Personal Defense

How to Handle a Firearm in the Home

A dark haired young woman in a black t-shirt shoots a 1911 with a rail light

Today, most people are overly concerned about having a firearm in the household that is at once available for home defense, yet not a danger to others — particularly children. For the record, let me state that a properly chosen firearm that is correctly handled will never be a problem. Unlike what the media and democratic politicians would have you believe, a firearm does not have a will of its own.

A firearm is an inanimate object that is no different than a hammer. Like the hammer, it cannot drive a nail or move to another location. To prove that, during my beginning classes I hold up a firearm and state that we all know from news reports that guns kill people. Then with a flourish, I place it on a surface behind me while stating, “During this lecture portion of the class I need you all to keep an eye on this gun and if you see it move, you need alert me immediately so I can secure it before it does any harm.”

A Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver in a pocket holster be inserted into the pants pocket
A Smith & Wesson J-Frame being placed in a pocket correctly by first being placed in the holster and then together in the pocket.

You would be very surprised as to how many people fix their gaze on it, expecting it to rise on its own and shoot someone. Occasionally, I will swing around dramatically, grab at it as if subduing it and say, “That was a close one! I heard it move… Glad I grabbed it before it escaped to hurt someone.”

It’s at about that point in time that even the most ardent believers start to realize that they have been hoodwinked and firearms do not have a will of their own. At least not in my class. Eventually, during the course, they come to realize that a properly chosen firearm correctly handled will never be a problem.

Firearms at Home

When it comes to having a firearm in the home, the most important concept to understand is that of availability. When something goes bump in the night, and you reach for a firearm, the last thing you want to come up with is one locked away, empty with the ammunition stored in the shed out back. When you need a firearm for home defense, you want it yesterday — ready to go.

The best procedure, and the one I teach my students, may sound inconvenient and paranoid at first. The truth be told, it is neither. The correct way to store a loaded, ready-to-use firearm, in your home, and ensure that others may not access it, is to have it on your person. I

n that way, nothing can come between you and your new best friend. It will be instantly available no matter where you are or what you are doing. In a short time, carrying it will become second nature. If you are a CCW holder, it will be on your person when you leave the home. If you are not, it should accompany you in the appropriate locked container.

Man with a revolver in a pocket holster
A weapon on your person is at once always available, out of the way and while concealed does not pose a treat. Imagine answering the door with a shotgun and it being the Maytag repairman.

I firmly believe the entire family should be educated in firearms safety and operation — even if they do not approve, or have a fear, of firearms. I also include children as soon as they are old enough to understand and are physically able to operate the mechanism safely. Children need to be taught that it is not a toy.

Under proper supervision, their curiosity should be sated by allowing them to explore it. It is in that way that they can be made to understand that under no circumstance are they allowed to handle a firearm unattended. If they would like to see it, they should get mom or dad to show it to them. Kids are great learners. If you handle firearms safely, so will they.

Defensive Strategy

The best advice I can provide regarding strategy is to have a plan, and don’t ever follow the dog. Let’s look at the ideal position for you to be in first. You and your entire family are in the most protected part of the house. You cannot be seen by an intruder, and you have something between you that will stop his bullets. That is referred to as cover and concealment.

Woman crouched behind a bed holding a flashlight and pointing a revolver with a green laser
Good cover and concealment, a light to identify the target, and a laser to ensure good hits.

Your wife, or whomever is with you, is on the phone to the police and should state, “Shots have been fired!” Some advice concerning that statement. That piece of advice is controversial and may get you in trouble, if in fact shots have not been fired. However, it will get law enforcement there in a hurry.

You can always say that you have never heard gunshots. It might have been a car backfire, but you thought it was a shot… You never know it might work, and it is worth a try. The point is to get them there tout suite. The person on the phone should then describe you and what you are wearing. A very important thing to remember at this point is that the intruder does not know where you are.

Do not under any circumstances give your position away. If you do, you lose the single most important aspect of any plan, surprise. The intruder should not discover your presence until he or she sees your muzzle flash.

SMall dog standing on the back of the couch barking a warning
Having a good early warning system is a good idea. and a dog fills that requirement very well — especially those that were bred for the purpose.

IMPORTANT! Remember to be sure of your target before you fire. Make the intruder come to you. Your only concern should be for your safety and the safety of your family.

It is sad but true. In our country today, the criminals have all the rights in the eyes of the law. That said, the law generally stated, allows one to use equal force to combat a threat. That means that one is justified in using lethal force only when you are in fear of your life or grave bodily injury. There are no exceptions to that.

In most jurisdictions, you may not shoot to defend property unless you are threatened with deadly force and are in fear of your life. If, God forbid, you should be involved in a lethal confrontation in your home, you will most likely be too shook up to make sense. Politely insist on your right to have an attorney present before you answer anything except name, rank, and serial number.

Being Armed

It is important to realize that the mere possession of a weapon does not constitute being armed. Man fights with his mind and his weapons are only an extension of his will. The state of mind that ensures victory was called “the combat mindset” by Jeff Cooper.

The key elements of the combat mindset are, Awareness, Anticipation, Concentration, and Self-control. Your major enemy is fear, and that is also found in your mind. Fear is normal and healthy. Fear can be controlled. Fear takes time to build up, so use your anger to overcome it. This can work very well.

The most powerful weapon you can possess is mental preparedness. Mental preparedness is the key to crisis management, so use it. This state of mind, along with good weapon management, will allow you to respond immediately to neutralize any threat. Remember, any delay — no matter how slight — could be fatal.

NYCPD police scramble to answer a terror threat.
The police response during an emergency is a welcomed blessing. However, after shooting, it is advisable to wait for counsel before making a statement.

Home Defense Tactics

In the final analysis, when you are being shot at, there is only one thing for you to be thinking about —your shooting. So remember, front sight, press, front sight, press. Tactics are an art, not a science. Tactics are the subject for the more advanced student. However, some items should be noted and can be applied to any situation.

Never underestimate your opponent and be prepared for the unexpected. Your response should be based on information gathered by your senses. Keep your adversary at the maximum distance allowable. Above all, focus on the front sight.

Reloading is also an important tactical element. In most cases, reloading during a gun fight is not necessary. According to the FBI, most shooting’s will be decided with the ammunition contained within the firearm.

Split picture showing the proper loading technique for a revolver and semi-automatic handgun
Proper reloading techniques with a revolver and an auto loader.

A lack of ammunition suggests one of two things — bad shooting or you have taken on the local chapter of MS 13 (always an ill-advised move). If it is required that you must reload — you should always have at least one extra magazine or speedloader on your person — use the tactical reload as opposed to the speed reload. Be advised however, a truck load of ammunition is no substitute for accurate shooting.

For those not familiar with the terms, a speed reload is what one sees competition shooters execute with blazing speed. The reason for the speed reload is that you have run your gun dry and need to reload it very quickly, hence the “speed” portion. A tactical reload, on the other hand, is used during a lull in the action to top off the ammunition still in the firearm while retaining the unexpended rounds.

One other note on tactics for those of you who have gone through training at one of the expensive shooting schools. The exercise called the shoot house, or whatever house where room clearing exercises are held, are fun and give some insight into the procedure. If they neglected to tell you, I will. It was only an exercise, and you are in no way trained or prepared to clear anything save perhaps your browser history.

Man training golden lab retriever
Following dogs in the field is one thing, but do not follow the dog in a home defense situation.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to do that on your own. Even in your own home, you cannot clear every area safely without turning your back to something that has not been cleared. All it takes is one mistake to cost the lives of you and your family, and gunfights are very unforgiving.

Modifications to your firearm should be kept simple and limited to work that improves the functioning and reliability of a given firearm. As always if you have any questions, please ask a reputable gunsmith or firearms instructor, not some self-appointed expert on the internet. I wish you continued enjoyment of the shooting sports and pray that you never need to rely on your firearm to save your life.

Do you have a tip for home defense or a firearm in the home generally? Share it in the comment section.

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 (25)

  1. Not follow the dog? My dog immediately hides in the closet. Perfect place to be “in waiting” for the intruder. Aside from that – excellent advice.

  2. Yes, Larry. I have often thought about that. I have a light on my pistol, but it’s more of a backup to my flashlight. One technique is to hold your main flashlight out to the side, away from your body. If the perp is actually accurate enough to shoot your left hand you still have your strong hand to fire and save your life.

  3. Larry

    The light is for target identification.

    There are worse things that being shot and shooting the wrong person is one.

    The light may be blinding or disorienting and be certain to ‘light it up’ from behind cover.

  4. Rondea

    That sign is a very very bad idea, especially if you really have to shoot someone mor than once.

    No sign such as that is a deterrent. The only deterrent is if they see shoot in your eyes.

  5. Colette, it doesn’t matter that you are pro 2A. What matters is the actions and rhetoric of those people you are supporting and voting for. I could go on and on about how they really dislike our Constitution and want to dismantle it, but I’ll give just one ironclad argument: They always, without fail, appoint judges and justices whose main qualification is a mission to rewrite our Constitution through judicial edict. That is their goal, to ransack our Constitution to fit the philosophy and goals of the radical left. If you can’t support those who support and defend the COTUS, then please keep it to yourself and refrain from voting at all.

  6. It has always seemed to me that shining a flashlight at an intruder with a gun gives the bad guy something to shoot at. A light attached to the gun seems particularly risky. What am I missing here?

  7. 2 things; Have a blinding lights installed (especially at top of stairs to blind access up stairs) operated by switch in “safe area”. Second, put sign on outside doors and windows “If I catch you breaking into my house you will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” Give them something to think about and let them decide if they want to roll the dice and take their chances.

  8. There are several fallacies in this article. Speaking as someone who worked with law enforcement in the past…

    1. Do NOT lie that shots have been fired. It is a recorded discussion and can be used as evidence (of speaking of falsehoods) against if you are charged with shouting the intruder.
    2. The majority of gun related injuries and deaths in the home are due to improperly stored weapons. I keep my handgun unloaded with the loaded clip next to it. It takes 2 seconds to load your gun. If you have time to take up a defensive position, you have time to load your gun.
    3. Re: above…you are more likely to have young children in your home than an unknown intruder. If a child finds your loaded weapon and hurts him/herself or others, you WILL be held accountable. Better to side with the odds and store your weapon properly.
    4. Ya know, if you go far enough to the political left, you get your guns back. Not all Democrats are “gun grabbers” or anti-2A. The nuance is that even if you have the right to something does not absolve you of consequences for misuse. You shouldn’t yell Fire! in a crowded theater, and you shouldn’t be irresponsible with your firearms.

    Be safe, be prepared, and be responsible.

  9. Since my Husband is a Democrat and I am a Republican, should I be the one with the gun and have him call 911?

  10. What’s wrong with you, Bryan. You can’t identify with those gun grabbers and still support the Second Amendment. They hate the 2A along with most of our Constitution, working night and day, 24/7 to thwart our founding document.

  11. Take serious note of my comment, Sir. I didn’t read the rest of this (your) post/column because you insulted me and 52% of American citizenry in your opening paragraph.
    I am an English (Labour) Democrat, and have lived in S.Louisiana for 43 years. An overwhelming percentage of voting Democrats will cling to their 2nd amendment rights till their last dying breath! Me too.
    You are in the self-promotion business, yet you chose to alienate over 50% of your potential readership by disparaging their political affiliation.
    Maybe you should choose your words more carefully in the future.
    Btw: every single one of my friends & associates are Republicans, but we choose to discuss, and rally around subjects which affect us all as a whole, not the things we dislike.

  12. Iaan: It is my understanding that you are allowed to possess a double barreled shotgun. This is not ideal but it’s 1000% better than nothing. God bless and protect those Aussies. They are on their own with that government that has no regard for their safety.

  13. If you plan to use a firearm for home defense. be aware you many have to shoot. Biggest issue is that most people will “freeze” and not shoot. Or, panic and miss. An intruder in your home, knowing that you are there, already intends to do you harm. Biggest weapon in home defense is knowing that you must be willing to stop the threat. As to racking the action of your shotgun, know that there are two legged varmints that take that as a challenge to do more harm. Nice to read an article by someone that is willing to point out that nasty fact.

  14. This retired law enforcement officer agrees with most of your advice except the false report to the 911 call taker. Stick to exactly why you need the police, make sure the call taker knows the homeowner is armed, and critical in the age of cellphones the proper address where you need the police. I keep a flashlight with my bedside gun to be sure if I engage a home invader that they are indeed a clear and present danger.

  15. Having a hand gun without practice is about as good as throwing a hand full of rocks. Handle it. Clean it. Field strip it. Practice. Practice. Practice. It can be a friend or, without familiarity, will probably be feared by an individual. Just as you will not rely on people you don’t trust, you will not trust a weapon without knowing it. Keep it handy and keep it hot. Carry. Any weapon is better than no weapon. A cannon isn’t necessary. For many people, anticipation of recoil will cause them to jerk or pull off target. Children must always be considered and they should be comfortable around firearms. They are very inquisitive and will look closer at things they are not permitted to touch. However, unsupervised access should be protected against with a good safe. Just some thoughts from a great grandfather. One more thought. It’s a good idea to be known by local police officers. I have had conversations with them several times to just ask questions. They know where I stand and what I expect from them. I guess that’s just thoughts from a vet. We don’t need help with every scenario.

  16. This subject is very complex. Each suggestion in this article could be expanded into many paragraphs for future articles.
    The most important suggestions in this article are:
    1) Children should be taught gun safety whenever there is a gun in the house.
    2) Your gun should be stored in the ready condition ‘hot’ and accessible but safe.
    3) Have a plan for every member of the family so they know what to do when you have an uninvited guest or any emergency.
    4) Be certain of your target before you press the trigger.
    5) Mere possession of a firearm is only the beginning of “being prepared”

    I’m sure the writer can do a long article on Home Defense Tactic alone.

  17. Never follow the dog- honestly never thought of that in this context. Have always taught the children never to follow the dog if he runs aways, especially into the road. See if he latches onto to something or just comes back bloody!

    Carry the gun at all times- excellent I do the same.

    Now if the reader will only meet us half way and study on their own and even train

  18. our wife, or whomever is with you, is on the phone to the police and should state, “Shots have been fired!” Some advice concerning that statement. That piece of advice is controversial and may get you in trouble, if in fact shots have not been fired. However, it will get law enforcement there in a hurry.

    You can always say that you have never heard gunshots. It might have been a car backfire, but you thought it was a shot… You never know it might work, and it is worth a try. The point is to get them there tout suite. The person on the phone should then describe you and what you are wearing. A very important thing to remember at this point is that the intruder does not know where you are

    All good save for the above comments. Very bad advice- once you have lied to the authorities do not expect them to believe anything else you say. Expect the 911 call to be on the news. Only the facts.

  19. Another great article from an expert.
    Bravo, sir.
    I especially like, “Never follow the dog.”
    Take tactically advantageous cover, call the police, and wait.
    Always better to be safe than wounded or dead.

  20. Some great advice here… using anger to overcome fear and DONT FOLLOW THE DOG. Counter intuitive but makes sense. Glad I read that and didn’t learn the hard way that Fido is only alerting the baddies to where I’d be coming from. Good article – keep ’em coming!
    Will be keeping that holster out of the drawer – and where it belongs.

  21. It doesn’t help that most houses are not built with defensibility in mind.

    Ideally the master bedroom (where you sleep) has no windows, a single reinforced door that opens into the end of a hallway, and trapdoor access to the basement (in case of fire). Other bedrooms should open into the same hallway, so you can cover for the rest of the family as they retreat into the MB. Then hole up inside and wait for the police, ready to fire if the intruder forces entry.

  22. I always enjoy Ed LaPorta’s articles as they are usually spot on with no BS. He tells it like it is! Firearms are serious business and there is to be absolutely no tolerance for taking short cuts when using them. This particular composition ranks at the top or very near the top of LaPorta’s essays. Excellent!

  23. Great article, very informative. You can’t ask the intruder to wait while you are looking for your gun and ammo…This article brings that point to light..

  24. It is a thing I wish was capable of doing in Australia . But our laws would put me jail for anything like home defence 🙁

  25. Ed nails the details! Once again those that think all they have to do is put the gun in the drawer by the bed and you are good to go must read this.

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