Arming Women III: a Good Defense

A shotgun is a versatile tool, but can be difficult to operate effectively in self defense.

My articles around “Arming Women” took a sudden urgency when my friend Jeff found out he will be deploying at the end of this month, leaving his wife Sarah and their child here at home. For a strictly home defense firearm, Jeff and Sarah decided to go with the ole reliable: a shotgun. For the record, Arming Women I was about personal defense firearms and Arming Women II was about gun safety.

Home Defense Begins with Training

Sarah told me that she has only ever felt vulnerable once, and she does not want to be vulnerable again. There is a psychology to a shotgun. A person wielding a shotgun has a simple but reliable tool. Pump actions especially communicate your intent very effectively. Not to mention there’s just something very intimidating about a barrel somebody can practically climb into.

Just to stir the pot a little, a 20 gauge will normally have a lighter recoil than a 12 gauge. But that depends on the barrel size and the shells you are firing. Sarah is working with the tried and true #3 buckshot. Range time with this is very important for understanding the spread at 7 yards versus 15 yards. It is also important for getting a feel of the gun and learning how to shoot it properly. There are countless web-based resources, but the best option will always be an in-person course.

No matter what the gun is, without training and preparation, it is just about pointless. Not entirely pointless, but close. Shotguns and rifles require some serious choreography when it comes to moving about in enclosed spaces. The low capacity of a shotgun means the operator should know the fastest motions for reloading. Rounding corners and opening doors are clumsy actions with even an 18” home defense barrel or a collapsed rifle stock.

Home Defense is not Counter-Offense

Armed woman stands at open door
If there is an intruder, home defense is self defense. Don’t try to go Rambo.

Training or no training, you have a home-field advantage against an intruder. Consider the best places in the home to hole up. Your primary concern should not be to go find the threat, it should be defending yourself and your family from the threat. Get to safety, arm yourself, call the police. If you are holed up defensibly in a bedroom, the intruder must risk their life by moving about while you wait, prepared. Moving is a lethal risk.

I spoke with Eve Flanigan, a firearms instructor and writer with a background in professional security, concealed carry, and home defense. When it comes to home defense, she stressed how important it is to get to safety and call the police. It is far more worthwhile to put yourself into an ambush position, where you are certain to have the advantage if the threat approaches.

One of the very few valid excuses for moving about the house, when you know there is a threat, is getting your family to safety. Make the process quick and quiet. When it comes to tactical movement, speed and thoroughness are critical. Before you cross a threshold, assess the immediate area: what do you see or hear? Do not move and expose yourself before you are ready. When turning a corner, you “pie the corner.” Pieing is a term basically for the proper motion of checking a corner moving around it. The goal is to look with the firearm at the ready, exposing as little of your body as possible. If the area is clear, you move. Get to where you need to go quickly.

Individual makes deliberate movements to assess next room before entering.
Pieing a corner or slicing the pie is moving deliberately to assess an opening before proceeding.

Moving solo means that there is nobody there to cover your back if you make a mistake. It is deadly dangerous. If you must move, get to where you need to go, and be prepared to defend yourself. Your goal should always be to keep the odds in your favor.

Gigi Simmons, Co-Founder of the Urban Defense Academy in Liberty Hill, Texas, points out that there are rarely any perfectly right answers for moving and clearing. But there is one important factor: do not hesitate. That flimsy interior door is not cover. The longer you wait to assess, the more the threat has time to react. If you absolutely must move from a defensive position, do so quickly, do not hesitate. Assess the area and get to safety. Entryways, doorways, and stairs are all known as a “fatal funnel” because of how exposed you are at those places. Do not hesitate in a fatal funnel.

Call the Police

Once you are in a defensible position, call the police. As you dial, mentally prepare your statement. In the military, when we report an issue, it is sent via a situation report, or “SITREP”. You want your SITREP to be clear and concise. You want a 10-second-SITREP. “My name is Tim Smith, someone is breaking into my house. I live at _________. I am holed up with my children in my bedroom. Don’t hang up the phone.” I said that statement three times. The first time it took me 8.66 seconds to say, the second was 7.83, and the third was 7.35.

Armed woman at defensive position in room
In home defense do not go out to find the intruder. Put yourself in an advantageous position. Let the intruder put themselves at risk.

Do not hang up your phone and ask the operator not to hang up either. In a dangerous situation, if there is any change whatsoever, they need to be able to adjust their call as necessary. Did the attacker enter the room? Is somebody injured? Did you need to escape the house or move to a different room? Ask for the operator to stay on the phone.

Your self-defense has become a heavily regulated situation. There is the “Castle Doctrine,” where your home is your castle and you have the right to defend it. In a state like mine, Georgia, that doctrine extends to personal property, like your vehicle, that is the “Stand Your Ground” concept. Some states impose a “Duty to Retreat.” Usually expected for situations outside the home, the duty to retreat is an expectation that you do your best to flee from an attacker before deadly force is allowed.

Listen to the 9-1-1 call in this video. Over the course of nearly 12 minutes, the homeowner describes his perspective of a home invasion. He is armed, holed up in his bedroom. He struggles to remember if his cars are in the driveway or not. At 3:59, gunshots are heard. There is silence on the line until 5:20 when the homeowner says he is looking for his phone. The police arrive somewhere around 10 minutes. In a life or death situation like this, the waiting will feel like hours and the events will feel like a fraction of a second.

Know Your Rights

If you are holed up at home and you end up shooting the intruder, Eve had one very critical point about interacting with the operator: ask for an ambulance, but only divulge the immediately important information. You are under no obligation to answer every question. This may sound confusing because the police are there to help and protect you. This is not a suggestion to be difficult when dealing with law enforcement. But no matter the circumstances, if somebody is killed by another person, it is considered a murder for investigative purposes. In that investigation, it will be determined whether or not that murder is justified or if there was criminality.

During a home invasion, your adrenaline will be pumping, you may not be level-headed and you could say something that could be construed against you. Emergency calls are recorded. Cooperate, communicate, keep the call going, obey instructions. If you do not think you can do something the operator asks, say that. Perhaps you see something the operator does not know about.

If somebody is breaking into your home, you will have to make decisions that could have deadly consequences for you, the attacker, or even your family. With that in mind, every gun owner should train at the range and at home. A firearm is your tool, do not be afraid of it; know it and use it to your advantage.

When it comes to defending your home and family, use every resource you have. Your firearm, your knowledge of the house, your phone, the police. The police force is there to help you. Communicate clearly with the operator, the 10-second-SITREP. But remember that there is a legal system in place for a reason. Say only what is required, but cooperate and help law enforcement.