For many Americans, having the ability to defend yourself, your family and your property is a legitimate concern. While America is, by and large, an overwhelmingly safe place to live, there are portions of the country with crime rates that are far higher than the national average, just as there are many Americans living in rural places that can’t count on the speedy arrival of law enforcement from the next town in the event of an emergency.

Developing a sound home defense strategy involves more than simply owning a firearm and knowing how to use it, but our approach to home defense can often be skewed by our perceptions of the world – the stories we’ve heard, the ideas we have about home invasions, and our own personal anxieties. With that in mind, here’s a short list of common home defense myths and misconceptions that could leave your home defense strategy lacking if you’re among the many Americans that fall prey to these lines of thinking.

Myth #1: Home invasions are carried out by skilled criminals with a plan.

Years ago, my home was broken into on my first night home from a deployment. My wife and I, like so many young couples that were just reunited after a stint overseas, spent the evening watching movies, talking, and — admittedly — getting pretty drunk. Finally, as the night wore on, we stumbled up the stairs to do the other thing many young couples do when reunited after a deployment, leaving our phones on the coffee table in the living room.

We lived in off-base military housing in a safe Massachusetts community that was regularly patrolled by military police. To be honest, we never really considered the idea that we could be a target for a home invasion based on that much alone.

A few hours later, a noise in our living room woke my wife and I. I asked her where she’d been keeping the gun while I was away, and she told me it was in a lock box in the living room closet — the same room the noise was coming from. Without a weapon, I opted to try intimidation and rage, bounding down the stairs making as much noise as my 230-pound frame would let me, shouting about the things I planned to do to whomever I found in my house.

By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, the front door was wide open, and some things were clearly missing. I grabbed a phone, threw it to my wife on the stairs and told her to lock herself in the bedroom and call 911. Once armed with my pistol, I quickly cleared our small two-room townhouse before heading out the front door just in time to spot our burglar sprinting away on foot, some 200 yards away.

When you imagine a home invasion, you expect a well thought out strategy aimed at stealing your valuables or hurting you. You often don’t consider the half-cocked junkie that broke in without a plan. Like a wild animal caught digging through your trash, your behavior dictates much of how such a situation unfolds from there. That idiot, who knew who I was by reputation but believed that I was still deployed, left a trail of my stuff all the way to his house. The cops followed it, knocked on his door, and found him inside eating the pizza he’d nabbed from my coffee table.

The lesson to learn here is that burglaries and home invasions are often carried out without a plan or a clear mind — and that means the strategies you’ve assembled, based on the idea that a team of well-trained assassins is going to breach your home, may not be appropriate. Unless your attacker has a personal motivation, chances are good your home was chosen as a target of opportunity, rather than one of intent. Which brings us to the next point:

Myth #2: Home Defense is all about clearing your house with a firearm.

In the years since the break-in, my home defense strategy has matured significantly. I once relied on the idea that I could heroically clear my house of opponents unscathed, but the truth is, the most effective way to defend your home is just to make it a pain in the ass to break into. The idea that home defense begins when an intruder gets into your house is a dangerous one — the likelihood that you or your family could get hurt goes up exponentially the minute a criminal finds himself cornered in your living space.

Burglars are often looking for an easy target — with the risk of being caught, shot, or otherwise foiled before they can make off with anything valuable, convincing a criminal to move on to the next target is often as simple as just making your own home inconvenient to rob. Security cameras, good quality locks (that you actually use), an alarm system with warning signs, and quality exterior lighting with motion sensors will go far in ensuring that you never have to discharge your firearm inside your own home. If your house looks like a half dozen ways to get caught (or killed), most casual criminals will just keep moving down the street, looking for an easier target.

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It’s easy to romanticize the idea of home defense as a shootout, but truly, a shootout should be your last possible resort. Your family is in that home, other families are likely nearby, and even a trained shooter is prone to miss when woken from a dead (sometimes half-drunk) sleep by the sounds of his or her frightened family. Make your house a challenge to even approach, and the likelihood that anyone will even try drops significantly.

Myth #3: The police will be able to save you.

Let me be clear; I have a tremendous amount of respect for law enforcement and first responders. However, I’ve chosen to plant my family in the Georgia woods on the outskirts of a small town. The population of my community doesn’t really justify a large law enforcement presence, and as such, the few officers and deputies on duty often find themselves occupied. Living in a small town often means taking on a greater level of responsibility for your safety, and the safety of others than many Americans are accustomed to doing in this day in age. Last year, when a bad car accident happened close enough to my house for me to hear it, I took off on foot, getting a badly injured driver out of his truck before the fire engulfed him. I treated him for shock until first responders could get there, then continued to assist with their directions until EMTs could arrive. Other people from the area did the same for the guys in the other vehicle.

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My new friend was stuck in this truck with a badly broken leg when I arrived. I snapped this picture once emergency personnel took over the scene.

It’s incredible that we live in a nation that has millions of police officers, firefighters, and EMTs that are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to help us in our times of need — but those heroic folks aren’t always just down the road. Like this car accident, many home defense situations won’t be immediately resolved with a call to 911, and until help arrives, you’re on your own. Had I waited for EMTs to arrive before pulling that man from this truck, he’d have lost his life. Likewise, if you wait for the police to save you during a home invasion, you may lose your own.

We’re fortunate to live in a nation that offers such a high degree of protection through emergency service personnel — but don’t mistake an officer on the other side of town for a bulletproof vest. He’ll put his life on the line for you once he gets there but it’s on you to survive until then.

Image courtesy of Informed Mag on Flickr