A Motel Break-In: Should I Shoot?

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You finally get that much needed family vacation and opt for the great American road trip: a 10-day drive to see some of the most iconic elements in the United States. You just feel like you want to get in the minivan and experience this great nation without even much of a plan.

You are two states away from home and 10 hours into the drive when you decide to stop for the night at a little roadside motel. You’ve seen the type before: the long, narrow building with a dozen or so front doors all facing the parking lot. The place is quaint — nothing fancy — and the price is such that you can afford to get two rooms: one for you and your spouse and another for the kids. Much to the relief of the younger members of your entourage, the place even has free Wi-Fi. As you check in, you see the rack of local attractions and notice a self-guided driving tour of a nearby state park that includes several waterfalls and what looks to be a lovely picnic area. After a quick family conference during which your kids just shrug and look at their phones, you decide to stay two nights at this little motel, spending all of the next day exploring before hitting the road again.

It’s Not Room Service

The next morning, as you dress, you think about maybe not carrying your sidearm into the state park, but a quick check online shows it is perfectly legal and, remembering you might be outside of good cell coverage, you opt to clip the holster inside your waistband and start your day by rousing your children for an early breakfast. They effectively hide their joy by pretending to grumble about the hour and asking repeatedly if they have to go along. Just 45 short minutes later, you are in the car, headed to the local diner. From there, you stop at the local grocery store, conveniently attached to the diner, where the same guy who just cooked your eggs sells you some picnic snacks. Finally, you are off into the “deep woods” to experience even more of the local flavor.

After a long day of hiking, taking pictures, nibbling on snacks and generally interacting with your family in ways you have not experienced in quite a while, you head back to the motel. There is plenty of talk about how good a hot shower will feel and a few questions about what sort of dinner menu might be available at the diner. As you pull into the motel parking lot and park directly in front of your room, everyone is laughing and joking. You pile out of the car, and the kids head to their room while you and your spouse head to yours. As you fish around in your pocket for the key, you notice that the door is ever so slightly ajar. You push the door open to see an 18-inch crowbar on the bed and two men busily tearing apart your suitcases. At that same instant, your daughter emerges from the adjacent room and shouts, “My room has been robbed!”

What Do You Do?

Things to Think About:

  • You have two men cornered in a confined space. The only way out is past you.
  • No one is holding the crowbar, but it is very close to the man nearest you.
  • Your spouse and your children are all within about 10 feet of your location.
  • The burglars are less than 12 feet away from you, but there is a bed between you and them.
  • Have you checked the laws in this state to know what action you can legally take?

The first thing to think about is your personal safety and that of your family. There is a potentially deadly weapon within reach of the burglars. With your gun still resting comfortably inside your waistband and concealed under your shirt, the advantage may be with the burglars right now. Are they young and relatively fit? Could they make a rush for the door, grab the crowbar and inflict serious damage before you could get your gun into action?

It is certainly time to draw your gun and begin giving orders.

You must also understand that this is not a home invasion. So even if you are in a state with a strong Castle Doctrine law that also covers hotel rooms and vehicles, it likely does not apply in this case. Most of those laws protect your actions if you are inside when someone breaks in, not if you happen upon a burglary in progress. Still, there is risk of real injury. You are outnumbered, and there is a potential weapon within reach of the criminals. Draw your gun and give commands.

It Is ‘Self-Defense,’ Not ‘Stuff-Defense’

But what should you tell them to do? If you order them to the ground, they will be lying on the floor behind the bed where you cannot see their hands unless you enter the room. You do not want to enter the room. Is there another person in there you haven’t seen yet? Perhaps the best bet is to tell the burglars not to move and to put their hands up high over their heads. If they comply, you are ahead of the game. There is no guarantee they will comply. If they rush the door, you suddenly have an entirely different set of decisions to make.

If the men attempt to leave, you should very likely let them leave if you can do so safely. If you shoot, even as they move forward, you are opening a can of worms. From an evidentiary standpoint, unless one of them grabs the crowbar and screams, “I’m going to kill you!,” investigators will demand to know what made you think you were facing an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm and will need to know why you fired. If you used deadly force, can you tell them why?

Now What?

Now you are standing at the door to your motel room pointing your gun at two men inside who appear to be burglarizing that room. Your family is nearby. There is a weapon present that could be used against you. What are you going to do? Have you spoken with your family about an emergency response in this, or any, situation?

Because you are dealing with the potential threat, someone else should be calling 911. But what will this person say to the dispatchers? The message has to be clear, and it has to ensure that the authorities know who the bad guys really are. Does every member of your family know the name and general location of the hotel? You may not know the exact street address, but you should know the name of the road you are on. When communicating with the dispatcher, make sure you provide information about the nature of the crime: “There are burglars in my hotel room right now. My spouse has confronted them.” This is where things get a bit more confusing. If you tell the dispatcher, “My spouse is holding them at gunpoint…” you will likely get a much quicker and much heavier police response. Are you prepared for that? Keep yourself safe, and that includes remaining safe when officers arrive.

Consider the Children

How old are your children, and at what levels could they be of assistance? Or must your spouse address the safety of the children? Is your spouse trained and able? If the kids are in their middle to late teens, you can bet they have cellphones and know how to run the cameras. If it is possible and safe, could they be getting photos or recording video of the scene? Do they know enough to do this from a position of cover?

If the kids are younger and someone needs to usher them to safety, have you established a code word that lets them know things are seriously dangerous and there is no time for questions or comments? What training have you provided your kids to help them escape? What training have you had to lead those kids to safety? One easy phrase to remember is “Link to me.”

If you, as a parent, decide you need to leave a dangerous situation, you certainly must take your kids with you. To do that, you need to keep them near you. Teach your kids that when you say, “Link to me,” they must immediately grab your belt or back pocket. Now you can move and still know that the children are right, literally, on your tail. If you feel someone drop off, stop immediately and find that child before you keep moving. You can train young kids to do this in busy parking lots or shopping centers. And if the time comes, whether the incident be fire, flood or active shooter, you and your kids will know what to do.

Something Changes

For the sake of this scenario, let’s assume your kids are in a safe location and maybe recording the action, your spouse has wrangled the kids and is on the phone with 911, and help is on the way (but still five minutes out). And let’s further assume that the bad guys have decided they don’t want to wait around for the police. They tried to leave.

The first guy comes straight ahead, walking over the bed and past the crowbar as he heads right toward you in the doorway. His hands are empty. You order him to stop, but he just seems to be picking up speed as you hear the second guy start to move in your direction. You can’t see his hands, nor can you see the bed where the crowbar rested moments ago.

My suggestions would be to step aside and get between your family and the bad guys. Let them go unless or until they become an imminent deadly threat.

Your motel room is being robbed. Should you shoot?

About Kevin Michalowski

Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski is a fully certified law enforcement officer, patrolling rural Wisconsin in his spare time. A Certified Trainer through the USCCA and the NRA, he has participated in training across the U.S. as both a student and an instructor. Kevin is passionate about the concealed carry lifestyle, studying the legal, ethical and moral aspects of the use of force in self-defense. He is a graduate of the Force Science Institute Certification Course and has worked as a professional witness and consultant.

 

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