One of our biggest concerns is how to react when an intruder (or intruders) enters our home at night. Anytime a home is broken into all of its occupants are potentially in danger, and anyone brazen enough to do that is capable of more serious crimes.

I have raided homes and apartments to execute warrants and make arrests. It does not take long to break into a dwelling and capture the occupants before they even have time to resist. Trust me, any intruder or home-invasion team willing to use violence will be hard to stop, unless you live every day prepared for the possibility. Even trained and prepared individuals will have their hands full, whether dealing with an aggressive group or a quieter nighttime burglar.

When you develop your home-defense plan you need to conduct a threat assessment that includes local intelligence information, which you can obtain from media sources, homeowner associations and law enforcement agencies. Look for published reports of burglaries and home invasions that have occurred in your immediate and surrounding areas to learn about crime trends in your community. Remember, anything can happen in any place and at any time, even in affluent neighborhoods. Also conduct periodic perimeter checks of your home to ensure your windows and doors are secured. If you are legally armed, also plan which firearms you’ll use for home defense and where you’ll keep those firearms so they can be immediately accessed in an emergency.

Don’t Go Rambo

Just because you own a firearm and a flashlight does not make you capable of dealing with an assailant like SWAT officers and special forces units do. Law enforcement and military personnel who are properly trained to “slice the pie” will search and clear every room in a house with tremendous precision, in a slow and methodical or dynamic fashion. In contrast, the average homeowner has never tangled with armed or unarmed criminals and will find it a bit difficult to confront a home intruder, especially if that intruder fights back.

There is no guarantee that an untrained homeowner will enter into harm’s way in a tactically correct fashion. The last thing that you should do is, with firearm in hand, leave the relative safety of your bedroom to make your way through a dark house, only to risk bumping into an intruder. Worse yet, suppose as you pass by an open door the intruder reaches out and grabs the barrel of your gun. Now what?

I don’t intend to sound negative. But it takes more than basic firearms training to be truly prepared for a confrontation with an intruder in the confines of your home. Federal, state and local law enforcement officers currently receive approximately 20 weeks of intensive basic training to become certified to carry firearms and make arrests. On average, basic law enforcement training academy recruits fire approximately 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Law enforcement recruits also train to go hands-on and use different levels of force. When was the last time you participated in 20 weeks of paramilitary training? If this isn’t enough, law enforcement officers also are required to pass a field-training period and will take in-service and advanced training classes throughout their careers.

While it is true that some untrained citizens have distinguished themselves during certain enforcement actions, most risk their lives by trying to perform a potentially dangerous task that may even be challenging for law enforcement and military personnel. If you are smart but lack the proper training, err on the side of caution and stay put until the armed professionals arrive.

Changing Tactics

I have been thinking of a new way to deal with intruders. But before discussing this I strongly suggest you get in the habit of keeping a cell phone close by. Being able to communicate with the outside world is critical to your potential survival. I also recommend that you keep street clothes next to your bed so you can quickly change into clothing that’s better suited for carrying a holster, a handgun, spare ammunition, a flashlight and a cell phone.

A different method for dealing with intruders starts with you hunkered down in the most defensible position possible while making noise. Slam a few doors or say very loudly to the 9-1-1 operator that you believe an intruder has broken into your home. Let the intruder know that the police are on the way. It also can’t hurt to let the intruder overhear you telling the dispatcher that you’re armed. Armed or not, it’s not a crime to inform the intruder that you’re capable of defending yourself. The trick is to not identify what you’re armed with. Let the intruder’s mind wander while you use psychological warfare. Any intruder that remains in your home after hearing that the local police are on the way and that you’re armed is one crazy S.O.B.

For defending my home from intruders, I would illuminate the hallway in front of my master bedroom and, in a commanding tone of voice, identify myself as a retired federal agent who has already called the police. This is an excellent defensive position because an intruder will have to travel down a well-illuminated hallway in order to reach me and my wife. But I caution you about pursing intruders. Your mission in life should be to protect yourself, your loved ones and/or your roommates. Let the local gendarmes capture fleeing intruders from your home.

I also suggest not leaving any weapons in plain view, though it’s often seen in movies à la handgun on the nightstand by the bed. If you are legally able to possess weapons of any kind, conceal them while keeping them close enough for quick retrieval. Failing to do so, you just might wake up one night to find an intruder armed with your gun.

The Wild Card: Aiding Children

During a nighttime home invasion, aiding your children is potentially the most dangerous tactical operation you will ever execute. Children often sleep on the opposite side of the house from the master bedroom, meaning that you increase the chances of running into the intruder once you leave the security of your bedroom, especially if you live in a single-story home.

If you are determined to go help your children, remember to illuminate the area in front of you as you move from one section of your home to another. You must also abide by the law of the land. If you are lucky, you reside in a state that has a Castle Doctrine allowing you to defend your home from intrusion. I personally recommend that legally armed individuals use a high-capacity service pistol in a substantial caliber for home defense—during a break-in, you will probably not be carrying a spare magazine. I also recommend that you use a high-capacity pistol that can accept a tactical light.

Prepare yourself mentally to be startled or attacked. As you move through your house, keep your handgun tucked close to your side with your finger off the trigger but ready to engage. Doing so will make it more difficult for an intruder to grab your firearm. If you are only allowed to own long guns, select one in a caliber that will not over-penetrate the material that was used to construct your home. You should also hold your rifle or shotgun close to your strong side with the stock as close to your hip as possible. If you’re in the habit of closing the doors to all rooms not in use before going to sleep each night, then you can move quickly past rooms with closed doors as you make your way to your children. As discussed, walking past a room with an open door can be a dangerous maneuver.

The good news is that infants will not be able to leave their cribs without help, so they will not be running into the arms of an intruder by mistake. If your children are older they can usually be taught to take cover under their beds and wait for their parents or uniformed police officers to come to their rescue.

And if you have an untrained dog as a family pet, you must adopt the mindset that your dog is expendable. Chances are you will not be able to protect your dog and your children at the same time. Should your dog start barking and charge off to confront an intruder you should use this as a diversion so you can reach your kids without interference. Once you are with your children, barricade the door with furniture and wait for uniformed police officers to arrive. If you are armed, keep your finger off the trigger to prevent a sympathetic response from causing your firearm to discharge.

When confronting the intruder in your home, do your best to sound like a street-wise law enforcement officer. Relay your instructions in a commanding tone of voice and speak in short sentences. Say things like “Don’t move,” “Stop,” “Drop the screwdriver,” “Drop the knife,” and “Get down, face down, on the floor!” It’s often harder to pull the trigger while talking, so relaying commands in the shortest sentences possible enables you to respond with the proper level of force.

Practice your home-defense plan with your loved ones or roommates as often as possible, using an unloaded firearm or a blue-plastic training firearm. Practice this plan during the day and night. Home defense is critical—if necessary spend your vacation money to cover the cost of meaningful firearms and tactical training. Remember, the life you save may be your own!

The author is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and a former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.

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