Home Defense with Tom Givens
Many armed defenders are specifically concerned with home defense – protecting their families from violent intruders. Tom Givens, a veteran of law enforcement and the founder of Rangemaster and Tac-Con, says the key to surviving a home invasion is understanding the potential threats and having a plan ready to deal with those threats. Tom has studied data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and he has calculated that each year in the United States, there are more than 3 million burglaries, and about 260,000 result in physical harm to the resident. 40% of burglars, Tom says, walk in through unlocked doors. Another 10% gain entry through unsecured windows. As an armed defender, if you’re smart enough to lock your windows and doors, the next most likely way for an intruder to get into your home is by breaking through your front door. According to Tom’s calculations, that’s how 34% of burglars gain entry.
Tom says home defenders should also be aware of two broad categories of burglars: profit-motivated burglars and expressive burglars. Anyone who breaks into your home with the intent to commit a felony is counted as a burglar. For the profit-motivated burglar, the felony is usually stealing your valuables. Generally, the profit-motivated burglar wants to avoid a confrontation with occupants, and they often strike in the late morning or early afternoon when adults are likely to be at work and kids are likely to be at school. If caught in the act, profit-motivated burglars can be violent, but generally, they are not seeking a violent encounter. It’s a different story with an expressive burglar. Their intention might be to commit an armed home invasion robbery, or their intention might be rape. If it’s true that profit-motivated burglars tend to operate during the day, expressive burglars often strike at night when they expect to find their victims at home, perhaps asleep and vulnerable in their beds.
As a home defender, you want to identify a potential home intruder before they are able to break into your home. “If you wake up, open your eyes, and there’s a guy standing over your bed with a butcher knife,” Tom says, ‘it’s a little late.” Steve Moses, a long-time student of Tom’s and a well-respected firearms instructor in his own right, explains that a motivated expressive burglar can break through most residential front doors in a matter of seconds — giving the home defender little time to arm themselves and mount an effective defense. Recalling his time as a patrol officer, Tom said he could breach some doors with just one swift kick.
A primary consideration for a home defender should be to invest in a strong front door. Tom says, “Any exterior doors need to be solid and not have decorative panels in them. Ideally, you want metal doors and metal frames.” For those without metal doors and frames, there are ways to strengthen wooden frames using metal strike plates and plenty of deep screws. For added protection, you can install door stops that can be set in place to secure a door at night, and removed to allow easy access during the day. Tom notes that no door is going to prevent a motivated burglar from getting into your house, but a good door will slow them down considerably and force them to make a lot of noise. Time and noise give a home defender plenty of opportunity to get armed and get into a strategic defensive position.
It doesn’t matter how strong your front door is, however, if you open it to a potential intruder. Some home intruders gain entry simply by knocking and convincing the occupant to open the door, and once the door is open, it is easy for a violent criminal to force their way in. “You should never open the door to unknown people,” Tom says. “So you need to be able to see outside before you open the door.” With the relatively low cost of doorbell cameras, Tom says there is no excuse for a home defender not to be able to get a good look at anyone standing outside their front door. A peephole or a window near the door could also suffice – as long as it allows you a clear view so you can distinguish between delivery drivers, neighborhood children, and other more nefarious characters.
Being able to see past your front door at night requires adequate lighting. A porch light is a must. Tom recommends against spotlights because they tend to obscure objects and individuals that lie outside of their cone of light. Tom says it’s called the “curtain of light effect.” Instead of floodlights, Tom suggests solar-powered motion-activated lights spaced to provide illumination for your entire yard should someone approach. It is unlikely lights will have any deterrent effect for an expressive burglar, but they can make it easier for a home defender to detect a potential intruder before they try to gain access to the home.
In Tom’s experience, burglar alarms are about as ineffective as lights for deterring expressive burglars, but a triggered alarm can alert a home defender to a threat and prevent them from being taken completely off guard. If you’re a dog person, don’t count on your dog to scare burglars away; however, if your dog barks when it detects someone in your yard, it gives you more time to assess the situation and prepare a defense. Tom calls his dogs “furry little burglar alarms.” No security measure will keep a motivated intruder from breaking into your home, but if it slows the intruder down and alerts you to the presence of the threat, it has done its job.
If you detect an intruder trying to break into your house, according to Tom’s statistics, odds are they’ll be trying to break through your front door. In many of the high-profile home defense cases we have explored, untrained home defenders seem drawn to confront the intruder at the front door. This is almost always a mistake. Some are tempted to open the door and confront the intruder outside where they lose both the tactical and legal advantages of being a home defender. Others lose their nerve and fire through the closed door – before the intruder legally posed an imminent threat. In these cases, the defenders often find themself in legal hot water. Some wait at the door and wait until the intruder breaches before firing, and although they face less legal scrutiny than those who exit the house or fire through the door, these defenders have sacrificed the tactical advantage they could have gained by taking a more defensive position deeper in the home.
Tom lives in a two-story home, which he says provides a great defensive position for home defenders: prone at the top of the stairs. Tom says, “Somebody looking up the stairs can’t see anything but a gun muzzle and a set of eyeballs.” Those who live in a one-story home have the option of finding a hard corner some distance from the door. “If you’re concerned with someone breaching the front door,” Tom says, “why the hell would you go to the front door … Go somewhere in a corner and cover it. If somebody comes through it, you dominate that space.”
Taking a hard corner also gives the home defender one last opportunity to assess the threat before using deadly force. We’ve explored a number of cases where the person trying to gain access to a home ended up being drunk, high, injured, or all of the above. And while a home defender will often be legally justified for using force in such a case, doing so can result in unnecessary tragedy. Moreover, if the intruder is a profit-motivated burglar, there’s a chance that when they confront an armed defender, they may decide to flee. “Our entire goal is for them to go away,” Tom says. If an intruder tries to flee, “Let them go. Don’t chase after them. Shut the door and call the police.” On the other hand, if they do not flee, then they’ve made their intent very clear, and you can use deadly force with much more confidence that your actions are justified.
Tom is an advocate for having what he calls “pre-made decisions.” The lesson for the armed home defender is that you can decide to lock your windows and doors. You can decide to install a doorbell camera and external lighting. You can decide to strengthen your front door. You can decide that if an intruder tries to break through your front door, you will usher your family to a safe room and then take up a designated defensive position that allows you time and distance to assess the situation and “dominate that space.” Having good security and strong doors means you’ll be alerted to an intruder, and you’ll have enough time to mount your home defense plan, or as Tom says, “Get up, get gear, get a plan, and get moving.”