Based on pure probability, what’s the most dangerous thing we will do with our guns in our lifetime? Is it:
Going to Public Ranges?
Taking multi-day professional instruction?
Getting into a gunfight?
Living life with and around guns?
If you answered going to public ranges, good guess, but wrong. The answer is day to day administrative gun handling and living around guns. Every time the gun leaves or enters the holster, every time we set up for dry-fire, every time we take an EDC selfie for Instagram (don’t do that), every press-check, every time we transfer our pistol from our waistband to a car safe, every time we handle our gun, there is a small chance of making a mistake. Though the chance of negligence is very very tiny, we flip that coin every time we touch our gun. Over the course of a lifetime, that’s a lot of coin flips and the chance of messing up becomes a real possibility.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have had a negligent discharge, and those who will.
While a gunfight is certainly dangerous, the average gun owner will never need to use their gun to defend themselves. But they WILL live with a gun for as long as they own it. So, that means the biggest threat we face is our own negligence over the course of a lifetime. Just by having the gun around, there is always a low-grade probability that an accident could happen. I don’t think most people think about this. Especially not the ‘I just bought a gun, I’m good’ magic talisman gun owner. They should.
Eliminate unnecessary gun handling. If possible, avoid moving your loaded gun from holster to car magnet to briefcase to… Load it, put it in the holster, and go about your business.
Always concentrate on sharp gun handling. The primary safety is muzzle direction. This seems to be a big problem in cars. People want the privacy of their car to move their gun around or take selfies for the ‘gram, but don’t practice good muzzle discipline in confined spaces and end up flagging themselves or others.
Don’t have conditional gun handling rules. Always avoid pointing at things you don’t want to shoot, even when you’re sure “It’s unloaded”. The two loudest sounds in the world: a bang when you expect a click, and a click when you expect a bang.
Avoid leaving your guns laying around for someone (usually a child) to play with. Either on you, or secured.
Maintain and use quality gear. Also consider how your clothing affects your gun handling. Floppy holsters and errant T-shirt material are responsible for lots of accidents.
Maintain a healthy respect for firearms.
Paradoxically, we own and carry guns to make ourselves safer from high stakes statistically rare events, but in owning those tools we open ourselves to the risks inherent in tool itself. It’s worth considering.
There are a lot of people I interact with online who should deeply consider if living with a firearm is the right choice for them. I’d like to see people hold themselves to a higher standard and treat these tools with the respect they’re due. I hate hearing about kids shooting their siblings after they found mom’s pistol in her purse at the grocery store. We can do better, we just have to remind ourselves of the risk we assume when we own and carry a gun.
Thanks for reading.
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Have a flashlight next to it (or on it) for identifying what you’re about to point (or pointing) a gun at.
Be secured from access by a non-authorized person. For the sake of this article, that person is YOU until you wake up fully.
That second point is not often considered. The bump in the night is far more likely to be a person you know than a crew of home invaders. I think the best way to prevent a groggy tragedy is to force yourself to complete several fine motor movements and/or take several steps prior to having a loaded gun in your hand. You need time to shake the cobwebs out of your head and assess what’s actually happening.
In a drawer or closet which requires several steps to reach
Same as above but with cylinder open
Cylinder empty and speed loader next to pistol
Magazine removed and kept lashed to the hand guard or stored nearby
In a closet or corner several steps away
Magazine tube empty
“Cruiser ready” (empty chamber, action closed)
You don’t need to do every item to have success with this idea. Pick two or three that make sense for you and give it a try. I’m looking to buy about 30 seconds to fully awaken.
But it will slow down my room clearin’!
If you have less than 5 seconds to get a gun into action from a dead sleep, you screwed up a long time ago. Go read my article about layered home defense to get your house or apartment right. If you can’t get a magazine into your pistol and rack the slide, you’re not awake enough to be moving in your house with a gun.You need to protect you from yourself first.
Lets remember the firearms requirement hierarchy:
Don’t Shoot Ourselves
Don’t Shoot What We Don’t Want To Shoot
Shoot What We Want To Shoot
And for goodness sake, start verbalizing ASAP so you don’t show the muzzle to the wrong person. “Who’s there!? I am armed!” or whatever.
The opportunity for a negative outcome is greatly increased if you are startled from a dead sleep and start making life and death decisions before you fully wake up. Give yourself some time.
In the second installment of this series, we will discuss the how of increasing your home security. I’ll be talking about how to use the diagram that you made in the first article. We will talk about how to negate the weak points of your house’s layout, and light up the dark spots. We will list some inexpensive physical security upgrades, early warning methods, and some ideas about how to project the illusion of extra security when you might not actually have it. Remember that our goal is to appear to be a harder target than the folks next door (sorry neighbor Bob). Everything I mention in this article are things I have done to my home. All of the upgrades are budget minded and doing all of them totals less than $250.
I knew my home was projecting the appearance of security when my neighbors reminded me this was a ‘good neighborhood’ and asked why I had my house lit up like a Christmas tree at night.
We want our homes to appear unappealing from the street, unappealing from close up, be difficult to enter by actually reinforcing entry points, have early warning systems in place to alert us to intruders, and we need to have a ‘safe room’ and a plan established to fall back to if all of the precaution fails. Let’s build our layers of security for the home.
Layer 1: From the Street
Like we read about in the interviews with burglars, the first thing bad guys look for is the appearance of alarm systems. Some then test to see if there is actually an alarm system and will abort the burglary immediately if an alarm is triggered. As a result, you should either go all the way and get an alarm system installed, with battery backup and SMS cell tower dial-out so that power outage or a phone line being cut don’t affect the police being called. Barring this, start by purchasing security system signs and decals. Put the big sign by the mailbox and paste the stickers on windows and doors on ground level.
Keep your shrubs and hedges trimmed in such a way that there are no hiding spots from the road. If you have a basement window that is hidden by a thick bush, it makes a great entry point because it conceals the burglar’s movements. Keep things trimmed up. If you can’t, you should consider planting bushes that have thorns and would make crawling past uncomfortable. I cut down a large decorative tree that was obscuring the front door from the street (not to mention it was ugly) and the wife and I purchased bushes that we could keep under control while still looking nice.
Use the lighting diagram you made from the last post to find the darkest parts of your house. If there are entry points there, fix that. Purchase motion sensing flood lights and install them. You should light the dark areas whether you can see the areas they illuminate or not. They are simple to install, just make sure you don’t zap yourself. If you happen to have an area that doesn’t have an existing fixture, the MicroSolar Outdoor Solar Motion Sensor Lightis outstanding. I installed one in the dark zone of my home and it’s bright and waterproof. I highly recommend it. We’re livin’ in the future, I tell you…
If you want to get fancy, you can buy Security Cameras and mount cameras to monitor your home 24/7. When I was in Atlanta, I had a four camera system. Two of the cameras monitored the street in both directions, one camera watched the front door, and the last camera watched that camera and the front windows to make sure no one tampered with the door camera. I recall at least two occasions where casual passersby noticed the cameras and started talking about it to themselves. I was glad they noticed them. Being obvious is good.
My neighbors didn’t have any installed, and a wannabe home invader nearly broke past the front door when they opened it for them (reminder: you don’t have to open the door just because someone knocks). I’m not saying it prevented an attempt on my house, but I know that no home invaders tried to push past my wife into the house as they did to the neighbors. If you want to go more budget minded, you can buy a few Dummy Security Cameras and put them in obvious places visible from the street. I would try to make the dummy cameras obvious, but with the real cameras I’d be more strategic so that they aren’t easy to disable without being seen by another camera. Think interlocking fields of fire.
Layer 2: From Up Close
Here are some ideas that will help if the first line of deterrence fails. These are things meant to deter if someone is in close proximity to the house and possibly peeking past blinds and attempting a rouse to see who might be home before doing the deed.
Have sheer blinds on the ground level at a minimum. No one should have unfettered visual access to your house. Window shopping is fine at the mall, not at my house.
Having a dog is a great idea. More dogs is more better. They give good kisses, they’re loyal to the death, they will keep you warm on the couch, and a barking dog is a well known deterrent for burglary. I would suggest you not get a dog only for home defense, because they get expensive. I really am quite fond of ours. Consider that a burglar might check to see what parts of your house the dogs can’t get to and break in there. That’s just something to think about.
If you don’t want a dog, then why not make it seem like you have a dog? Get a well chewed toy from a friend’s dog, a water bowl, and maybe a ‘Beware Of Dog’ Sign and hang it on the fence. Plant the seed of doubt in the bad guy’s mind.
Get an old radio and a lamp and put them on a cheapo Lighting Timer. Have the radio play during the day and the light come on a few times at night. Most burglars don’t want to tangle with the home owner.
Don’t leave the tools of the trade laying around your house. The ladder under your porch? That makes a great escalator to reach your second story. The hammer you left by the garage? Universal key. Don’t make it easier for them. Put a bike chain on the ladder rungs and lock it to your porch. Clean up your tools.
Layer 3: Physically Harden the Entrances
If you have old style wooden framed windows, Security Pins are cheap and easy reinforcement. All you need to install them is a drill. If you have newer vinyl windows, Vinyl Window Lock simply tighten to the track, and prevent movement of the window. Be sure to keep the key to the pins on the top of the frame of the windows so in case you need to open the windows in a hurry (FIRE) you can.
If you have deadbolts, be sure the ones near windows are keyed and you remove the keys when not in use. Being able to smash the window and unlock the deadbolt sort of defeats the purpose.
Consider removing or putting a security film on the windows of your garage.
Installing Security Strike plates is another simple upgrade that anyone can do. I had no trouble completing the job using a drill and a dremel tool. Make sure you match the existing hardware colors, because wives don’t like mismatched door hardware (ask me how I know). I have read in several places that the average amount of time a burglar spends trying to gain entry is about 60 seconds, then they lose interest and look for greener pastures. The increased number of longer screws and thicker gauge metal should both help to slow entry. This buys you time if you’re home during the break-in and might make a burglar fear too much attention if he has to keep kicking the door if you’re not home.
Layer 4: Early Warnings
Let’s say today is your day. The guy is coming in, brought the right tools to defeat your reinforcements (or you left something unlocked or wide open), and found a door that your dogs can’t reach. If you have a monitored alarm system, hopefully this is where that takes over and the coppers are on the way. A huge fear of mine is waking up and the bad guys are right outside the bedroom. The lack of time makes my palms sweat. That would be a bad day. Let’s say you don’t have the option of a monitored alarm system. What can you do?
Put an old baby monitor in a distant room, and the receiver in your bed room. If someone starts shuffling around in the garage or basement, you’ll hear it. Plenty of time to get the cops on the line and get your gear on.
This Security Alarm Kit is great both as a deterrent and as an early warning. They are LOUD. The units work via a magnet that keeps the alarm silent when it’s next to the unit, and sets it off when it’s separated. It will shut off as soon as the magnet is put back in place. My personal hope is that as soon as the 120 dB alarm starts blaring, the bad guy remembers a previous engagement and leaves. I have several of these strategically placed in the remote areas of my house and I can hear them from anywhere in the house. I’m really pleased with these so far. They also work well for apartments or dorm rooms. Recommended.
Place a convex mirror (I used a baby car mirror) outside of your front door, where you can see it from your peephole. Put it in a place that allows you to see the blind spot to the immediate left and right of your door. Being able to see 180 degrees outside of your front door gets rid of any hiding spots that someone could use for an ambush when you open the door for that nice gentleman who needs to use a phone.
Layer 5: The Safe Room
We’ve discussed this briefly in previous posts. There’s also many resources about this online. Do some googling and reading.
Layer 6: You
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that in order for all of this gear to work, you have to have the Mindset to implement it. You have to have the presence of mind to set your alarms, change the batteries, lock the doors, not open the door for just anybody, not leave the new flat screen TV box visible to all passersby on trash day, create plans and train your family, and so on. We are usually our home’s biggest security weakness. Be a tougher nut to crack.
This article will be about how to evaluate your home’s curb appeal to burglars and other scumbags who want to take your stuff and kick your door in while you’re watching TV at night. It will be holistic approach that will build layer upon layer of security without spending an inordinate amount of money. I will be using my house as a ‘case’ study (without giving away too many personal security details) to illustrate the methodology for doing this. In future posts, I’ll highlight the specific upgrades that I’ve done to deselect and harden my home from criminals.
Mission: Systematically evaluate our own homes for vulnerabilities and weaknesses to burglaries, and then harden our homes both physically and by projecting strength with simple budget minded improvements.
What are Burglars looking for when they are choosing a target?
I had been researching and reminding myself about all of the home invasion and burglary statistics I could find over the last several weeks. Then, like a tactical angel, Greg Ellifritz shared a very timely post with some stats and information that was new to me (and more recent). In it, he links to a really neat study “Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective”. I encourage you to read Greg’s summary of the study so you can get an idea of what sort of person we’re looking at, what they want, how they choose their targets, and what deters them.
For this article, we’re only really interested in what deters them. Here’s a quote from the study,
“Close proximity of other people (including traffic, those walking nearby, neighbors, people inside the establishment, and police officers), lack of escape routes, and indicators of increased security (alarm signs, alarms, dogs inside, and outdoor cameras or other surveillance equipment) was considered by most burglars when selecting a target”
“About 60% of the burglars indicated that the presence of an alarm would cause them to seek an alternative target altogether. This was particularly true among the subset of burglars that were more likely to spend time deliberately and carefully planning a burglary.”
We want to use these facts, and our own common sense to deter and deselect our homes from burglaries and harden against home invasion. To summarize:
The Layered Approach
In order to successfully deter this sort of crime, we need to have a layered approach. We need to project our security to the street, to dissuade bad guys who are ‘shopping’ for a home to burglarize. We must physically harden the points of entry so that if we DO get chosen, we make the entry as difficult as possible. If we can’t harden a point of entry, we have to provide ourselves an early warning to the intrusion. We must lastly have our safe room prepared so that we can have place to make our last stand.
Case Your Own House
Walk as far away from your house as you can while still maintaining a view of your house. How far away can you be and still see your home? If you have woods, walk into the tree line, and see what you can see. What doors, windows, entrances can you make out? Are there any shrubs or bushes that block your view of a window or door? Are there any windows without shades or blinds that you can see into? If someone were standing in these perimeter points, would they have a reason to be there besides casing your house (across the street at gas station, for instance)? In urban areas, look to see if you see evidence of people loitering in these observation points (cig butts, spit, empty cans, etc.)
Now as you walk back, look at routes towards your house. Are there any obvious routes towards the entrances? Are there any natural or man-made obstacles in the way? Anything that would have to be disturbed that you would notice out of place if someone moved towards your house? Are there any fences or natural obstacles? Would these fences hide nefarious activities?
Look into your windows. What can you see around shades, between blinds, and through the side lights around the front door? Do you see anything of value like your computer, office, TV, so on. Where could you hide right up against the house that can’t be seen from the inside?
Have a friend walk around the perimeter of your house while you stand in different rooms of the house. Where can you see them as they approach the house? Are there any routes that keep them hidden as they approach? How close can they get before you hear them? What does the front porch sound like when someones walking on it? How about the crunchy pea gravel behind the house? Pay attention to how things sound when someone is encroaching on the house.
Look at where your external lights illuminate. Are there areas that your motion sensing floods don’t reach? Remember, you want to illuminate both areas you can see, and those you can’t.
Look for overgrown shrubs and trees that could hide a bad guy’s movement. Trim the hedges back so that you can see the windows from the road. Burglars aren’t in the business of being seen.
MS PAINT DIAGRAMS!
Now I want you to find your house on google.maps. Take a screenshot of the aerial view and paste it into MS Paint. Draw lines that correspond to your view from inside the house looking out. Also draw lines that show where your flood lights or spot lights shine. You will quickly get an idea of the areas that demand attention first. You will see the obvious approach routes, and the places that would be darkest for a bad guy to work. You can get quite elaborate here. You could document which bushes need to be trimmed, where you need shades in the house, and so on.
This is the first step in hardening your house. Think like a bad guy as much as you can. Be devious. Where would you break in? When would you break in? You have to build a plan to break in. Then you have to shut down your own plan with some simple and inexpensive upgrades. We have quickly evaluated how enticing our house looks to potential bad guys. In subsequent posts we will discuss simple tactics to bluff that you have more security than you do, some hardware associated with hardening the house, early warning systems, lighting choices, and the safe practices and the mindset it takes to keep ahead of home invaders and burglars.
Protect the Brood,
Jim Grover, “Street Smarts, Firearms, & Personal Security”