Basic Guide to Home Defense


In the United States, a home invasion occurs roughly every three seconds. Combined with the accessibility to training and low-cost security devices, there is absolutely no excuse to leave your home undefended. However, not even the most advanced security system or training can make up for a lack of situational awareness.


Leaving a door or window unlocked can have dire consequences, such as in the case of the 2007 rape, torture and murder of the Petit family which started as a burglary. The criminals came in through an open door; tragically, hindsight tells us that had the door been locked, the family inside may have had significantly more response time, allowing them to escape, defend themselves and get help.


There are many lessons to be learned from that case: situational awareness is your best tool and ally in your survival; basic security measures such as locking doors can make a massive difference; and advanced security measures like a security system, safe room, and self-defense tools can save the lives of you and your family.


Situational Awareness is Key


In the previously mentioned Petit case, Mrs. Hawke-Petit and her two daughters were followed home from a grocery store. The criminals waited until 3:00 AM to break into the house, using an unlocked door for entry. Now, there are two things we can learn from this.


First, pay attention when you’re driving. Check your rearview mirror from time to time; see if you notice anything unusual. This isn’t a call for paranoia, but merely keen observation.


If you wear nice clothes or jewelry, drive an expensive car, or live in wealthy neighborhood, know that you’re a target. Not to discriminate against people of varying socioeconomic classes, but the simple truth is this: if you have nice things, there are bad people who want to take them from you.


The next lesson is also about observation. If these two scumbags were sitting in a car in the neighborhood for several hours, or circling around the neighborhood, someone should have noticed, and called the police. Maybe there wasn’t anyone out and about to notice them, or maybe the family wasn’t able to see the vehicle from their house.


That brings us to the next point: keep your house secure. The Petit family lived in a nice, quiet neighborhood, in an area with a low crime rate. The referenced article says that people often left their doors unlocked.


No doubt the criminals knew this, and from their extensive criminal records, had experience burglarizing these neighborhoods. Imagine that the doors were all locked, and the criminals decided to enter from a window. A basic security system, properly activated, would trip once the window was smashed or forced open.


Dr. Petit, who was asleep in the living room on the first floor at the time of the break-in, would have been made aware of the criminals entry, and been able to better defend himself and get his family to a more secure location inside the house.


If you have a custom built safe room but leave your window and doors unlocked, you probably won’t have time to get there. The criminals that brutally raped and murdered Mrs. Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley (17 years old) and Michaela (11), were known to use night-vision goggles to make it easier for them to break in and rob houses.


If someone enters your house through an unlocked door, they can walk in as quietly as they’re able, giving you no warning and taking your greatest assets in defense away from you – time and distance.


Setting up your house for security can be summed up in three pillars: Discourage, Deny, Defend.


Discourage


The goal here is for a prospective criminal to look at your house, and decide that it’s not worth the effort of targeting. Making your home a hard target only takes a few simple additions, or in some cases reductions.


Removing all brush, shrubs or trees next to your house that give criminals a place to hide and mask their attack is a great first step. If there’s a tall bush blocking a clear view of your window, it will make it harder for you to see out of, and will give a burglar a great place to enter. Removing this type of cover takes away potential concealment of nefarious activities, and as a bonus it’s also good for pest control.


You may also consider adding some boundaries to your property as well. Things like fences, statues, and hedgerows can be good ways of clearly marking your property and providing a barrier. Your goal here is to control the access points of your property, leading people who you want there where you want them, and keeping people out who are looking for a sneaky way in.


You also want to structure your environmental barriers in a way that neighbors can see into your property, so you can keep an eye out for each other. Next, adding lights to your property is a great investment. For security specific lights, they should light up the potential entry points a criminal would use.


Having motion activated flood lights mounted to the house is good, but you want to make sure they’re illuminating the windows or doors you’re trying to defend and removing any shadows that could be used for hiding. Ideally you would be able to place these lights out of reach, where they can’t be tampered with. You can also consider putting up signs such as no trespassing, beware of dog or a sign for a security monitoring service.


These simple additions can make criminals think twice about targeting your home; remember, they want a soft target, not someone who is prepared.


Deny


The “Deny” phase of home defense covers a few different bases, namely physical security measures such as an alarm system and enhanced entryway security. Adding deadbolts and braces to all of your doors, and increasing security on other entry points such as windows or garage doors, is a great place to start. While a deadbolt isn’t a failsafe security feature, it’s an indicator to the criminal that there will be more effort and noise required to get in.


Remember though that these kinds of defenses are temporary, and even with deadbolts, door braces and alarms, a criminal that is set on getting in usually can given enough time. But that is exactly what these defenses give you: time.


Time to alert the authorities and most importantly, get away. Distance between you and the attacker is critical. If you can get out of the house, do it. If not, get yourself and your family to your predetermined barricade point.


However, these measures only work if you use them. Make locking doors and windows a habit for you and your family. Even when you’re home and awake, doors should be locked, especially if you’re not in the room. It’s nice to have the windows and doors open during the fall and spring, but be aware that these unsecured entryways make your home more vulnerable, and never leave windows and doors open overnight.


A cheap security hack is to get some dowels that are the width of your interior window channels. Cut the dowel to length so it wedges tightly into the window channel. This will prevent anyone from budging a locked window open, forcing them to smash the window.


There are also these great little alarms that look like a simple wedge doorstop, that when depressed, set off a very loud alarm and provide some resistance against the door opening. You can also place these wedges in horizontally opening windows, creating a window alarm and slowing down forced entry.


These alarms are relatively inexpensive and portable, so if you move you can bring them with you and easily place them in your new residence. You can also take them with you when traveling, a time when many people forget to defend themselves. Travel destinations are always targets for criminals, since they know people often have their guard down.


Most criminals don’t want to deal with a fight, and for the ones that do, make it as difficult as possible for them to get inside your home. The Deny phase will either stop a criminal from pursuing further entry into your home, or it will at least alert you to their presence and give you the time to escape, call authorities and as a last resort, defend.


Defend


There are a lot of people out there, especially in the world of firearms, that will quote things such as “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again,” or “Warning: I don’t dial 911.” In truth, these are egotistical, machismo-filled clichés entrenched in the Western mind by bad action movies and the cowboy myth.


The fact of the matter is that in an actual conflict requiring physical violence, most people freeze, no matter how many guns they have in their safe or videos they have of themselves shooting at paper on Instagram. The grand "uber-operator" fantasy that so many living room commandos construct in their minds when they hear a creak downstairs will quickly vanish in the shocking violence and speed of a deadly force encounter.


If it comes down to fighting for your life, know that the odds will probably not be in your favor. Violent encounters usually happen when you are not expecting them, they occur much faster than expected, and most people simply don’t understand the brutality that is involved in such a fight, especially when hardened or drugged up criminals are involved.


There are plenty of videos online of such encounters and you should watch them to understand what’s at stake. The biggest factor in the criminals favor is that they have no moral borders. If they’re fighting you, they are not playing by any arbitrary set of rules – they will do anything to kill you, if that’s what their intent is.


If someone has broken into your home, you should expect that it is their intent to inflict deadly harm upon you and your family. There is a common truth in good self-defense training: fight until the threat is eliminated. You cannot stop fighting until the threat is gone, meaning that until the threat has left the area, or is unable to continue an attack, you have to fight by whatever means necessary.


If this seems drawn out and redundant, it is, and on purpose. If the situation has escalated to the Defense stage, this is your life and the lives of your family members at stake.


There are many great training courses out there, and it is advisable that you and all members of your family have some form of self-defense training. For you and any other adults in the house, that may include firearms training, specifically courses in home defense, and hand-to-hand combat training, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, or the SPEAR System.


For minors, it is up to you as the head of the household to decide what level of training they receive. If there are firearms in the house, then there should be at least a basic level of firearms safety training. Minors may also be trained on other self-defense weapons such as pepper spray, in addition to martial arts training.


These are not just extracurricular activities; training is also a great bonding opportunity. Building these principles into the lives of your children will give them a base of preparedness, and if they have children, they can pass on these skills to future generations.


Check out our guide on Kids & Gun Safety to get a better idea of how to start training them. If you’re considering arming yourself for home defense, our choices for guns are further down in the article.


Do You Need a Safe Room?


When it comes to having a safe room or “panic room” in your house, there are many options in designing, building and outfitting it. Some people have state of the art safe rooms dedicated solely to home security, and other people simply designate a specific area of their home as their safe room.


While a fully built out bunker may not be necessary, every family should have a secure area where they can rendezvous in the event of an emergency. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on a designated safety area for your home defense rather than daydreaming about custom castles.


You should determine a place, or maybe several places depending on the size of your house, that are going to be your safe zones. These places should be strategically located and stocked with some essentials.


Speaking strategically, an ideal safe zone should:

  • Be enclosed (think walk-in closet)
  • Have a locking door
  • Not be in Line of Sight of other entryways
  • Have access to security/communication device


The ideal set up will not always be possible, but you should do your best to pick a safe zone that doesn’t allow an attacker to see inside the room from a doorway or hallway. That way, you’ll have a strategic advantage if they do attempt to enter the safe zone.


A closet in a master bedroom is usually a good starting point, since master bedrooms usually have a locking door, and sometimes large closets have locks, too. If the closet is directly in front of the door, then it is better to choose a corner of that room that is outside of the line of sight of the door.


If the attacker shoots through the door, you don’t want to be in front of it. If they break through the door, and remember that interior doors are incredibly weak unless otherwise reinforced, you want to have an advantageous angle from which to mount an attack. Being able to attack from behind or from the side of the threat is optimal.


In the safe room, you should have a few essential items:

  • Firearm with ammunition or other self-defense tool
  • Access to security system interface
  • Backup Phone
  • Medical Kit
  • Emergency Contact Info


There are a lot of other things you can (and should) add to your safe room for more general preparedness, but for home defense, these are the bare minimum. Some people may choose to have multiple guns in their home, such as a pistol in a nightstand lock box, then have a rifle or shotgun in their safe room, maybe in a hidden concealment system or gun safe.


Some folks may even have some sort of body armor in their safe room for additional protection. Again, we’re trying to stay here on Planet Earth while setting up the basics of a safe room and home defense system.


If you’re not comfortable with keeping a firearm in your home or using one, there are other self-defense tools such as pepper spray, stun guns or more homely options like the baseball bat. However, our recommendation would be to consider getting trained on the proper use of a firearm for home defense.


We have a good article on the best guns for home defense that will give you a deeper look into our choices, but here’s what we would choose:

  • A handgun loaded with hollow point ammunition
    • Common calibers are 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP
  • A shotgun loaded with slugs or buckshot
    • Shotgun should have a stock
  • Extra shells attached to gun
    • A pistol caliber carbine, or PCC
    • Loaded with hollow-point ammunition


A pistol is by far the easiest firearm to stow in a safe room, and you can use a small safe to keep it locked away. Vaultek makes a great lock box for pistols that can be secured in your safe room, but there are other great options out there.


A pistol will also give you maximum maneuverability in tight spaces, and something like a double action revolver is very simple for anyone in your home to use if necessary. Double action revolvers are known for their excellent reliability; if the round doesn’t fire, pull the trigger again.


The downside to revolvers is that they usually have a fairly low round capacity, but with training and speed loaders, reload time can be minimized. A semi-automatic pistol is usually going to give you an increased round capacity, unless you’re using a small single stack pistol.


It may take more training to get accustomed to using a semi-automatic pistol, especially when training for weapons malfunctions, although you should be training regularly on whatever weapon you plan on defending yourself with.


The caliber you choose for your pistol is an important decision, but we’re not going to venture into caliber debates in this article. Many calibers can be used for home or self-defense, but the most important thing is that you’re comfortable with the firearm and round you’re using.


Our advice would be to try out several different firearms and rounds. Once you’ve found one that really works well for you and is chambered in a proven self-defense caliber, the next step would be to purchase the firearm and get trained on it.


You will need to check your state laws regarding permitting and required training. All of the pistol rounds we’ve listed (9mm, .40S&W and .45 ACP) have proven themselves in various situations. In revolvers, there are also a number of rounds to choose from, but some common choices would be .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.


All of these are good choices for home defense, but again, you need to try before you buy. A pistol can form the entirety of your home-defense firearms, or it can be an addition to a primary weapon such as a pistol caliber carbine.

Pistol Caliber Carbine

The pistol caliber carbine, or PCC, can be a great choice for home defense. In the early days of the PCC, many firearms instructors chuckled at the platform, but now many of those same people recommend a PCC for home defense. A PCC can be a great choice for many reasons, but let’s take a look at some of the most important factors.


Increased Stability


Increased stability means increased accuracy, and because you’re able to brace a PCC against your shoulder and cheek, it will be easier to acquire a good sight picture and reacquire that sight picture after firing.


Longer sight radius


Having a longer sight radius will also improve your sight picture and sight alignment. The longer sight radius is due to the longer barrel, and that extra barrel length will improve accuracy. Many PCCs have pretty short barrels, so the accuracy can be better than a pistol but maneuverability is still good in close quarters.


Increased magazine capacity


While you can use extended magazines on a pistol, after a certain point they become unmanageable. Using one of the 33 round “Big Stick” Glock magazines on something like a Glock 19 or 26 makes it pretty clunky, but using that same magazine with a PCC feels the same as any other semi-automatic rifle. You can also use a drum magazine, but make sure it’s one you’ve tested for reliability.


Reduced recoil


Depending on the gun and the round you’re using, recoil can be a very significant factor in both the time it takes to deliver multiple rounds on target, and in your accuracy. With a PCC, recoil is greatly reduced, allowing you to deliver more rounds with increased accuracy. 


Modularity


With a PCC, the options for add-ons are endless. You can add a light, laser, red dot sight, and all sorts of other options. Not that you couldn’t add these to a pistol, but is you use you everyday carry pistol for home defense, you may not want to add all of these items. Another benefit is that many PCCs accept Glock magazines, allowing you to stock up on magazines, with a variety of mag capacities, and if you use a Glock, you can use the magazines in both weapons.


A pistol caliber carbine for home defense is a great option, and everyone in your home can often use them. Training your spouse and children on a PCC can be easier than training them on the same size caliber pistol or a heavier caliber rifle or shotgun. With the reduced recoil, PCCs also make a good entry-level gun. Remember, if you use a PCC for home defense, you should load it with hollow point ammunition.

Shotgun

The shotgun is a classic choice for home defense, but there are some myths that go along with this firearm. The biggest one would be that racking the slide is an effective deterrent to an attacker – it is not.


By not having a shell in the chamber, you are wasting valuable time in getting rounds on target and defending yourself. Plus, you’re giving away your location, so any advantage you may have had is negated.


Another common myth is to use birdshot to avoid over penetration. Birdshot will penetrate walls, and often has a wider spread than buckshot at the same distances. Buckshot has minimal spread at close quarters combat distances, so a well-placed shot will impact your attacker.


Speaking of aiming, you do, in fact, need to aim when using a shotgun. Some think that because of the spread of the pellets, they do not need to aim at their target, just in the general vicinity. This is not true, especially at such close distances.


You need good night sights or a red dot sight on your shotgun, and you need to aim at the threat. You also need to be prepared to deliver follow up shots because unlike the movies, shotguns do not blow assailants through walls and end the threat with a single shot.


For home defense, various types of buckshot are good, and you should be trying these out at the range. You need to know how different types of shotgun ammunition and follow up shots feel, and to see what a shotgun round looks like on target to understand the spread of pellets.


You can also add a light and extra shell carriers to your shotgun, but beyond this there are not many additions you really need.

Semi-Automatic Rifle

Last but not least in your choice of weapons is a rifle, specifically a semi-automatic rifle, but you’ll notice that this didn’t make our recommended list. While the semi-automatic rifle is a great choice for tactical law enforcement and military operations, it may not be a great choice for the regular person who wants to defend their home.


When using a rifle, there are a couple things to take into account. The first would be the users ability to effectively operate the rifle in a consistent, repeatable manner while under extreme duress.


The second would be over penetration, a major concern in residential dwellings. Many rifles are chambered in calibers that, while effective at eliminating threats, will also pass through multiple walls like butter.


Not that a pistol round won’t go through multiple barriers, but a rifle round is just much more powerful. This is why we recommend a pistol caliber carbine if a rifle-style platform is desired, because the ammunition used in a PCC can mitigate over penetration.


However, rifles are obviously great defensive tools, and if that is your preferred platform then you should continue using it. If you are going to use a rifle for home defense, make sure you’re using a round specifically designed for that purpose.


There are a lot of good home defense rounds available that reduce over penetration, and those are what you should be using in your home defense rifle.

Security System

Your security system should have an interface that you can use from your safe room. A good security system and service allows you to speak directly with an operator from your interface, so you can get help sent as quickly as possible.


Many security systems also have apps available as well, so you can view system activity from your mobile device as well. If you have cameras as a part of your security system, then you will want to be able to access those from your safe room so you can see where any attackers may be in your home.


Another feature that a lot of modern security systems have is a PA system. If possible, you should broadcast that you have called the police and give your escalation of force declaration. We would advise speaking to an attorney about what you should say to someone who is posing a threat to you, but the basics are to inform them to leave the premises, that you feel your life is in danger, and that you will defend yourself.


Again, this is something you should contact your attorney about, or talk to the folks over at the US Concealed Carry Association – they would be happy to help you with your legal defense.

Cell Phone

The next item you should keep in your safe room is a cell phone, preferably one that can stay on a charger to ensure it always has a full battery. Most old cell phones will connect an emergency phone call, even if there is no longer a service contract on the phone.


This applies to digital cell phones, not analog versions; if you need a cell phone to keep in your safe room, just buy a cheap one without a plan such as a TracFone or Jitterbug – the emergency call will go through. If you have multiple safe rooms in your home, keep an emergency phone in each, that way whoever is able can call 911.


Just make sure that the phones are charged and that everyone in the house knows how to use all of the devices.

Medical Kit

While you may have a first aid kit in the garage or medicine cabinet of your home, more than likely it is not suitable for trauma related injuries. You should upgrade your medical kit and if possible, keep more than one in the house at all times.


You’ll also want to get training on how to properly use the kit you have, and it’s advisable to go to a CPR/First Aid class as a minimum. It would be great if everyone in your home was not only CPR/First Aid certified, but also had some additional training on tactical wound care.


There are a number of good classes (the Red Cross is a great resource) out there to learn about this subject, but starting with a CPR/First Aid class if step one. Oftentimes, CPR instructors are first responders, and they can point you in the right direction if you’re interested in increasing your medical knowledge and skill base.


In fact, they’d probably be excited about the fact that a civilian is taking charge of their own survival.
 

Emergency Contacts

The last thing you’ll want to have staged in all of your safe rooms is an emergency contact list. On this list you should have listed the following numbers:


Emergency Response Number


Different countries have different emergency numbers. In the US, it’s 911, but in Great Britain, for example, it’s 999. Know the number and have it posted, that way in a stressful situation, anyone can dial the number. If you’re in a home defense situation, you need to describe what the attacker(s) look like as much as you can, and where you are located and what you’re wearing, that way police know who they’re looking for. If you have a weapon, tell them what it is so they can be prepared when they locate you.


Local Poison Control Number


This doesn’t have to do so much with a home invasion, but it’s a contact you should have readily available, especially if you have children in the house.


Legal Counsel


Whether this is the number to your attorney or a legal defense insurance organization like the USCCA, you should have this number available in the event that you have to defend yourself. Always call emergency responders first, but call your legal counsel as soon as possible.


Homeowners


You should have your contact information listed on the sheet as well. If there are other adults that permanently reside in the house, such as your spouse or a relative, put their contact info on the sheet as well. If someone is staying at your house, that person, or first responders, need to be able to get in touch with you in the event of an emergency.


Additional Emergency Contacts


These will be the people you’d normally call in the event of an emergency. These people are your first line of support after something like a home invasion has occurred. You and your family may need to stay somewhere else while an investigation is going on, and you will want the support of family and friends. Having these numbers also ensures that anyone visiting your house, such as a pet sitter, will be able to get in contact with someone you know if they can’t get in touch with you.

Conclusion

While this brief guide is nowhere near comprehensive, it is a good starting point. One of the biggest points you can take away from this guide is that you must develop a plan for your response to a threat in your home. Then you need to train for these situations and practice your response.


This doesn’t just mean going to the range; your medical skills, emergency response plan and hand to hand combat skills all degrade with time unless practiced repeatedly. As the saying goes, train for the worst and hope for the best.


This is not a call to fear or paranoia, and in fact preparedness is quite the opposite of that. Being prepared will make you and your family more confident and competent, and that is priceless. There is no time like the present to begin developing self-sufficiency, and there is no reason to leave yourself, your family or your home open for an attack.


Situational awareness doesn’t cost anything to develop, and much of the training we’ve recommended is fairly affordable. Training together as a family will also develop what’s called in the military “unit cohesion,” basically bonding between members of a team.


So get out there, start training and enjoy the process.