fine motor skills are the first thing to go.

Or maybe the second, right after cognition. In specific, my Benelli has a fiddly little safety button right near the trigger. Even if I trained myself to use the safety reflexively, I don’t trust that my fingers would find the button in the middle of a battle for my life. Some guns have larger safety buttons. I’m still not buying it. Literally. I know I’m betting my life that A) I can get to my gun before an attacker and B) he doesn’t know enough to rack or slide the weapon before firing. 

It’s also true that cops will tell you plenty of stories about home defenders who couldn’t shoot their own weapon because they forgot to take the safety off. Gun owners who’d been shooting for decades who forgot their training when push came to shove. Remember: most gun owners are NOT law enforcement or military spec. They’ve NEVER fired their gun under extreme physical or emotional stress. Just sayin’.

Like everything about guns, how you store your weapons is, ultimately, a compromise. Or a violation of state law, depending. One thing’s for sure: however you store your home defense gun, practice firing it from that exact level operational readiness. Personally, I always return my primary home defense weapons to their rock and roll ready state before each round of practice. But then, I’m OCD that way. And a few others. In case you hadn’t noticed.

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  1. When I worked armed security, and when I was packing a pistol in Afghanistan, I always carried my (DA) automatics in Condition 2: Chamber loaded, hammer down, safety on. Why? Because it's a sad fact that a significant percentage of cops or other armed personnel are shot with their own weapons.

    Having that safety on may provide me with the extra second I need to either get my other weapon to bear, or to get my hands on the bad guy to keep him from shooting me (and this actually has happened, quite a few times: Cop's life is saved when bad guy can't figure out how to disengage the safety on the gun he just took from the cop.) It's also one reason why, although I have a Glock for concealed carry, if I were a professional gunslinger, I'd only carry a pistol that had a positive safety.

    The key here is training and practice. As long as you practice picking up the weapon and then flicking the safety off, and do this frequently, it will become second nature – muscle memory, IOW. Second nature to you – but not neccessarily to the bad guy who may or may not be familiar with your weapon.

  2. I believe you need to re-read the article, and pay more attention to names. The CRIMINAL picked up the gun and could not fire it because of the safety. He set it back down. The HOMEOWNER then picked it up, disengaged the safety, and shot the intruder.

    And you should store your ready weapon either loaded, safety on, or loaded, chamber empty. Period.

  3. 67dodgeman Holy crap! I got it COMPLETELY backwards. Right. I've deleted my drivel. I'll rewrite this from the other perspective. Thanks for keeping me honest!

  4. No prob on the backwards storyline.

    I was going to suggest the empty chamber shotgun approach. Racking the slide is a very natural move, even half asleep. But I think you covered that.

    More importantly, if the attacker is in the bedroom before you're fully awake, you've pretty much lost the fight. Better doors, better locks, better windows, etc. are the real key here. You should hear them kicking the door multiple times before they actually gain entrance. Thus the necessary time to retrieve and ready weapons.

    Also, if you're not awake enough to disengage the safety, then you're not awake enough to distinguish between an armed intruder and you teenage (and slightly intoxicated) son staggering in at 2 am to tell you something dreadfully important and life-shattering (like his girlfriend dumped him). I'm not a big fan of the shoot first and fast club for several reasons.

  5. Dodge dude, agreed. As I wrote in chapter three of HTDYHWAS, a home alarm system is a must. That will largely eliminate the shooting the wrong person problem. I'm amazed at the number of people who spend big bucks on guns but don't harden the house or fit a proper alarm system. And check this: TTAg's first live chat due soon with a home defense expert to be named later. Bring your A game!


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