Home Security: Protecting Yourself In Your Own Home

Many homeowners are unaware of their rights when it comes to self-defense in the home. Here are some tips for protecting your own household from outside dangers.

Today's newspapers are filled with stories of homeowners being held against their wills by home invaders. These criminals may be looking for valuables, seeking retribution or hiding out from law enforcement. No matter what the motivation, home invasion can be one of the scariest events a homeowner will ever face. The incident itself could resolve itself peacefully or suddenly escalate into a life-or-death struggle with armed and dangerous criminals. There's no way to tell how a home invasion will be played out, so homeowners need to have a solid plan for self-protection inside their own homes.

Here are some ways to reduce the chances of an intrusion and how to defend yourself against a burglar or home invader inside your home:

1. Don't look like a victim-in-waiting. Professional burglars often perform surveillance on neighborhoods for days or weeks, looking for homes that look abandoned or unprotected. Take proactive steps against invasion by looking at your home from a burglar's point of view. Are there trees or shrubs hiding points of entry? Keep them trimmed away from doors and windows, or have them moved to a different part of the yard. Are there signs of life in your home- lights going on and off, televisions or stereos blaring, cars going in and out? Burglars watch for times when all occupants appear to be gone. Install timers which will randomly turn on lights and electronic entertainment while you're away. Make sure newspaper and mail deliveries are properly halted while on an extended vacation.

2. Consider installing a perimeter alarm system. Your first line of defense against an intruder is knowing they've crossed the property line. Alarm systems with floodlights and loudspeakers make the best deterrents. Any alarm system should be placed in such a way that activation means a definite legal line has been crossed. Some alarms may be accidentally triggered by stray animals or innocent neighbors passing through, so a homeowner should be prepared for some false alarms but also be ready for the real event. The laws concerning the use of deadly force against an intruder generally specify a deliberate violation of the household itself. Neighborhood kids retrieving a ball or a delivery man holding a package may set off an alarm, but they are clearly not invading a protected space. Many state laws hold that an intruder must penetrate a window or door in order to be considered a threat.

Someone standing near your front door may be considered a menace, but usually not a 'threat' when it comes to the legal use of deadly force.

3. Prepare your own safe room and procedures. Many homeowners are now investing in rooms specifically designed to withstand a home invasion. These 'panic rooms' usually contain some form of outside communication, as well as some personal amenities and emergency food supplies. Even if you cannot afford to build a panic room, a room in your home should be considered the first place to go in case of a break-in. All family members need to know instinctively to head for the bathroom or the master bedroom or a den. This room needs to have an outside phone line or a cell phone within reach. The door should be reinforced with a deadbolt at least, and should have a secondary exit for emergency escapes. At the first sign of trouble or triggering of an alarm, all occupants of the house should make every effort to meet inside this room and lock the door securely. The best defense against an experienced burglar or motivated home invader is not to be confrontational. They are most likely armed and have few problems taking a life if things go wrong. Remaining in a safe room until the authorities arrive is the first and best line of defense once an intruder breaks through the door or window. Property can be replaced, but loved ones can't.

4. Start with non-lethal force for protection. Taking a human life is a traumatic event, even if that other human life wanted your valuables and money. Self-protection should not begin and end with deadly force. Keep a baseball bat or sturdy baton near entry ways- a few blows to the kneecaps or sternum should convince an intruder to give up the quest for your gold. Blows to the head or vital organs should only be delivered in a life-or-death situation, because these can be lethal hits. Your first thoughts should be incapacitation until trained law enforcement officers can arrive. Pepper sprays can render a 300 pound intruder harmless, plus can be shot from a safe distance. In an emergency, anything in an aerosol can become an effective deterrent. Aim for the eyes and run away once the suspect is incapacitated. Avoiding confrontation is always preferable to a face-to-face encounter- the intruder may be a much better fighter with better weaponry. Get as many doors between you and the intruder as you can, even if you have to run out of the home.

5. Use lethal force when ABSOLUTELY necessary. A kitchen knife may seem like a natural self-defense weapon, but you must be prepared to use it against another person. Knife fights are usually bloody and brutal, and once the knife is forced out of your hand, you've lost all leverage. Grab a knife if you have no other weapons, but use it strictly for self-defense or intimidation. If you feel you must become the aggressor, be strong and relentless. The intruder must not get the upper hand in a knife fight.

A better deterrent is a handgun. Keep one stored near your bed in a safety box, not under the mattress or in a desk drawer. It's always a good idea to take a few classes on proper gun handling if you're going to have one in your home. Women should be especially comfortable with the handgun model they purchase, because a heavy gun will affect accuracy. Upon hearing a suspicious noise, a homeowner should retrieve the gun from the box and keep it pointed down. The safety should not be removed until a clear shooting scenario exists. All too often a nervous homeowner will point and shoot at an innocent family member coming through the door unexpectedly or a tree branch striking a window. Once an intruder is identified, a homeowner may want to issue a verbal warning before discharging a weapon.

Legally speaking, a homeowner may use deadly force as soon as an intruder breaks through a door or window. If there is nothing between you and a burglar except your handgun, you have a legal right to pull the trigger. But if the intruder realizes his mistake and heads back through the window, your right to use deadly force is not so clear. Deadly force should only be used in a situation where a homeowner feels personally threatened. Charges can be brought against a gun owner who fired under conditions which were not life-threatening. Shooting a would-be intruder through a closed window, for instance, would not be considered life-threatening, and the homeowner could face charges.

The intruder must clearly break through an imaginary property line before deadly force is justified.

A better alternative may be a large shotgun or rifle. These weapons are much more intimidating than a small handgun, so the intruder may decide to leave voluntarily. The sound of a rifle being cocked or the snap of a shotgun barrel may be enough to thwart most burglaries. A shotgun also has the advantage of a wider spread, which means a homeowner doesn't have to be very accurate in order to cause incapacitation.

Self-protection of any kind in a home does not have to be lethal or decisive. An intruder may escape unscathed, but at least your home and family are safe. An injured intruder may have to seek medical attention somewhere, which will generate a lead for law enforcement officers to follow. During a struggle, a perpetrator might leave enough evidence (blood, hair, clothing fibers) to make an effective arrest later. The point of self-protection in a home is to prevent a minor incident from escalating into a major life-or-death situation.

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