You are a 95 year old man. It is Friday evening and you fall asleep in your living room chair. You’re startled awake by a crashing sound as someone kicks in your back door. You grab your gun and see a stranger going through your kitchen drawers. You shout for him to leave. He starts toward you until he sees your firearm. Now the intruder runs back the way he came through your broken back door. You call 911 and report the incident to the police.
Police find your robber in a nearby home that he also broke into. They arrest him. He is charged with second-degree and third-degree burglary, as well as second-degree and third-degree criminal mischief. He is held in jail without bond for violating his parole.
The local sheriff said, “The victim protected himself from a career criminal. The victim was at a disadvantage physically, but his weapon enabled him to protect himself. The.. criminal fled the residence because the homeowner had armed himself.”
This criminal encounter could sound like a minor crime with a burglar facing an elderly homeowner. It might be, or it might not have turned out that way. Half of assaults are committed in and near our home. Half are committed at night. Criminals are often intoxicated or high as they work. In the vast majority of cases, the victim does not have to press the trigger when he uses a firearm during armed self-defense. This story is a typical encounter and closer to the rule than to an exception.
The obvious point is that the defender owned a firearm. The gun was kept nearby as the victim slept. The firearm was kept in a condition so that it could be used immediately. That usually means the firearm is loaded and a live round is in the chamber. Leaving a loaded gun on a side table isn’t appropriate if there were grandchildren in the home, but it sounds like it worked in this case.
Some points are not so obvious. One is that the doors were locked so the robber had to break in. The sound of the breaking door alerted the homeowner. It gave the defender time to wake up and time to grab his gun. It also sounds like the homeowner fell asleep with the lights on. That is significant since it immediately allowed the defender to identify the intruder. The defender wasn’t trying to identify shadows in the dark. Having the lights on in the home also tells us that the intruder was not intimidated by entering an occupied home and meeting the homeowner.
Some criminologists might argue that this was not an armed defense at all since there were neither shots fired nor was the victim injured during a prior assault. I’ll argue that the gun in the victim’s hand caused the robber to change his plans and run away. The victim is glad he was armed, and so are we.
Armed defense is serious business. Pointing a gun at someone exposes us to both moral, legal, and financial risks. In this case, the defender was in his home. He was 95 years old while the robber was 40 years old. There may be a few 95-year-olds who can move like 40-year-olds, but the odds are against it. There was a significant disparity of strength and speed between the elderly defender and the much younger robber who was less than half the victim’s age. That disparity of force is part of the usual justification for armed defense.
Millions of new gun owners bought a gun to protect themselves and their family. Most of those guns are sitting unloaded on a shelf. There, they are safe, but ineffective. New gun owners will realize the need to carry their firearms on their bodies as they learn more about defense in the home. An unloaded gun stored in the bedroom closet would not have helped this defender.
This crime was typical. Why should we assume we’ll have more time to respond than this defender did?
The homeowner also did several important things during his defense. He used his voice and challenged the intruder. That verbal challenge confirmed that the home was occupied and helped the robber decide to leave. The challenge was also a significant point in the defender’s favor if he were forced to shoot and had to justify his actions. It sounds like the intruder did not run away simply because he realized the home was occupied. He ran when he faced the barrel of a gun.
Anyone would be upset if they woke up to find their door smashed and an intruder in their home. This defender recognized that the intruder was far enough away so he was not an immediate threat. The defender also recognized that the intruder was not a threat as he turned and ran away. That tells me the defender considered what he should do during an armed defense. The gun owner made a plan. He thought about what to do ahead of time so he could make good decisions when he couldn’t think clearly. Millions of new gun owners are making their safety plans with their families.
This defender stayed inside his home and didn’t chase the robber down the street. The homeowner grabbed his phone and called 911. The dispatcher will usually let us know when the police are about to arrive. That is a good time to put our gun away as this defender did.
If he lived alone, this elderly defender could have put his gun back on his side table before the police got there. If you’re defending your family, then you can’t leave your gun on the floor or on the kitchen table. You need a safe and secure place to put your gun after your defense. That is another reason to carry your gun in a holster at home.
New gun owners want to learn about defending themselves. Youtube can teach us a lot, but it can not catch our mistakes and suggest alternatives. Fortunately, hundreds of millions of gun owners were in the same situation that new gun owners are in today.
There are classes that teach new gun owners how to safely handle their firearms. They can learn how to shoot, how to protect their family, and how to legally carry concealed in their state. Ask at the gun store or shooting range near you. If nothing else, their suggestions will help you select a holster that fits your gun, your lifestyle, and your body. Youtube can’t do that, at least not yet.
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, join USCCA.
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.