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Three teenagers are arrested charged with a violent home invasion in New Holland, Lancaster County [PA]. Police say they entered an apartment at 361 East Main Street with guns [a double-barreled shotgun and a revolver] and forced the residents to the floor. Two men who live in the apartment fought back against the intruders, and got blows to the head from the butt of a shotgun for their troubles.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favor of shooting anyone. Ever. When it comes to shooting people, I have a simple rule: IF my life or the life of my loved ones is NOT threatened, I opt OUT of a ballistic solution. I’ve been mugged at knife-point—in a state where the average citizen is as likely to get a concealed carry handgun license as infectious endocarditis. Oh wait; I got that too. Anyway, I made my decision, tossed my wallet and ran. Which worked out well for both of us, in some senses. We don’t know exactly what happened here. The vast majority of violent home invasions, indeed gun fatalities, involve “people who know each other.” In other words, it’s criminal on criminal violence. But say that wasn’t the case. If you were in your apartment and three gun-wielding home invaders entered your castle, would you have shot them? I’m not looking for the obvious answer.

The obvious answer is yes, of course. The real question is, could you have shot them? There are plenty of yes/no variables worthy of consideration. Number one on my list: did the invaders get the jump on you?

Most gunfights are nasty, brutish and short. One study concluded that the average armed encounter of the law enforcement kind lasts seven seconds. That’s not enough time to choose a breakfast cereal, never mind figure out who to shoot where when and how. If you don’t detect the threat in time, you lose the first mover advantage. That’s bad.

If a criminal with a gun sees you without a gun they may or may not shoot you. If they see you with a gun, they’re going to do the sensible thing (for them) and shoot you. Best case scenario: they miss. And then you shoot them. And then move, so they don’t shoot you. ‘Cause you might have missed.

Or hit them—and they’re still shooting at you anyway. Or taking fire from the (hopefully) dead man’s cohorts. BTW: this is not my idea of a good way to spend a Wednesday night.

The first mover advantage is the difference between life and death in a gunfight. Anyone planning on using a gun for home defense should train themselves to look at a potential target’s (for that is what they are) hands. If they have a gun, shoot them before they shoot you. Period.

All the experts agree: shoot the person who poses the greatest threat first. And not too many times—especially if there’s more than one attacker. (This is one reason I like shotguns for home defense: normally, one shot’ll do ya, and people don’t tend to “empty the clip”).

After you’ve done that, shoot the others. How do you know which assailant poses the greatest risk? You’ll know.

The Krav Maga experts got it right (of course): when the going gets tough, the tough get ridiculous violent. If you’re not going to be passive, you need to be as aggressive as humanly possible. If that means forgoing cover, screw it. Plenty of successful gunfighters have walked towards their attackers. If you run out of bullets, hit them with the damn gun.

No matter how you slice it, shooting one to three armed assailants AFTER they start their attack is going to be, shall we say, challenging. It may be best to wait for the end of the first wave of violence and NOT reach for your gun—so you can then achieve the element of surprise. Even if that means taking some physical damage and/or risking your life.

Whether or not a gun grab is even possible depends on the location of your weapon, the ease of access and its state of preparation. (Massachusetts residents need not apply.) Then again, would you rather die trying to get and load your gun or run the risk of execution?

This is a horrible, terrible situation. I hope that no one reading these words ever faces anything even remotely resembling this scenario. But if you do, to paraphrase Yoda (the most kick-ass guy in the universe, allegedly), no trying. Either do or don’t do. The sooner you make that decision the greater your odds of survival.

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  1. Good advice. One thing I think most people don’t consider when it comes to home defense is to look at things from the point of view from the bad guy(s). Is the room where you’re most likely to be easily defensible? Do you have a cell phone, flashlight, pair of shoes, and a weapon within arm’s reach? Are you prepared for things like the bad guys cutting the power? Breaking in your front and back doors simultaneously?

    You’ll likely get to the point (eventually) where you reach a point of diminishing returns. That, or go nuts, trying to figure out every possible “what if” and a priori proposition. You then end up with an acknowledgement of the obvious – you can’t defend against every possible contingency. Then go back and figure out what you CAN defend against, and see what – if anything – is practical to do to increase your odds of survival.

    And yes, I would have shot the little bastards, and not lost a night of sleep over it.

    • I have 45 feet of rope tied off and ready for me to rappel out of my 3rd story apartment if I get overrun.

      Kidding. =)

      Though honestly, I do have 100ft of climbing rope, 30 feet of 250lb towing rope, and probably 250feet of paracord in my closet. You can never have enough rope.

  2. Rule 19 of a gunfight: Decide to be agressive enough, quickly enough.

    So to summarize, the question here is not one of justification. Three armed men, unknown to you, burst into your home. You are, without question, justified in visiting every means of violence at your disposal upon them.

    The question is, in part, could you rationalize your reaction to the justification A) fast enough so that the situation does not degenerate to the point where you, the homeowner, are out of options, and B) after the smoke has cleared, and you have vanquished your young foes, in the other part.

    Both aspects of the justification/rationalization question require a mind-set that you must establish today, now, this minute — before any such situation occurs.

    When you decide to arm yourself within your home, you must steel yourself to the fact that if the situation arises to shoot, you will. For if you do not, and you stand there brandishing, you will likely be shot on site by the armed intruders. Adding insult to injury, it may eventually be with your own weapon.

    Secondly, you must decide now you can live with the consequences of taking a life — even and especially when that taking is justified. You think it's easy? You think you could casually go on with your own life? You think you will not relive those moments a million times? That you won't see their faces in your sleep? You think these thoughts won't cause you to hesitate to press that trigger?

    Because if you are like most humans, you will feel immense remorse, even when your actions are legal and justified. And additionally, if you've not trained your body and your mind ahead of the action to override your impulse to avoid future remorse, you will — will — hesitate. Or worse, subconsciously and purposely miss. (I could go into many military studies on this, but will save those for another post.)

    Look again at those three faces. I know nothing of their backgrounds…whether they were abused or neglected or overly pampered and spoiled. Whether they were desperate or thrill seeking. In short, I've got no information about their motivations (nor would I have, should it be my door being broken down by them). But I do see three young men full of potential to mature and become responsible citizens. Of course, they have the potential to become even worse criminals as well (if that were possible). But the fact is, had those three young men shown up at my home, their potential would never be known.

    I've already made my peace with my plans for an immediate response to justification, and with my conscience and the rationalization that will follow.

    Robert is basically asking you, dear reader…have you?

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