I was sitting at the bar, waiting for the chefs to finish my take-out order. I was watching the Bollywood version of MTV, contemplating the fact that my youngest daughters were sucking down a drink named after a child movie star who defied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pronouncement that “There are no seconds acts in American lives.” The owner approached me. “So you are the gun guy. I am thinking about buying a gun” I made some kind of disclaimer. And then guided the restauranteur through my usual checklist of the three things any law-abiding citizen should consider before buying a firearm for home defense . . .
1. Do you have an alarm system?
An alarm system is your first line of defense: crime prevention. If you live in a neighborhood where most of the houses aren’t alarmed, the alarm company’s stickers and lawn signs send a clear message to Mr. Perp: “Dude! Rob him instead.” Sad but true.
An alarm system is your second line of defense: deterrence. Criminals don’t like cops. Nothing says “the cops are are on their way” like an alarm. If a robber is stupid enough to break into a house with an alarm system, the sound will, in all likelihood, lead to a strategic retreat.
An alarm system is your third line of defense: an early warning system. The more time you have to respond to an attack, the more mentally prepared you are for what might follow, the better the chances that you can avoid or eliminate the threat. Nothing says “showtime!” like an alarm at 2am.
DISCLAIMERS – To protect against a professional attack, make sure your alarm activates if the line is cut. Perimeter coverage is all you really need (windows and doors), but don’t forget to turn on the alarm during the day if there are long stretches of time without traffic. Also, install a panic button near the most-used door or doors and your bed.
2. Is your house set up for safety?
I ask this question second, because most people simply will not upgrade their property beyond an alarm system. They should, but they don’t.
Start with a vault-like front and back door. Criminals lower down on the food chain (a.k.a. opportunists) are likely to invade through the main portals. Proper security doors will stop stupid perps, and give you time to implement a defense against the really scary bad guys (e.g., triggering the alarm, calling 911, getting your gun, securing your family, but not necessarily in that order). I like mastersecuritydoors.com.
Lighting and gardening are also key. Criminals are naturally shy (at least until they’re in your house); trim away any foliage that blocks the view of your windows or doors from the street or drive. Install lights on the ground pointed upwards towards the windows. Any thief who attempts to break in at night will cast a shadow on your house. Bad for them, good for the cops.
Remember that being “set-up for safety” means making sure everyone in your family has what gun gurus call “situational awareness.” It’s not paranoid to scan for strange cars or people every time you enter and leave your house. Or instruct occupants never to open the door to strangers. Or establish a home defense plan. Or increase security as needs be (an angry boyfriend, reports of nearby break-ins, etc.). It’s common sense.
3. Are you sure you want a gun?
Unless you’re prepared to learn how to use a gun efficiently and effectively, practice with it regularly, and learn the rules for the legal use of lethal force, don’t introduce a firearm into your home.
If you don’t take these steps, it better to do something else during an invasion—from hiding (alarm triggered) to launching a counter-attack with a Taser, knife, pepper spray, table lamp, etc. If not, you could shoot the wrong person. You could shoot at the right person and miss, inviting lethal retribution. You could shoot the right person—and discover another person. Or you could simply waste time that would be better spent doing something else (see: above).
I’m not saying that only properly trained people should have a home defense gun. I’m saying that YOU should be properly trained if YOU are thinking about buying a home defense gun.
That process starts by finding out whether or not you’re suited to firearms. Some people can’t handle guns safely (in the same sense that some people can’t figure out the TV remote). Or shoot them well. Some people just can’t make the leap from the idea of a gun to the fact of one in their hand. If you can’t, don’t.
Ascertaining firearms suitability is a simple matter of receiving some professional instruction at a local gun range, using a rented gun. (Note: if the trainer launches into a pro-gun spiel, gently remind him or her that you’re there to learn how to handle a firearm, not receive political indoctrination.)
Also keep in mind that you may not be the only one who needs/wants a home defense gun. Your significant other may spend more time in the house (without your protection) than you do. In any case, discuss the new potential home defense plan with all adults living under your roof before you bring home a gat. Then talk to the kids about their role.
IMHO, home carry is the ultimate litmus test for whether or not a person should use a firearm for home defense.
Keeping your handgun on your person in your house is critical to an effective firearms defense. The chances of getting to your gun safe, opening it and extracting your weapon during a home invasion in time to deal with an attack are minimal. (There’s no getting around this limitation while you’re sleeping.)
More than that, home carry affirms your commitment to responsible and effective firearms ownership. It’s a constant reminder that you do, in fact, have a gun. A lethal weapon that you will use if you have to. That you must know how to use.
If you’re not prepared to make that commitment, then don’t. If you are, then do. But do so realizing that shooting someone is the last thing you ever want to do in a self-defense situation. And if you have to do it, you’ll need some serious shooting and tactical skills. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll lose your life, anyway.
After talking to the restaurant owner, I established that he’d ticked all the right boxes, except for the one about firearms familiarization. He’s planning a trip to the range. As well he should.