It’s not at all uncommon to find articles breaking down the proper techniques you should employ when clearing your home, just like it’s easy to find articles discussing and debating what the best possible firearms are for that specific (and dangerous) set of circumstances. I love reading these pieces and participating in the dialogue they encourage, but all too often, I’m left with the uneasy feeling that the debate is going on between a strange combination of experienced veterans, well trained amateurs… and idiots that fancy themselves cowboys. Of course, not all idiots are bad guys, some are just woefully inexperienced, under-trained, and overconfident. In a lot of ways, you could use those same three adjectives to describe me doing just about anything half the time I’m doing it. Being an idiot only becomes really dangerous when you don’t realize you’re doing it.
And that’s where home defense comes in. It’s become apparent to me that most home defense strategies are predicated on the idea that you’ll have ready access to your firearm and the advantage of knowing your home when an intruder breaks in. From there, many articles suggest that it’s just a matter of slicing the pie through doorways and careful execution of your room clearing plan (that would optimally already be worked out) until you’ve neutralized all the bad guys and can call it a night. After all, that’s what John Wick would do.
The truth of the matter is, if the extent of your tactical training comes from watching YouTube videos and occasionally going through the motions in your house with your kid’s Nerf gun, clearing your home during a break in is an absolutely terrible idea. You have no idea how many opponents you’ll be facing, what they’re armed with, what sort of training or equipment they may have, or where exactly they’ll be coming from (assuming your house, like most, has multiple entrances). Your home-field advantage dissipates quickly the minute you find yourself creeping through the kitchen and realize there are bad guys both in front of and behind you.
As for firepower, three guns almost always beats one, even if you’ve got a very expensive boomstick you’ve been itching to try out. While you’re engaging one target, you often leave yourself exposed to be hit by the others. There’s a reason the U.S. military doesn’t use the one-man Rambo approach to house clearing even when sending in highly trained special operators: numbers matter. The more support you have, the more likely you are to survive an encounter. With no support and an unknown number of assailants, your effort to “clear the house” is really just putting you in harm’s way.
So, what do you do when you hear a break in? I won’t lie to you — I’ve had a break in and I took off after the sound of broken glass with my pistol in hand and hate in my heart. In hindsight, I was lucky. Our house was broken into by a young punk with a head full of drugs and a healthy fear of his Marine neighbor carrying a 9mm. If it had been an armed assailant with more than my X-box on his mind, I could have been riddled with holes before I cleared the stairwell.
Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to move from one room to another during a break in: You’ll need to get to your family and your firearm. Once you’ve got both, don’t bother moving through the house like Solid Snake trying to take down the bad guys one by one. Instead, put yourself in a solidly defensible position, keep your family around the corner, out of sight, and behind whatever cover you can find. Call the police and keep them on the line. Then, if need be, open fire to keep the home intruders from entering the room you’re all hiding in. The best place for you to take cover is somewhere that allows you as clear a line of sight of their approach as possible, while allowing for as little exposure to your opponents as possible. Stake out your house ahead of time and identify spots like that so you can more easily locate them when the adrenaline starts pumping.
Remember, drywall doesn’t stop bullets, and neither will your kitchen table, couch, or mattress. Real cover needs to be legitimately solid (steel, concrete, a stack of logs) — so if you’re lacking in real cover, do your best with staying low and keeping the intruders back until help arrives.
Stay on the line with the police, even if you have to drop the phone to defend yourself. Keeping the line open will help them to understand what’s going on in the room for when the responding officers arrive. Remember, in this defensive position, you really are fighting for your life and the lives of your family. Most intruders will run rather than get shot or arrested, so anyone that’s willing to exchange gunfire with you to get into your bedroom likely has something worse in mind than stealing your wife’s jewelry.
If you’ve got the training and the confidence, clear your house the way you’ve been taught. But if you’re a normal mortal with a gun, your best bet is finding a defensible position and waiting for backup. It could save your life.