It is just before midnight when your mom calls you. She says a stranger is trying to get into her home. You grab your firearm and drive the few blocks to your mom’s home.
You walk up and see a stranger break through your mom’s front door. You follow him and tell him to stop. He keeps going and you shoot him several times. Now he stops, turns, and tries to leave. The intruder falls at the front door.
You check on your mom and she is uninjured. The news stories aren’t clear if she called 911 or if you did. The stranger said he was a home healthcare nurse and was performing a checkup. Mom didn’t let him in and the stranger broke down her door.
You give a brief statement to the police. So does your mom. EMS declares your attacker dead at the scene.
You are not charged with a crime.
Let’s start with acknowledging what the good guys did to protect themselves. To start, mom kept her doors and windows locked. She didn’t open her door when a stranger asked to come into her home late at night. Instead, the homeowner recognized an unusual situation and called for help. Her son decided to bring his firearm with him when he went to his mom’s house. Mom got away from the front door and retreated to a safe place. One of the news reports says that mom had a gun in her home but we don’t know if she retrieved it and had it in her hand.
I like that the armed defender stopped shooting when the threat stopped. We don’t know if mom or the son called 911, and we don’t know if mom called 911 for help before her son arrived. They both stayed at the scene and gave a brief report to the police.
There is a lot that the news reports leave out or never think to ask. What would happen if the intruder decided to immediately break the glass near the door and let himself in before mom made the phone call for help? Then, an older woman would have faced a younger man without help being on the way. That is why we want to be armed at home. Yes, you, and yes, even mom, and that is particularly true when she answers the door at midnight.
We hope the son transported his firearm in a holster worn on his body, but the news articles don’t tell us that. One obvious reason to wear a holster is so you have control of your gun and still have a free hand to make a phone call. We probably want to call 911 if we have time.
The news reports didn’t tell us what happened in this case, but we want mom to call 911 right after she calls her son. We want her to either leave the house through the back door or lock herself into her bedroom. If we’re lucky, then the police arrive in time to arrest the bad guy before we get in a gunfight.
We always face the chance of losing a fight no matter how much we train and prepare. We don’t know if the next robber is going to be armed and if he is going to have friends with him. We’d hate it if one of the bad guys got off a random shot that injures mom as she hides behind her bed.
We want to completely avoid that possibility by watching the police enter our home as we’re sitting on the back deck of our neighbor’s house sipping a soft drink.. or maybe something stronger.
Most armed defense happens at and near our home so it is worth thinking about what we should do. Right now when our heart isn’t racing with excitement, we have the luxury of considering how to defend our family. What should we do if the bad guy is standing near our loved one’s bedroom door when we catch up with the bad guy? We probably don’t want to shoot in that case since we could send bullets through the bad guy and on into a loved one’s room.
In this story, suppose the bad guy turns away from mom’s room and heads toward the kitchen. Unless we know that there is another innocent party in the kitchen then we probably don’t want to shoot. I’ve been assuming that mom left all the lights on inside her home and that we can see the bad guy and what is happening. That might not be true given that the robber called just before midnight. There is a lot to think about.
Can we explain why we had to shoot an intruder in the back as he moved away from us? Can we articulate why an unarmed man or woman posed an immediate and unavoidable threat of death or great bodily injury as they were facing away from us and heading away from our family? You are right that it is a different situation if the intruder is headed towards us.
Some state laws impose a duty to retreat. Other states have self-defense laws that allow us to use lethal force when we face an intruder in our home. Please hear me out, but I’d prefer to have more than a legal justification before I press the trigger. I want a moral justification so I know that taking another life was the best thing to do given the very bad circumstances. I bet you do too.
While we’re talking about bad situations, and I want to back up and look at carrying a gun in a holster again. What if the intruder is smaller than we are? I’m a 200 pound man and getting into a hand-to-hand fight with a 110 pound female intruder might be the best option I have. That is hard to do once a gun is in my hands because I want to keep her from grabbing my gun.
To be realistic, I don’t want to go hand-to-hand with anyone since I don’t know how they are armed. I’d really like them to run away. The point being that a smaller and unarmed aggressor might not pose a lethal threat and therefore not justify the use of lethal force in defense. All that is a long winded way to say that holsters give us some nice options that we lose once a gun is in our hands. We can make mistakes by doing too much too soon and by doing too little too late.
The news reporters in Houston gave us a simple description of this armed defense. The best response changes dramatically if we change a few small details. That means we need to have more than a single script in our head as we head to mom’s house or if we are the one answering a knock at the door late at night. There isn’t a single best-practice because what works for me could be horrible for your family in your house. Best practice is a guideline that helps us mold our actions to fit our particular situation. As we already talked about, the physical position of the son to the robber to the mother is critically important.
Take an analytical walk-through of your home at night. Where would the bad guys come in? Do the electronic appliances like the microwave or the TV give off enough light to see an intruder? I’m a big fan of turning on the room lights but some people disagree.
No matter how we do it, we want to see the intruder and identify that he is a threat before we decide to shoot. We’ve had too many stories of the mentally ill neighbor or the drunk relative trying to get into the wrong house. We may be legally justified in shooting them, but I’d go a long way to avoid it. In fact, I’d use lethal force as a last when I had no other way to protect innocent people. Please let that weigh on your heart a while before you decide what you’ll do late at night.
When the police arrive, we want to give them a brief statement of the facts.
I’m the one who called 911. I’m here because mom called for help. I saw a stranger break into her home. I shouted for the stranger to stop. He moved toward my mom and I shot him until he stopped. I checked on my mom and then called you immediately. Here is my identification and my carry permit. I will help you and answer all your questions after I talk to my lawyer.
We might have to defend every word we say in court. We don’t do that for a living so we ask for help from our lawyer. We help the police collect evidence, like we were standing about here so the shell casings are over there. Here is the contact information for my security company and they might have video from the electronic doorbell. We leave the rest of the details for the report that our lawyer helps us prepare. That is how good guys save lives.
-Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve.
About Rob Morse
Rob writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.