Guide to Home Defense
The thought of burglars in your home is unsettling, but the thought of burglars in your home while your family is there is downright frightening. It's a scary situation, and one that requires planning to be prepared for. Often, the answer is a family emergency plan and a home security system. But some families prefer to take home defense a step further.
The facts on home invasions are not comforting. Burglars typically target homes that they know will be empty, often during the day, but 27.6% of all household burglaries still occur when a household member is present. And unfortunately, 26% of those household members will become victims of violent crime.
It's statistics like these that have many home owners considering the use of a gun or other weapon for home defense. For many home owners, having a firearm available in addition to a fully featured home security system means you'll have a fighting chance against an attacker in your home. But is a gun your first and best choice? And what does the law say? Read this guide as we explore the use of deadly force in home defense.
Burglaries Turned Home Invasions
Overall, burglars do their best to avoid homes that may have household members present. Residential burglaries typically happen during the day while you're at school or work.
This is far from good news, as it still results in burglary, but it does mean most burglars do not break in with a violent intent. Many will actively avoid household members or flee if they realize someone is home.
But unfortunately, that is not always the case. In 7.2% of all burglaries, a household member will be a victim of violent crime.
Avoiding Home Invasions
A home invasion is the most dangerous crime that can happen in your home. Criminals, often desperate and caught off guard, may not realize that anyone is home until you're face to face with them. And in the heat of the moment, your family may become the victim of a violent crime in your very own home.
How can you protect your family from this dangerous situation?
- Invest in a home security system: Homes without a security system are 300% more likely to be broken into. But perhaps more importantly, a home security system will have an alarm that will scare off burglars -- so you don't have to.
- Make a family emergency plan: Work with your family to make a plan for emergencies such as a home invasion, determining a safe place to meet and what each family member will do if they suspect trouble in your home.
- Do not open the door for unknown individuals: Unfortunately, too many home invasion stories start with families that open the door for criminals that look like solicitors or a cable repair person. Be sure that you know who you're opening the door for, and if you're suspicious or not expecting that person, it's best to ask them to leave -- without opening the door. Avoid simply not answering the door, as it's important they know that you're home. Many burglars will ring the doorbell first to see if anyone answers, and then break in when they think the home is empty.
You can learn more about how to avoid attracting burglaries in our ultimate guide to home security.
Defending Your Home During a Burglary or Home Invasion
Even if you have a home security system and have deterred burglars, home invasions can still happen. This threatens not just your property, but your life.
But before you get ready to arm your home with guns blazing, know this: successful defensive gun use is very rare. Research indicates that an annual average of 67,740 victims used their firearm in self protection during a property or violent crime. In 2014, there were 8,277,829 total property crimes. The number of home owners who killed their attackers in a justifiable homicide is even lower: in 2010, there were only 230 justifiable homicides with a private citizen using a firearm. Each year, an average of 505 Americans die from the accidental discharge of firearms.
Unfortunately, you're more likely to die from accidental firearm discharge than you are to successfully defend your home with a justifiable homicide. Despite these statistics, many home owners take comfort in knowing that in many states, the law is on their side should they choose to defend their lives and property with deadly force.
Of course, deadly force in defense of your home is typically a last resort, and self defense laws often reflect that. Even in states with broad stand your ground laws, you'll likely be required to prove that you were genuinely cornered, fearing for your life or property, and acted in self defense. Follow these tips to stay safe and act within the law as you defend your home and family:
- Stay calm: It's tough to stay calm, particularly as you may fear for your life, but it's essential that you keep a cool head to avoid panicked reaction.
- Use a home security system: With a home security system, you may never have to come face to face with an intruder. Your alarm is likely to scare them off before you have a confrontation.
- Avoid the intruder or escape: Lock yourself in a safe room, such as a closet that locks from your inside. Better yet, head out a door or window if you're able to do so without crossing paths with the intruder. Once you make it to a safe place, call the police. Note: the master bedroom is not a good choice for a safe room. Burglars often target master bedrooms for valuables. A child's room or other secondary bedroom is a better choice.
- Do not confront: If you're safe a room away from the burglar, don't take it upon yourself to confront them. Self defense laws often have a duty to retreat, which means you have to retreat from the situation if you feel threatened rather than using deadly force. The average burglary takes just three to five minutes. Though those may be the scariest few minutes of your life, chances are that if you're able to remain quietly in your safe room, the burglar will leave without a violent incident. Yes, you may be able to scare them off and keep them from stealing valuables, but you're more likely to invite them to escalate a property crime into a violent one.
- Fight back only with required force: In nearly every self defense law, defenders are only permitted to use necessary force. Shoot only if you have no other choice. That means if the intruder is fleeing and you shoot him or her in the back, the law will not be on your side.
- Be prepared to shoot: Know that a burglar is likely to also have a gun or other type of weapon, and simply showing the intruder that you have one may not be enough to scare him or her off. You may even lose your gun in the process. Be prepared to shoot, but only do it if you must.
Understanding Self Defense Laws
Each state has its own self defense laws, and in some states, the is no right to use deadly self defense. Typically, you can expect for self defense laws to fall into one of three categories: stand your ground, castle doctrine, or duty to retreat. Some will fall into two of these categories.
With a stand your ground law, home owners typically have no duty to retreat from the situation before using deadly force. Self defense can occur not just in your property, but anywhere.
A castle doctrine law is similar to stand your ground, but limits your ability to your property including your home and office to use deadly force in defense with no duty to retreat.
In states with a duty to retreat self defense law, you'll have to retreat from the situation if you feel threatened. Deadly force is considered a last resort, and you can't justifiably use deadly force if you're safe in your home.
As each state has a different self defense law, it's important that you research the law specific to your state:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Learn more about home security and home defense laws in your state in our state by state guides.