Clearing a home.

Like probably many of you, I cringe whenever I see this scene depicted in movies or on TV. You know the one: A man or woman is shown in semi-darkness, suddenly awakened in bed by a noise. Sometimes the camera cuts to the intruder (nearly always clad in black, complete with a ski-mask). Other times, the threat is only heard.

At this point, the homeowner fumbles for a gun, usually kept in one of those locked cases. Then, since the gun is seldom loaded, the character slaps a magazine into it. In one recent show, a woman gets a shotgun from a closet, then loads several shells one by one.

But the next move is the one that drives self-defense trainers up the wall. Once armed, the homeowner sets out to find the source of the noise. In most cases, the home is a two-story-style, so the camera can show the homeowner skulking down the stairs, gun in hand, searching for the intruder. How the scene ends varies, but that’s beside the point.

Clearing (or sweeping) rooms is the problem. I have numerous friends in law enforcement and the military, including operators such as SWAT team members and Navy SEALs. They all say that clearing rooms is one of the most dangerous things they do, even with their level of training. They all strongly advise residents against it.

Given all the variables — home layout, number of residents, etc. — there is no single way to respond to that “bump in the night” (or day). But we can suggest some basic principles to consider.

First, if at all possible, stay where you are. If you live alone, that should be easy. But if you have children and they sleep down the hall, the parental imperative is powerful. If there are multiple family members, create a “what if?” action plan, then conduct drills so everyone knows what to do. One of my cop friends has everyone (including himself) stay on the top floor. He stays at the top of the stairs, armed and ready.

Evaluate your own home situation. Do you have a one-bedroom condo? A two-story single-family home? A townhouse? How many people are in the home? How old are they? Do you have children? Also, note where everyone (including you) spends the most time (not just sleeping). Remember, home invasions don’t just happen at night.

Practice accessing your gun, including in the dark. How you do this (gun vault, locks, etc.) depends again on your home situation. Just make sure you can access your gun in seconds, not minutes.

Once you have your gun in hand, call 911. When the dispatcher answers, say only: “My name is _____, I live at _____, and I (we) have an intruder. Please hurry.” Then I strongly recommend that you hang up. I know, I know, Hollywood (and some “experts”) will tell you to “stay on the line” with 911.

Bottom line, it’s your choice, but from my experience, when it comes to contact with 911, less is always more. My law enforcement friends will corroborate that transcripts of 911 calls are more often used to convict people than to exonerate them.

This is obviously a complex issue, with no one-size-fits-all solution. We simply suggest that going on a “hunting expedition” is not a good tactic. The risks are too great. Keep yourself and your family in a defensive position. Call 911. Then let police handle clearing the premises.

Stay safe.


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