Considerations for Home Defense

Considerations for Home Defense - featured image.

Home defense is a topic that is misunderstood by many. For years I have heard the myths, legends and old wives’ tales about how to protect your home with a firearm. Some of the most popular myths are:

“A shotgun is the best home defense weapon, you don’t even have to aim to hit them.”

“Just the sound of a shotgun racking is enough to scare them away!”

“As soon as I hear a noise I’m grabbing my gun to go find them.”

“I KNOW no one is supposed to be here so I’ll just shoot through my door.”

The list goes on.

I thought I would write down a few basic concepts about home defense as I see it.

Layout and Area of Denial

Whenever possible, fighting from the “high ground” is always preferable to hunting and being dragged into a fight with solo CQB. I am a big fan of the Area of Denial Method (whenever possible and where applicable). Here’s how it goes: Establish a corridor that sits between you and likely areas of entry. Create a funnel or bottleneck that you can control from a superior position of concealment/cover with a field of fire that would immediately overwhelm an armed and positively-identified dangerous intruder.

These Are the Major Factors to Consider

  • Are you alone, or do you have others to protect?
  • If others are present,
    • How far are they away from you?
    • Where are they in relation to the likely entry points?
At the Alliance Police training Facility Shoothouse, actors await their scenario for runs in my home defense Force-on-force course

At the Alliance Police Training Facility Shoothouse, actors await their scenario for runs in my home defense Force-on-force course

Optimum Home Defense Positioning

Having entry points between you and your loved ones is not good. It will force you into solo CQB with friendlies, unknowns, and enemies moving around in between. That’s a stressful situation in which you’ll be under pressure to move quickly and decisively while ready to ID everything that gets in front of you. The best scenario is to have everything you love behind you and a controlled Area of Denial between you and entry points — as well as a setup plan that takes 10 seconds or less with you getting to a line-in-the-sand point before they do.

For example, if your bedroom is upstairs, and your stairway feeds from the right at the bottom, taking a position of concealment at the top left with your dot/laser/optic hovering around chest height at that feed point will give you ample time to PID the intruder and drive the shots home before they see your eyes and muzzle (which is all that should be sticking out at the top of a dark corridor).

The bottom of the stairway is your fight, not the top. You’re positioned at the top, but you are stopping him at the bottom. Whether you hover muzzle off target area for PID, or not, is circumstantial and should be a completely informed decision. This could apply to any area/room/corridor that you choose.

Maintain Distance

If you can’t achieve this optimum positioning, then at least make sure you can try to keep some space between you and the approaching intruder that you can control safely with firepower and positively identify anyone who comes through. You can set up an Area of Denial in a hallway, stairway or even across a room.

The objective is to keep the fight from happening right on top of your position, where the intruder can reach you or your loved ones physically, or engage you in an open gunfight. This fight needs to happen on your terms, not his, and according to your plan. No matter how you set it up, work a room, or what weapon you use, this is the way.

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Backstop and Over Penetration

Prevent Catastrophic Mistakes by Considering Your Backstops

Another consideration is the backstop. The backstop of your Area of Denial and field of fire should not be your kid’s bedroom or neighbors apartment. The choice of weapon and caliber should at least be partially guided by those layout factors.

Too many times I have heard people say that they had never even considered that the direction they would shoot in was actually backstopped by a child’s bedroom or something similar. This is why we plan and develop procedures, to greatly reduce the chance of catastrophic mistakes like that.

Be aware of the backstop behind you also. Remember, gunfights are often two-way ranges, so in your planning, place yourself against a safe backstop area when it is possible. If those you love are directly behind you with only sheetrock and a few two-by-fours separating you, those bullets flying towards you are just as dangerous to them as they are to you.

Home Defense Calibers

You may be surprised to find out that based on FBI over-penetration testing, the .223/5.56 shot by common AR-15 rifles can be the safest caliber over shotgun and pistol rounds in this situation. It’ll also offer you superior firepower in both capacity and kinetic energy on target. The AR is also a much more maneuverable weapon and is rather easy to manipulate and shoot accurately with a very manageable recoil (especially for smaller shooters).

That double 00 buck the gun store guy told you to use in your home defense plan? That’s going to be 8 or so pellets, each nearly the size of a .38 slug flying through barriers and resisting fragmentation. This means they will leave the room you are in, travel through several rooms and very possibly exit your home with enough energy to still cause death and destruction. That is a huge liability.

The shotgun does not just “spread out” and hit everything, in spite of what you’ve been told. At a room distance, most loads will maintain a very tight pattern and will still require a great amount of control and accuracy to be safe and effective. Not to mention that it can be unwieldy and cumbersome to maneuver with and operate.

Handgun rounds have similar problems with over-penetration in domestic residential structures.

Considerations for Home Defense - superior positioning.

The Alliance Police Training Facility Shoothouse.

Home Defense Set-Up and Preparation Time

Home Alarm Systems

Early warning tools offer prime advantages that allow you the time to set up your defense plan and positioning. Home alarm systems are incredibly affordable and easy to install. Your possible entry points should be wired with an alarm that will sound off in a matter of seconds upon entry —not the standard 30 or 60 seconds. “Home” mode should be quick.

If using an audible alarm, become comfortable with the sound. It should be a “security blanket” for you, and a distraction for the intruder. For you, it will be a comfort knowing that law enforcement is already being called and the intruder is now time-limited. For the intruder, it will induce pressure and stress, pushing his timeline up significantly while your timeline proceeds as planned. His ability to predict the outcome in his favor wanes quickly, uncertainty begins to kick in and his plans are now changing on the fly. This also is to your advantage if you have prepped and locked in your position. Consider these same factors in your own plan.

The Family Dog

A dog is another early warning system, and even if it is not a “guard dog” it can at least make enough noise to give you that warning. The alarm and the dog together will provide the 10 or so seconds in most home layouts to take a position of dominance and create the denied area coverage.

Preparation Time

From watching home invasion surveillance videos, it seems to stand that there is an average of 10 seconds or less from the first kick to full breach in criminal home invasions. That’s not a rule but a good starting point. Making entry points “hard” should also be on the list to create the prep time. Long screws, kick plates, hard windows, and doors, etc. will extend that breach effort, and that gives you what you need:

Practice home defense in low-light situations.

Alliance Police Training Facility Shoothouse; train for low-light situations.

Having access to manage lighting in the home, as well as weapon and handheld light skills, is important beyond measure. And don’t forget to train for the one most common mistakes even experienced shooters make under pressure in CQB: mechanical offset at room distances (where applicable).

If you don’t have a layout that provides that corridor or area, or you have to move, nothing short of training in procedures will help you there: door procedures, room procedures, hallway and stairway procedures.

Other Considerations

If you really want to take home defense seriously, it is advisable to take some quality CQB training from reputable instructors who have experience in dealing with domestic structures in the U.S. and criminal threats. Not just one, but a few teachers.

This will give you several different systems and techniques, some of which will apply to your particular layout better than others. Your prep should conclude with taking those learned principles, procedures, and methods and gaming them through your own home to master the layout.

Use mirrors and obstacles. Movie things around to advantageous positions, and then practice working your way through. Sometimes, do all of that with the alarm going in order to establish that comfort level (if audible is employed).

I don’t think that there is any one true way, system, or method that will work in all CQB situations. However, if you listen to many sources, you should see common basic principles that float to the top of all of them. Good teachers will take that fact into consideration in their offerings. Varied training and experience will bring about a collection of information that will most likely produce the best results for you
as a fighter inside of your structure.

At the very least, just don’t be one of those people that believes in any of the home defense myths that I pointed out at the beginning of this article.


Read more like this in the home defense archives.

Home Defense Tactics

Home Defense Weapons

Home Invasion


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Varg Freeborn (@vargfreeborn) is the founder of One Life Defense, Violence Education and Lethal Force Training. He’s a fitness coach, lethal force educator, and author of the book Violence of Mind. That’s a pretty simple one-line explanation for a pretty complicated man. So, read more about Varg Freeborn here.

Varg Freeborn of One Life Defense and author of Violence of Mind

  • Yarbles

    Hand Held Flashlight Skills – MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PROPERLY FITTED LANYARD on that portable Sun. If you have to use your off hand to open a door or clear a malfunction, WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THE LIGHT?

    SHOTGUNS, especially 00Buck loads, cause a lot of tissue damage AND BLOOD SPLATTER. It WILL BE on the walls, ceiling, floors, and YOU if you are within 12 feet or so. You WILL NOT be able to see most of these tiny particles, but they still will CONTAIN PATHOGENS from the intruder. How much do you trust this scumbag who just broke into your domicile with bad intentions to be medically clean and disease free?

    AR pistols and SBR’s are MY first choice. Specialized Ammo like Speer GDSP are great, but expensive. I recommend M193 (55gr. FMJBT) and zero my carbines with it. Cost effective and lethal. Doesn’t stop perp with 1st shot? Shoot him again and again. You have the mag capacity and he will become more and more convinced of your sincerity with every round.

    • Jay Matt

      And, you are now deaf, unless you pony up the $$ for a suppressor and stamp. That’s nice, but pricy, longer
      and more awkward, and most people just aren’t gonna do this. My solution is 45 ACP indoors, much quieter than AR’s or most other pistols. Or 9mm carbine, relatively quiet in heavier loads because the gas is burned up by the time the bullet leaves a 16″ barrel. Mine holds 32 rounds.

      • Wizzardly

        I keep an electronic “ear muff” with my .300 Blackout pistol with subsonic rounds and a flash can. The hearing protection goes on in 3 seconds and heightens your hearing (you can hear much better than the intruders can) while damping gunshot noise over 85 dB. The pistol has a green laser designator and a flashlight for nightime use, both with touch pads, and a red dot scope for daytime use. All sighted in at 35 yards.

        • Jay Matt

          The BLK is one solution, but is again is an entirely new purchase, and .300 ammo is considerably more $ to practice with, unless you load your own. Not practical for less than the hard core folks, and they probably didn’t need to read this article in the first place. Agree with mounted flashlight, and green laser with parallel alignment, that’s what I did, but green will sure mark your own location at night.

      • Joe

        Even with a suppressor your still deaf. I was at a range where a guy had a suppressed AR in .223. Yes you still needed ear protection!

      • Jim B

        Just fyi, a 16″ barrel significantly increases the speed of the bullet. eg a 147gr Fed HST round out of a glock 19 is sub sonic. But is super sonic out of a 16″ barrel and of course creates a loud blast. Even special sub sonic ammo may be SS out of a 16″ barrel.

        • Jay Matt

          Per, a 147 grain picks up no major increase. The 16″ carbine barrel has a much more pronounced effect on 124 gr. And especially on 115. This is well known in carbine circles.

          The HST was not tested, however, a 147 gr. Hydra-Shok was 1007 fps out of a 5″ barrel, and 1073 fps out of a 16″. Not much change. On the other hand, a 124 gr. was 1115 / 1243, a more serious bump up. The net result is, a 115 or 124 should probably be a bonded bullet to avoid falling apart. You’re reaching near-357 velocity, with a bullet not built for it. The 147 need not be bonded.

      • Yarbles

        NOT deaf but hearing damage likely. THIS has been proven. Suppressors make the Short Barreled 5.56 MUCH nicer to fire, indoors or out.

        YOUR solution is a good one EXCEPT good luck penetrating any kind of body armor with a low velocity 45 or 9mm.

    • Joe

      Who says you have to use 00 buck? And with any rifle round, you have to worry about over penetration and range. From that standpoint alone a rifle is the worst choice.

      • Howard

        Actually what you claim isn’t correct. As a former LEO myself I did LOTS of testing of various rounds of ammo from LOTS of different platforms to see what they individual rounds would do in terms of over penetration, ultimately projo travel might be AFTER going through the typical home wall (sheet rock, lumber, etc.) and it was learned that the typical 5.56mm FMJ promo in 55 grains would ALWAYS break up upon impact and passing through wallboard, etc., with the cannelure being the weak point. Even rounds without a cannelure will (generally) begin the breaking point near the widest part of the bullet jacket.
        This is caused by the spinning/impact energies that collect at the weakest part of the jacket with the inertia and kinetic energy being concentrated there.
        The VAST majority of the bullets would end up as very small particles of lead and copper, unlike handgun or shotgun projectiles.
        Understand that I am referring to ONLY the 5.56mm cartridge and nothing else for the purposes of this discussion.
        The information herein can EASILY be verified in many forms online for the cost of a couple of Google searches if you want to learn the TRUTH and get away from the Old Wives Tales out there.

        • retfed

          Yes, the .223/5.56 is much less penetrative than most pistol rounds. That’s a big part of the reason that most SWAT teams dumped the MP5 and went to the AR platform.

        • Joe

          It isn’t? I shot a cinder block with a 22-250 once. Went straight through it!

      • Michael Balog

        What about using No.9 Bird Shot as an Interior Home Defense Round? It will do damage close range and Not Penetrate Walls to the Next Apartment or Room more than using 00 Buckshot. You can Get Shotgun Pistol Rounds for .38 spl or .357 Mag. works very effectively to slow down and discourage intruders. IMO. Comments?

  • Gavirio Vicuta

    Great article but don’t count on the cops showing up quickly when an alarm goes off. They aren’t legally required to do so and in many jurisdictions they just won’t show up.

  • Joe

    Everyone talks about myths. Myth: Just racking a shotgun is enough to scare them away. Fact: Just racking a shot gun CAN scare them away! I personally know of a case where doing so did scare off someone trying to break into my brother’s house. My sister in law repeatedly warned who ever it was that she was armed (she had a handgun). When they continued trying to force the door open, she retrieved an 870 and when she racked the slide they ran! I also personally know, from my own experience that just looking at a muzzle can be enough to put someone to flight.

    • Booko Ninjiin

      I’ll bet you could find an instance when the Joe Biden technique (go out on the patio and let go with both barrels) worked. But I wouldn’t put my life on it. If you point a gun at someone who is armed, I think the likely response is they will pull out theirs and start shooting. My daughter stopped a burglar with a SIG 229, with which she forgot to chamber a round. It worked, but was poor technique..

      • Jay Matt

        Frequently, the burglar’s (or anyone’s) best response when confronted empty-handed would be to run like heck, it seems to me. A diagonally moving target, with decreasing MOA is better than standing there fumbling, trying to bring a gun to the ready. If you then have loved ones to protect, you’ve likely gained a few seconds to ready, and can employ some better strategy than standing there, getting shot.

  • Texasooner

    To the author….Thank you, I enjoyed the article. Just a suggestion though….you use the acronym CQB 5 times and I still don’t know what it is…spelling it out the first time it is used would aid in my understanding.

    • Richard

      Close quarters battle

  • Laz

    Obviously, this article wasn’t written for newbies like me. I had to google CQB and PID. I’m not going to read anything from Varg again.

    • H ?

      Why wouldn’t you avail yourself of information presented by Varg? Just because he presented a variety of acronyms or abbreviations you were unfamiliar with?
      Seems the Adult thing to do is ask for clarification that most anyone would be more than willing to educate you on.
      Or you can choose to remain ig’nant, huh?

  • Booko Ninjiin

    Nice Article. I wonder how 7.62 x 39 mm compares to .223/.556 mm for over-penetration. Would soft nose ammo, which is available for both, make a difference?

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  • Michael Balog

    Hi All,, I am a “Retired LEO”., but you know the saying, once a Cop, Always a Cop. Several years ago, there was a disabled young fellow living in the apartment behind me. In the cool summer air, he called me on the phone, and said a gang of Punks was climbing over the back chain link fence into our yard, He felt they were going after him.. And wanted help. I went outside with my “service automatic” (we had to buy out own pistol) in my holster and a Mossberg 500C Military & Police 12 Gauge Shotgun. I had No.9 Birdshot in the tube and a side carrier of Slugs and 00. I walked around the front porch holding the shotgun portarms, as they were clearing the top of the fence. All took was the sight of me with that Shotgun in the reflected light and hearing the Racking of the shell going into battery position. They Turn Tailed and Ran, Jumped Over the Top of the Fence and were Gone..,.. Sometime later, I learned one of them was a “legend in his own mind” scumbag drug dealer from MASS who came up to N.H. by I 89 to establish a new terrority. Who had a Felony Record for Assault and attempted Murder, Drug Dealing, etc. The other punks with him were area low level white trash. THEY Never Returned. And I didn’t have to Wake the Neighbors shooting the shotgun either.

  • Michael Balog

    A couple of years ago,, one Fall Evening,, my next door neighbor woke me yelling and banging on the wall. He said someone is trying to gain access to the house front door, They were trying to kick the door in. I called the local Dispatcher whom I knew, and explained that I am in the living room holding the Mossberg Model 500C 12 gauge aimed at the front door while someone else is trying to kick it in at 2 AM.. I told her I needed backup PDQ,, She said, we are sending an Officer on the way now. I told her a couple more kicks and if he is in. you are going to have to carry him out feet first. She said, OH no Don’t Escalate it ! Told her, according to the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground that we have in this state, I can’t Retreat anywhere and have no further Options. The Kicking Stopped and I got out of the House with the Shotgun in the streetlight. Heard the Shoe Leather Express… He or It was Gone. I walked back inside and leaned the gun against the doorframe as two police cars were showing up. The State Trooper over heard the dispatcher on his radio, and took off from the hiway arriving first. The Local Cruiser arrived 2nd. Then I explained to both what was going on. They took notes for a report and said they both were Glad I was OK., Word got out around my neighborhood to stay the F away from this house unless they wanted to be in either the Hospital or the local Newspaper Obit piece, Have NOT had any attempts since. You try to break into my place, you are going to pay the consequences. As a “retired LEO” I know the Law, and procedures needed.