The odds and stakes of home protection

The discussion of shooting someone in your home without warning or identification has reared its ugly head again. “I’ll shoot anyone in my home” is probably the second most foolish and ill-considered dogma among gun owners today; “It’s not loaded” being the first.

During the Sack of Béziers in 1209 AD, the Abbot of Citeaux, Arnaud Amalric, head of the Crusaders, is reputed to have said: “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own [Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius].” Although it is disputed whether the Abbot actually said this, it is the source of the quip, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” If you consider it for just a few seconds, “I’ll kill anyone in my house” is philosophically not very far from this. Hopefully, we’ve gotten a little smarter and humane over the course of nine Centuries.

Children sneak in and out of the house, spouses get up to go to the bathroom, friends try to surprise you, and people who are mentally challenged, either permanently or temporarily by intoxicants, enter into homes without malicious intent.

I now have close to a hundred Negative Outcome mistaken identity shootings in my database in which someone shot their spouse or child. Those people will never get another good night’s sleep as long as they live. For the ones where the shootee survived, I doubt the relationship will ever be the same. For those who think they’ll check to make sure all their family members are in bed first, that doesn’t always work, either.

Tragedy: Florida Man Shoots, Kills Fiancée Day Before Wedding

And shooting some poor old geezer who has Alzheimer’s isn’t any better, just because he’s not a member of your family. In that particular case, there was no prosecution but the Cost of Killing was still enormous.

On average, my research indicates that someone mistakenly shoots their spouse, child, or other innocent person in their home every single week in the United States. Two words, “Who’s there?” and a flashlight would go a long way to prevent these tragedies. “Challenging will give my position away,” “The flashlight draws fire,” “blah-blah-blah;” that’s all foolishness parroted by people who have no understanding of METT-TC. Mission, Enemy, Terrain and weather, Troops and support available, Time available, and Civil considerations.


Veterans who should have learned about METT-TC, but didn’t, annoy me greatly when they prattle this kind of foolishness. To be fair, I really didn’t understand it until I was a Staff Sergeant and even then only vaguely. This is another reason not to listen to opinions from people whose only real claim to fame is that they qualified Expert with some weapon in the military. Someone’s ability to Qualify with a rifle has ZERO to do with their understanding of any tactics at all, much less tactics about highly ambiguous situations. A better criterion than Qualification would be “How many Operations Orders have you written?” If the answer is Less than ten or especially None, then the person’s ability to plan any operation is questionable.


The odds that the bump in the night are an intruder are low. I’ve calculated them at three percent but I can accept other numbers. More likely, it’s an innocent party. How many of us have investigated a bump in the night as compared to how many of us have then found someone who needed shooting? The stakes are very high, the life of a loved one or innocent party. Some localities are now prosecuting Mistaken Identity shootings as Manslaughter or Second Degree Murder. Even when there are no legal consequences, the psychological toll will most likely be for a lifetime.

The Flashlight chapter of Indoor Range Practice Sessions is a FREE download. Please get it, practice using your light, learn to speak while holding your gun, and think about identifying people before shooting at them.

You could even buy the whole book, if you want to learn something about shooting.

18 responses

  1. Simply grabbing your gun and go off looking to kill an intruder is idiotic. Yet it happens. One needs to establish a plan to protect others in your dwelling before jumping to deadly force. Then there are things like burgler alarms , remote light switches, dogs, pepper spray, tasers, even impact weapons to use (if you are able) before using deadly force. One thing my family did was to establish a place to go in our house if the burgler alarm went off or if our dogs indicated that something was wrong. Dogs are great at detecting intruders. Both my father and grandfather were combat veterans and armed professionals in civilian life.Neither of them kept their handguns loaded while at home. They both knew that our dogs and our alarm gave them enough time to both see where everyone was and call the police. We were instructed to gather in my grandfathers room and stay there. My father would call our dogs and secure them.They then lit every light on the second floor where we all slept. If the police responded, my grandfather, a constable , would be the first to meet them. This system worked well, twice. Once with the arrest of a burgler who was mauled by our dogs. Notice, guns were not the first thing in our plan. My father and grandfather both thought it was prudent to be fully awake and aware of their situation before loading their weapons. They both carried revolvers. I have continued their teachings with my own home. I have carried a revolver for well over 30 years for my past career and continue to do so. I continue to practice the things that have worked so effectively in the past. I realize that our situation was not common but believe that there is a lesson that can be learned.

    Another philosophy, that was taught to me by a neighbor who was a Superior Court judge may seem foolish but it worked for him. He was a veteran of WW1 and really hated violence. He also knew that there was a real need to defend oneself. He had two old style Smith &Wesson top break revolvers in cal .32 which he kept loaded with blanks. One he kept in his study, out of sight, the other was in his night stand. His plan was to fire the blanks if he thought there was an intruder. One night in the mid 1970s we were awakened by the sound of His Honor firing his blanks and his wife’s screaming. There was an intruder who forced open his is back door. He ran . The responding police secured his door and left. Everyone was quite happy no one was killed or even injured. In this case , His Honor stayed upstairs and waited for the police. He reasoned that few criminals wanted to continue after being shot at. In the State where I lived getting permits to purchase a handgun was an onerous task. Many people had realistic blank firing pistols for home defense.So maybe my neighbor was not wrong. As an afterthought, shortly before his passing, His honor gifted his pistols to me. I was surprised to find that he also owned his Smith &Wesson 1917 revolver he carried in France and a rather beat up Luger he won in a card game before returning home in 1919. He clearly cleaned them ,and put them in his attic.He had no ammunition for either. I own these weapons today and treasure his memory. He knew both the legal and psychological consequences of killing , his strategy worked for him .

    Those who have killed another change. I have counseled people who have killed in the military or as LEOs. The experience can not be summed up in the trite sayings one reads in gun publications. Only the truly mentally ill actually want to take another’s life.

  2. Kids & grandkids are long gone. We live in a different state. We always keep our doors locked, and double check before we go to bed. We both sleep in the same bed. If I don’t feel my wife’s body beside me, and someone else is in the house, I’m going to shoot.

    1. I’ll say again that the gentleman in the link about shooting his fiancee was sure she was in bed next to him. She wasn’t and he shot and killed her.

    2. Bob rethink your strategy.

  3. 1. Get one of those hand held recorders.
    2. Get pump shotgun out, confirm it’s empty.
    3. Record sound of “racking” a shotgun.
    4. Make copy’s as needed.

    1. So much no.

    2. No. No. No.

  4. Everyone with a firearm should read this.

  5. Anthony Muhlenkamp

    Turn on the lights!!

  6. This is full of sound advice. The comments, not so much. I can never advocate using blanks or sound recordings to attempt to scare someone off is foolhardy at best. Sure, you might scare them off or you might find yourself on the receiving end of gunfire with no way to defend yourself in turn. Get a firearm and learn to use it effectively. Have a plan with your family members and be prepared to use deadly force if and only if it’s necessary, and should you find it’s required don’t hesitate.

    1. Derek the use of blanks was advised by a Superior Court Judge who presided over cases where people either accidentally or unlawfully killed in what they believed was self defense.At trial they lost. Also in some areas , it’s difficult if not impossible for someone to acquire a firearm legally. Additionally, it’s a reality that the best plans will come undone when put to the test. Very few criminals are going to enter a dwelling where they think they will be shot. The advice given by the judge actually worked for him. A noise complaint is better than the fallout from a legal shooting. The shooter will face arrest, both criminal and civil charges and perhaps Federal Civil Rights charges. Even if one comes away from the ordeal whole, there are psychological issues arising from killing another person. Less than lethal alternatives should not be dismissed out of hand. I agree that the advice given by the judge reflected the wisdom of a bygone era but it has merits. I

  7. Finally, a good,solid article on this sad busines, an article that doesn’t shy away from calling these for what they are, cases of avoidable negligence.

    It is important to remember that an intruder has chosen to come into an unfamiliar house, while you are on your home territority. Darkness (once the intruder has been identified as a stranger, NOT a family member or friend or non- threat, futhermore perhaps ID’d as armed) is on the home owner’s side. Paired with ear muff hearing protection which cuts out gunfire noise levels, yet magnifies minute sounds, and you clearly have tactical dominance if you and your family are prepared. A dog is a great team member. One or two interior floodlights carefully placed will complete the picture. A friend of mine added several large firecrackers taped together to be tossed or rolled out as a distraction.

    All of this is more than enough to hold anyone at bay until police arrive or the intruder retreated. But I stress, it all begins with expecting the “intruder” to be a friendly, familiar person, or a non- threatening fellow citizen.

    A couple of years ago, a confused man went to a house locally to politely ask for driving directions, and was shot and killed. That sadly came about because of an expectation that any such interaction was merely a cover for hostility, perhaps a home invasion.

  8. This is one reason I have dogs. If they DON’T alarm or if they give the “someone at the door” bark you can be pretty sure there isn’t an intruder. If they give the “General Quarters. Prepare to repel boarders” cacophony you will know, and odds are the intruder will have left or ceased to be a problem by the time you take up your prepared position.

    Cops don’t clear houses by themselves, and they get trained and paid to do it in groups.

    1. Exactly. Dogs do not give false alarms. They are the best first line defense . There should be a plan to secure your dogs before the police arrive.

%d bloggers like this: