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Home Defense Checklist: What’s Important (and What Isn’t)

Home defense shotgun practice

As an NRA- and state-certified instructor, I realize that personal defense is a deadly business. As a professional, I check my gear on a regular basis.

I have a program for keeping up with my personal handgun, concealment leather, spare magazines and edged weapons.

I am certain that all are worn properly and accessible when going about my daily business. Most of us have a similar program.

But when it comes to home defense, we may be less prepared. We are awoken by a sound in the night. It may be a bump, it may be glass shattering or it may be a take-over robbery in the early stages.

We fumble for our handgun. Is it chamber loaded? Do I need to cock it? Where is my light? Personal defense in the home is different than personal defense on the street.

You may be highly aware on the street. In the home, you are more relaxed (or even asleep). Many of the many tragic depredations by our protein-fed ex-con criminal class occur in the home.

Thus begins the home defense checklist. Here’s what is important when it comes to home defense (and what isn’t).

1. Preparedness

In a home defense situation, the range is short and gun handling is more important than marksmanship. Practice must be applicable to the problem.

Being able to stand and deliver a gun load into a man-sized target is fine as far as it goes, but dealing with a shadowy figure that is shooting back is another matter.

Home invaders are operating in teams in increasing numbers and there is simply no room for error. You must prepare for the worst.

Tru Glo home defense handgun light
A combat light need not be expensive. Tru Glo handgun lights have worked for the author for years.

This means running likely scenarios through your mind and practicing your reaction. There is no need for live fire in the home; you have practiced often enough at the range.

Finding a structure that approximates the home on the range is ideal, but you need to practice tactical movement in the home.

Tripping and falling over furniture should not happen in the place you are most familiar with. You also need to have a plan to bring the sidearm into an advantageous position.

It should not be a challenge simply to find the handgun.

2. Jurisprudence

Let’s look at the likely adversary. While the law sometimes isn’t clearly in favor of the home defender, many homeowners do not completely understand the law.

If you live in one of the People’s Republics in the Northern United States, study the law—especially red flag laws. If you are in a castle doctrine state such as Florida, study the law just as carefully.

As an example of local mores, the common prowler isn’t always even charged with a crime. Attempted burglary is a rather difficult charge to prove. Trespass is a misdemeanor at best.

Basically, make sure you’re informed of the law where you live.

3. Restraint

Those outside of the home are prowlers and they simply do not constitute the same level of threat as someone who is breaking into the home.

It is not a good idea to step out of the home and confront a prowler. They may be out to steal something, they may be looking for entry, they may be a wandering drug or doper.

Do not expose yourself to such danger. They are possibly on drugs or in a drunken state.

Confronting these individuals will escalate the situation and make it more difficult for both the police and for your family to handle the situation.

It is a much better idea tactically to stay in the home and take a position that gives you a clear field of fire. Avoid target markers such as standing in the doorway silhouetted by light.

Be prepared to illuminate the target.

4. Due Diligence

The 911 call is important. If you have a prowler, officers will respond. Ask the dispatcher to tell you the officer’s names or call letter.

home defense guns and cell phone
The author’s daily carry guns become the home defender when he returns. The author spends his money on guns for cell phones, but the old cell phone is a reliable lifeline.

When they knock on the door, you will be able to confirm they are indeed the cops. That is pretty important. There are any number of gangs pretending to be peace officer to gain access to a home.

While we like to think we will not be fooled, some of these gangs are very good at what they do. Always call 911 to confirm the identity of anyone wishing to gain access to your home.

5. Accessible Defense

Another good clue for home defenders is to keep a handgun ready on the person at all times.

While this is a tall order, if you are serious about security, consider the advantage of being constantly armed. In the very least, several handguns stashed about the home are an advantage.

home defense handgun options
Home defense handguns do not have to be concealable. No handgun is too big to fight with!

But then again, they should be in the safe when you are not home. It is morally and legally wrong to arm a burglar. I am not paranoid, but recently in a town north of me, this type of thing really hit home.

A man and wife about my age and a young neighbor were watching TV in their home. This is a quiet neighborhood, a good neighborhood we might say.

Some guy and his girlfriend broke into the home and in a horrific incident hacked the three to death with a machete. That is quite an attack and the scene was bloody and brutal.

Next, they ran to Florida and “befriended” a homeless man. He was homeless, like many (evidently due to mental illness), but drew a check and has a bank account.

They killed him for the few dollars on his pay card. The point is, a gun that is not-accessible-but-on-the-person is a good thing to have.

In another incident nearby, a burglar broke in. The homeowner rushed to the nightstand for his pistol. The felon beat him to the gun and killed the homeowner.

When an intruder comes to your home, you are the first line of defense for your family. The police are the second line of defense. You must be prepared to react responsibly and, if need be, decisively.

6. A Plan

Having a plan in place and having practiced obtaining the handgun or long gun and making it ready is important. At this point, we need to discuss safety versus access.

If you have small children in the home, you must be certain that the handgun is secure against their inquisitive nature. The gun safe is perhaps not the best idea for the ready gun.

After all, if you are in a hurry and punch in the wrong code, the safe will lock you out for fifteen minutes. Not a good place to be.

gun safe with stickers
A gun safe is mandatory.

As one example, my grandson is three years old. His arms are short and he is not strong enough to lift a mattress. Having a pistol in the middle of the mattress makes it safe from his busy hands—not that he wanders around unescorted.

After all, kitchen knives and a hot stove may also be present. But when I prepare for rest at night, I do not leave the piece under the mattress. That would seriously impede access.

Rather, I move it to the edge of the mattress or where it will be accessible. There are various gun mounts for the bed that also work well.

You simply take the holster you have worn all day and mount it on the holder that is slipped under the mattress by the bed. A good option.

Others loop a holster belt and holster over the bed. Be aware that one hand will stabilize the holster while the other will draw the gun. This is a trade-off between speed and accessibility.

Home defense ammunition options
While the caliber and load chosen are debated, a bottom line is that the load must be high-quality and reliable for home defense.

Another question people have: when is the gun lock applied? When the gun is stored or at all times, is it not on the body?

Better practice unlocking the piece if you think you will have it locked when off the body. Think hard about home readiness and remain alert to danger. You owe yourself no less.

7. Options

Long guns are a good thing to have and the long gun is much more effective. A relatively short, fast-handling shotgun is the single most-effective home defense shotgun for those that practice.

Load it with Winchester reduced recoil buckshot and relax—the wound potential problem is solved in spades. Rifles are generally less suited to home defense, but can be appropriate at times.

home defense rifle options
Within reason, and with much practice in deployment and access, a rifle makes a good home defender.

Just the same, a quality .22 caliber rifle that all of the family are able to handle is a formidable option. A final option is perhaps something at the top of the list.

8. A Canine

An animal is a huge responsibility. They deserve an owner that is willing to train them and care for their needs sufficiently.

If you are away from home for long periods or do not have patience, they are not for you. Just the same the love and attention you give them is returned tenfold.

I would never wish to own a true attack dog; they are best reserved for patrolling compounds in Afghanistan.

Inadequate personality types often drift toward a snarling growling prosthesis for their own shortcomings and mistreat the animal, making it vicious.

A canine-type animal is the best burglar alarm ever. There are many breeds that make excellent companions, perhaps all raised properly do.

home defense canines
A good option for home security is a bright, alert canine that loves the family. This isn’t a tall order—canines raised with love and patience fit that bill well.

You simply need an alert. My animal isn’t a dog but a canine lupus dingo, the aboriginal animal that was present in the Americas when Europeans first landed.

While the coloring and her ability to move her paws in a different manner than true dogs—not to mention neck articulation to a far greater degree than most canines—is interesting, she is a first-class alarm and alert system.

She lets me know when UPS, FedEx or the mailman comes, or when someone is walking in front of the house. Dingos, in general, are capable of keeping an acre of land free of snakes, too, if that matters to you.

Her bark or demonstration is different for strangers and for family arrivals. The canine is far more efficient than any burglar alarm. As for actually defending the home—I doubt it.

A grown man can kick a 50-pound animal-like Lucy to death in a real fight.

But then again, the fellow attempting to break in doesn’t know that there isn’t an attack dog on the other side of the door because she is pretty loud and that draws a lot of attention.

Conclusion

Consider your options. There are many. The single most important weapon is a well-developed desire to protect the home. This is followed by training and preparation.

Would you add anything else to this list? What’s the most important thing for you when it comes to home defense? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. Good article, lots of information. I have also have young children and they are as inquisitive as any other child. My wife and separate the pistol with the magazine. I realize that can delay getting the weapon ready, but we also have two German Shepard’s, to help with keeping our family safe. We hope there is enough of of a delay with the dogs in order to get our weapon ready.

  2. One I disagree with the “Stash” method for a couple reasons..

    Having experienced both home invasion (Bad Guy in the house) and several attempts (All fails for the bad guys).. You simply have very little time to detect, access and react..

    Put a snubbie on your hip and a couple speed loaders or something equally compact and keep it there.

    Going in and out of your home and others going in and out of your home.. From putting out the trash to getting in the car and heading out..(In a garage or not)..

    These are times even if you are not the person going in or out .. You need to raise your awareness .. Stop and make sure things are fine before returning to your regular activities.

    Consistency in ones daily routine often cannot be avoided.. (Persons going to work for example) As hard as it is.. this must be a time of heightened awareness.

    Working or “Puttering” around the house.. you should not be out the door of your home without your head on a swivel.. and lock that door!!!

    Habituate yourself and your family to Locking all access ways.. every time even for only a min..

    This increasing the time and complexity of forcing someone back into the home.

    Instead of just one key to get in everywhere in your home.. Make it multiple.. use a color coded and tactile system to know which key opens what door..

    Buy Shooters Insurance.. It is not all it is cracked up to be..but it is a good foundation in terms of decreasing potential financial liability,

    Learn what to do and say around “Authorities” Understand they have not been held liable recently shooting and killing several homeowners engaged in lawfully defending their homes to home invaders..

    So keep that in mind

    Good Luck

  3. I agree with the having a dog or dogs is the best security alarm. They have bionic ears that can hear things WAY better than us humans can. We think or our CHI’s as early alert systems and the DOB as the enforcer. Has been a great combo so far.

    Good advice.

  4. My edc weapon is my choice for home defense simply because it is the one I’m most familiar with and since claymores and bouncing betties don’t distinguish friends from foes very well and they are probably illegal. That said whatever defense weapon you prefer won’t do you any good if it isn’t in your hand. Ok, so you don’t want to walk around your kitchen holding a 12 gauge at the ready, me neither again my edc in a bellyband holster is great. Weapon is at hand , out of childs reach. I am mostly right handed so I use left side carry. Makes it much easier to remove from the holster while seated in car or in home. I keep my bible on the bedside night table, my peace of mind is under my pillow.

  5. An excellent article. I struggled for a long time trying to figure out how to arrive at the best trade off
    having my firearm available in my home and keeping it safe from my 9, 8, 5 and 2 year old. In my home, they climb on counters, use chairs to access high places defeat cabinet locks and like most children are adept at defeating any plans adults develop. My solution is mine alone and is in not any attempt to tell you what to do in your home. When I sleep, my guns are locked in my gun locker or in a lockable gun case in my bed with key on my wrist bracelet. Please tell me how you have access and guarantee that your guns are kid safe at night. Yes I know that a home invader standing over my bed at 3:00 a.m. is not going to wait for me to unlock a gun case.

  6. I don’t agree that a rifle is less suited for home defense. An AR-15, chambered in .223 or 5.56, is an ideal home defense firearm. Magazine capacity for 30 rounds, rapid cycling capability, and the ability to shorten the stock for close-in needs make this a very versatile home defense weapon. A shotgun has to be aimed at these short distances just like a rifle – they don’t fill the room with a wave of lead shot, but generally have a pattern no larger than your fist. Additionally, any handgun round and buckshot will penetrate several walls, including exterior walls. .223 fired from an AR rarely pass through multiple layers of drywall, and even more rarely penetrate an exterior wall due to their tendency to tumble after hitting something. Otherwise, and excellent article.

  7. I have always been “anal” and redundant. I do thank my past… military/Nam for some of my vigilance. Call me crazy… but hopefully not call the coroner for me. I have firearms in my home… some in gun safes but…some in my home living areas. I don’t have little kids running around.. son is 50 and a State Trooper and his daughters..21 and 15 so…they know about firearms. Both my wife and I have Conceal Carry ( myself have had for over 50 years). Add to that…well placed firearms on second floor in bedrooms and office. Shotguns placed behind curtains near bed and hand guns within quick reach as well. If someone needs to be on the first floor.. 911 is one method followed up with set up to fire shotgun down a restrictive enclosed stairwell after verbal warning. No where to jump to the side. Add to this… I have an alarm system that has a loud klaxon and… dog.

    May be “overkill” but it is what society has come to in my hood and many that use to be safe and fairly crime free. CYOA. Be safe…

  8. NOT A TALL ORDER

    Good article.

    I am armed all of the time except when I get in a swimming pool. I have a Ruger LAP with a holster in a pocket holster and at least one Streamlight Stylus Pro and a small-to-midsized knife with me at all times . Now people who like to drink to be buzzed or who get High should not do this but otherwise this is easy to do . I can take a nap on the couch or recliner, I can walk or jog and do yard work. And whenever something needs to be investigated (a noise or a stranger coming up my front lawn ) I do t ha e to think “now where is my gun?”

  9. When my daughters left home for college or the big city they had two
    Things; a dog and a handgun: one was many ounces of prevention, the
    Other was a pound of cure. While bad things happened around them
    (Apartments were broken and entered, burglarized, and in one case
    A person was assaulted, these things never happened to my daughters
    Throughout their years of living in college town apartments. A reliable
    dog with a good strong bark (while I think theirs are protective and big enough
    To defend their mistresses, neither are vicious “ attack” dogs) goes a long
    Way toward preventing the incident from occurring in the first place, that will
    Place you in imminent danger and force you to resort to the the necessity
    Of lethal force. Always assume that if plan “c”anine does not work
    That are prepared for plan “G”

  10. /www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/meet-american-dingo-only-wild-dog-native-continent

    Hey,

    Christopher,

    This is just one reference. The Carolina Dog/California dog is referred to by scientists as the American Dingo.

    You are blessed to have one!

  11. Clear and well stated advice over several areas often overlooked or ignored. In my neck of the woods, our local Sheriff’s Department has Deputies trained to look at your house and offer tips for making your dwelling more secure, free of charge to county residents. Preventing someone intent on breaking in is nearly impossible. Someone intent on getting in will find a way. Slowing that process down and making it not only difficult but time consuming serves a dual purpose. If you’re home, it gives you extra time to call the authorities and time to get to a secure room to avoid physical confrontation. If you’re not home, it increases the chance that a neighbor or passerby might notice the B&E and call any suspicious activity in.
    So I make that recommendation of checking with your local PD or SD and see what they may have available to help a resident secure his home.

  12. Thanks for the intelligent advice. These are scenarios that we all pray we never have to experience in our homes, but we must be prepared if our lives and the lives of our families are endangered by criminal home invaders.

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