Having a home defense plan (similar to a fire response plan) is a standard first step in defending one’s home and family. However, that plan needs to consider multiple factors in order to likely be truly useful in a crisis. Additionally, several key questions need to be addressed to increase the potential success of such a plan. Base rates of the likelihood of being in a self-defense encounter and burglary rates should also be factored into such plans. Finally, any plan needs to be tested for stress or failure points.
Likelihood of Self-Defense and Property Crime Statistics
A large 2022 survey of United States (U.S.) citizens (of which 32% reported being gun owners) attempted to quantify the use of firearms in defensive situations
1 . Many of the findings supported similar numbers derived from other sources. One of the interesting findings was that over 80% of reported defensive uses of firearms occurred at the person’s property or home. The data also continued to support that the majority of defensive uses do not involve discharging the firearm (over 80%). Thus, although we often prepare for self-defense scenarios involving carrying, presenting the firearm, and engaging targets in environments outside the home, we are much more likely to be using a firearm defensively as a deterrent inside our homes.
There have not been comprehensive crime statistics on U.S. burglary published since 2020 (a year which showed a reduction in total property crime); however, there are regional crime statistics from urban centers such as New York and Chicago indicating a 35-36.5% increase in burglaries from 2021 to 2022.
2 . Based on pre-2021 data (which is likely low) approximately 1,000,000 homes are targeted for burglary of any type each year and approximately half of these are home invasions (breaking and entering when the residents are at home). As there are approximately 140,000,000 homes (residential dwellings) in the U.S., the yearly odds of having your home targeted is 1 in 140 and the chance of that burglary occurring when you are there (home invasion) is 1 in 2. Additionally, home invasion often results in further violent crimes (38% of violent assaults and 60% of rapes occur during home invasions)
3 . Further information from national averages paints a picture of the typical home burglary. Burglaries are more likely during the day (56%) and are 300% more likely to target homes without a security system and are more common in urban areas. If there is a bright side, the relatively good news is that the majority of burglaries are done by amateurs, tend to be under 10 minutes in length, and only approximately a third of burglars are armed prior to entry (though firearms are on the top of the list of items stolen). Although the need to defend oneself and one’s family can occur at any time and any place, overall it is more likely to take the form of home defense than any other setting.
Home Defense Plans
All of this is to highlight the need for a well-thought-out home defense plan. There is no one size fits all plan, and each plan needs to be personalized to factors that include the layout of the home, proximity of neighbors, more likely entry points, more likely points of defense, other family members, and pets, just to name a few.
Additional considerations would include when would you defend versus just escaping if someone was in your house. For instance, if I am home alone, my defensive plan mirrors my fire escape plan. In both cases, if I am the only one in the house, there is nothing that I am willing to kill or die for (a personal choice I have made regardless of the laws governing home defense in my state); however, if there are other family members somewhere in the house my plans shift to those made for home defense.
Similarly, is the plan to be loud and proud or silent and stealthy (what I often refer to as ninja mode)? Being loud and proud involves loudly informing the home invaders of my presence, that I am armed, and that the police have been called. My plans are based on being loud and proud and this serves two purposes. Based on the data, there is a good chance that I have amateur and unarmed burglars in my house and the hope is that my announcement will result in their quickly leaving.
Loud and proud also functions to make sure other family members are aware of the situation (allowing them to hopefully follow the plan). I will openly admit I am playing the odds here and if it is truly a multiple-person home invasion with the intent to do harm, I will have given away my position in the house. I have made this choice hoping to reduce the overall need to discharge a firearm and hoping that the majority of home intruders will choose to quickly leave.
My plans have changed greatly from home to home based on many of these factors. Living pre-2020 in a three-story home packed tightly around neighbors, a teenager, within one mile of a police station, and in an urban sub-division resulted in a very different plan than I have today. Today we live in a home set in a valley with no nearby neighbors, no children, a much longer expected response time from police, and in a very rural setting.
Both locations did have one thing in common. My wife and I created a plan of defense in both cases.
- Where are the entryways most likely to be targeted by a burglar?
- Where are we most likely to be, if home, when such an event would take place?
- Where do we want to make sure defensive tools are staged?
- Where are the best places to defend if defense becomes necessary?
- What are the challenges such as dogs, escaping rounds that over-penetrate, and potential time of law enforcement arrival?
- What are the roles each person needs to play and what expectations exist for their behaviors?
- Who is calling the police, who is leading the defense, do any other family members have a defensive role and if so, how do we make sure those roles are complementary?
All these questions need to be asked, discussed, planned, and practiced (just like an emergency fire drill). Additionally, each of these elements needs to be in place for a successful defense and to increase the safety of all the home’s residents.
Practicing the Plan and Identifying Failure Points
I have found through experience that the greatest stress points for failure in a home defense plan are the actions of others in the home. Answering the questions posed and creating a plan sets the planner up for success. However, just communicating each person’s role is likely not enough for those planned behaviors to surface in a stressful event.
Fortunately for me, these failure points were illustrated a few years ago by a late-night visit to the kitchen for an unexpected snack by one of our Great Danes. Each evening the Danes are put up for the night at the far end of the house and therefore should not be the cause of any late-night questions. Unknown to all of us, one of them missed the call to be locked up for the night and my teenage son failed to notice. We all went to sleep (including the unaccounted-for Dane on a couch) without knowing the potential for misidentification.
My son was the first one to awake, hearing a large something moving through the house and further rummaging noises from the kitchen. Ignoring the plan, he ran from his room to ours, where I was just waking up to the noises. I will not document additional failures of our plan, other than to say my son’s initial variation resulted in a bit of a cascade failure in which none of us did exactly what we had originally planned to do. Fortunately, the four-legged nature of the intruder was quickly identified, as well as a lesson of several failure points in our plans.
This event resulted in creating a more fluid set of plans and a more detailed discussion of roles and expectations. Additionally, we decided to practice these plans to further support their use in a stressful situation. Thinking about risks and potential issues, decision points, and answers to the questions is a great first step. Creating solid plans incorporating these discussions is the next big step. But once those plans are created, it is just as important to practice implementing the plan to cement the elements and identify potential issues. Then, the goal of having the last step, a successful home defense plan, is much more likely.