Things are getting a little crazy out there. Like any forward thinker, perhaps you’ve got a stash of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and bleach wipes. And maybe while you’re “hunkering down” and securing your stockpile, you may also be considering a defense strategy for your home and family. We don’t anticipate needing such a plan, but in the event of a crisis, it’s always better to err on the side of over-preparedness.
Home Defense Planning
Any plan for home defense should start with common sense. It should include multiple layers, multiple assets, and no single point of failure. Lock your doors, install adequate lighting, and secure your vehicles. Your system could also include security cameras, home alarm systems, dogs, electric and barbed wire fences, tripwires, land-mines, and moats as additional defensive layers. A bridge too far? Perhaps.
But for many people, one of their critical defensive layers is a firearm.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19 news coverage began, people have been flooding gun stores and purchasing firearms in record numbers. Many are first-time buyers. Under the circumstances, it’s certainly understandable. Ultimately, we are all looking for the most effective way to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and of course, our toilet paper stash.
The intent of this article is to give you some simple fundamentals about using firearms in the context of defending your home and loved ones. While it’s great to have the right tools to help if a situation arises, many people buying weapons in this time of world crisis may not actually know how to select them and use them if there truly was a need.
So as we start, it’s critical to review the four rules of gun safety. These aren’t negotiable, and they are the same no matter who you are or what you shoot.
- Handle every gun as if it’s loaded.
- Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off of the trigger until you’re ready to shoot the gun.
- Know your target and what is beyond it.
And for good measure, an honest disclaimer:
I’m not a lawyer, so you should treat every topic here as something to research for yourself. I’m not an expert; I’m just a guy who loves to train and shoot. Whether you just purchased a gun for your home or you’re an experienced shooter, my goal is to get you thinking about developing your home defense plan.
Choosing a firearm
In the firearms industry today, there are a lot of great options to choose from for self-defense. Pistols, shotguns, and carbines all have their advantages and disadvantages. With a multitude of choices, buyers can be easily overwhelmed. Instead of getting caught up in a sales pitch, a great sale, or an impulse purchase, try taking a practical approach. Consider things like your physical abilities, the layout of your home, your proximity to other people and homes, and anticipated threats. It’s also essential to think about who will be using the firearm.
Pistols are small, easy to store, easy to carry around, and intended for close-range shooting. However, convenience comes with a cost. And in this case, it’s recoil. The smaller the gun, the more energy your body has to absorb with every shot. Without consistent training, the effects of uncontrolled recoil lead to the inability to place follow-up shots in your intended target.
Rifles are fantastic. They are more comfortable than pistols for many because the effects of recoil are absorbed in the core of your body instead of at the end of your arm. It’s faster to get your first shot off and then to reacquire your target. A round fired from a rifle has a higher impact energy or stopping power. However, this also means you’re going to have to worry more about over-penetration. Rifle rounds can easily penetrate and go through walls. See rule #4 above. Not good. A rifle also isn’t very maneuverable in tight quarters, so I don’t advise it unless you regularly train in that type of environment.
Shotguns are incredibly versatile. There is a wide array of affordable ammunition specifically designed for different applications. A shotgun can provide many of the benefits of a rifle. Paired with the right ammo, you have stopping power and accuracy, without some of the issues related to over-penetration.
Ultimately, the best home defense firearm is the one that you can use competently and effectively. Pick one, stick with it, train, and then train a lot more.
Storage and Access
A tool isn’t useful unless you can deploy it. In the case of a home defense plan, you want a firearm to be readily available but not at the expense of creating an unsafe situation in your home.
There are a lot of small gun safes available. Safes that use a fingerprint reader work well. They’re fast, quiet, and allow quick access to the people you choose. These small safes are excellent for discrete locations.
Now, how are you going to store your firearm? Will it be loaded, chambered? These questions need to be settled and agreed upon by anyone who would be accessing the gun – whether pistol, rifle, or shotgun.
All ammunition is not the same.
You will need to purchase the proper caliber ammunition for your firearm. And, yes, it is possible to load the wrong caliber. That is very dangerous.
You also need to consider what you are doing. Some ammunition is better suited for hunting, some for target practice, and some is specifically designed for self-defense. Don’t just grab the cheapest matching caliber off the shelf.
No matter what you shoot, you should invest in training ammunition, train with it, and then train some more.
For pistols, you’re going to see defensive ammunition called hollow point. A round with an expanding projectile. Expansion rounds are made for a couple of reasons. First, they create more damage to the target — increasing your stopping power. Second, they decreases the likelihood of a projectile traveling through your target and into something unintended.
Shotguns have lots of ammo choices—everything from slugs down to birdshot. If you live in an apartment building, a shotgun slug will penetrate your target, a wall will not stop it, and you could harm or kill someone beyond your intended goal. See rule #4. Birdshot is unlikely to penetrate walls, but will still do plenty of damage to someone trying to do you harm.
Once you have settled on some defensive ammunition, the next thing to make sure is that it runs reliably in your gun. While it’s fine to buy target ammo to practice, you still have to verify that your defense ammunition will run reliably. Some firearms can be picky with certain kinds of ammunition. Meaning, they might be more prone to malfunction. You want to know this beforehand. Yeah, it’s pricey, but it’s necessary. Run as much of the defensive ammunition through the gun as you can.
What about lights, lasers, chainsaw, and grenade launcher attachments? All reasonable and useful for those who can competently use them. Gadgets are not a substitute for training. If you want to put a light on your gun- make sure you train with it; otherwise, it could work against you.
In any general security policy (including self-defense), one of the first things to do is a primary risk assessment. Identify and understand what your most likely threats are going to be. You can’t prepare for every single exact scenario. That’s not the requirement. The goal is to identify the most likely scenarios, plan around those, and prepare for everything. Burglaries are common. Being attacked by a puma in your bathroom, not as much.
Identifying your most significant risks will help you to make decisions on the best firearms purchases, appropriate ammunition purchases, and what type of training you need.
Appropriate Use of Force
Reminder note: Not a lawyer, please research on your own.
It would be irresponsible not to address the concept of appropriate use of force. Throughout this article, I refer to layers of home defense. We’ve focused on the use of firearms as one of those layers. But, let’s clarify: we are not actually talking about defending houses.
What we are talking about is defending your life or the life of someone else. Generally, if you think you or someone else is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, the appropriate use of force could be the use of your firearm. Unless…
Unless it doesn’t have to be.
If someone breaks into your home, and you shoot them as they’re running out the door holding your TV, the use of deadly force would land you in a heap of trouble. However, tripping them on the way out would be entirely appropriate.
Every defensive situation is different. What constitutes appropriate use of force needs to be applied to each case independently.
I’m not here to tell you what to do. Okay, well, I am a little bit.
No matter who you are, get training. Get lots of it. Get as much as you can. The easy part is buying the gun. Becoming competent and confident so that you can use it in a high-stress situation is the hard part.
There is nothing natural about shooting a gun. Guns are loud, they push your body around, and frankly, they can be deadly. Interacting with dangerous things is something we are taught at a young age to avoid.
The only way to become comfortable with your gun is to train. And then train, and train some more. If you just bought a gun, you need to find someone – a trainer – to teach you how to handle your firearm safely.
Time with a trainer will lead to safer handling and correct practice. A trainer can work with you on the proper technique for stance, grip, trigger control, sight acquisition, sight picture, dealing with malfunctions, as well as general manipulation. All things that are again, not intuitive.
Just to be clear, Youtube is not training. Not even close. Find a real live human- a firearm instructor that does this for a living. Ditch your ego, listen, and learn.
Gun ownership comes with a certain level of responsibility. No matter how you incorporate a firearm into your home defense plan, don’t lose sight of the fact that you purchased a gun to improve you and your loved ones’ safety, not degrade it.