Here’s the scenario: After a quick trip to the spa, you arrive home at about 3:35 p.m. ready to get started on dinner for the kids and your spouse. With band practice, soccer and the commute, they all typically get home just after 5:30.

You pull into the driveway, deciding not to put the car in the garage, and grab your two bags of groceries out of the back seat. You head inside, unlocking the door and moving through the garage into the laundry room, which has a door that gives you direct access to the kitchen. You are fully into the kitchen when you hear unfamiliar sounds coming from the living room. It’s as if someone is moving, stumbling around. At just about the same time, you notice the sliding glass door to the back deck is open. You assume one of your kids ditched practice and came home early.

“Hey!” you call out. “You left the door open. Now get in here and help me, would you?”

Spoiler Alert: It Wasn’t Your Kid

Your announcement is greeted with muted profanity and more thumping as two disheveled strangers run from the living room to the kitchen. They are skinny, grimy and appear homeless. One is carrying a laptop computer, and the other has a jewelry box. As your eyes meet, they stop running, and the one with the jewelry box produces a screwdriver, points it at you and says, “Don’t give us any trouble, bitch, and we won’t have to hurt you.”

The other takes a step toward you and says, “I’ll take that purse. Give it up or I’ll beat your ass.”

The intruders are about 12 feet away, but the kitchen counter is between them and you. Your gun is inside your purse.

What is your next move?

Your Self-Defense Options:

  1. Scream and tell them to get out!
  2. Retreat! Quickly back away into the garage and out the door you came in.
  3. Drop the groceries and go for the gun.
  4. Can you think of another option?

Things to Consider

What are the laws in your state? Do you have a duty to retreat in your own home? Does your state offer some sort of Castle Doctrine protection when a homeowner is faced with an intruder? If you choose to, can you safely escape? Where in your purse is that gun? Can you get it into action quickly? Who currently poses you the most danger? Have you trained to accurately engage multiple targets rapidly and at close range?

In most states, the Castle Doctrine applies only when you are inside your home, business or vehicle and someone breaks in or attempts to break in. In this case, you unknowingly stumbled in on them. Could an overzealous prosecutor claim that you went inside looking for a fight?

What Hurdles Stand in Your Way?

Your defensive handgun is inside your purse. The attacker is about 12 feet away but has to clear at least one obstruction before reaching you. This person does not appear to be armed, but a blow to the head with a laptop computer could cause serious injury. Still, we need to consider where in that handbag the weapon resides. Must you open a zipper to access a firearm-specific pocket? Is the gun stored in a holster that includes some sort of retention device you must defeat before you can retrieve the gun? Is the gun tossed in among all the elements of your handbag, unrestrained, leaving you to guess its location and orientation in order to obtain a firing grip? What is the status of that gun? Is there a round in the chamber? Is there a safety lever you must disengage?

If you decide to run, how tidy is your laundry room and garage? Seriously. What will you be tripping over as you try to make your exit? Could you fall and be injured, allowing the attackers to catch you?

What Now?

This incident poses myriad questions — not only tactical but also legal. Let’s look at the tactical elements of the situation first: You are in a confined space close to your adversary. Your hands are full. Your best defensive tool is not on your body. Depending on how you are holding everything, dropping the groceries could cause you to drop your purse, making it much more difficult for you to get to your gun. Plan ahead when carrying off-body. If your hands are full, make sure you can ditch the cargo without losing control of your gun. And make no mistake: You must ditch the groceries. You can buy more later. Right now, those bags are keeping you from fighting effectively.

Perhaps it should go without saying, but off-body carry requires an extra level of training and practice. Getting a gun out of a purse, briefcase or backpack requires more skill and dexterity than pulling a gun from a holster on your hip. It also slows your draw at least a little bit. Now is not the time to learn that you have not trained enough to adequately access your firearm.

Which Target?

Which of these men poses the greatest threat? If you choose to engage, he is the one you need to engage first. The man with the screwdriver seems to want no part of a physical altercation, and the man carrying the laptop has already taken a step in your direction. He is very likely the person with the potential to cause you the most harm.

Don’t ignore the power of direct voice commands. Even though you are startled, try not to scream. Instead, use a clear, powerful voice to order the intruders to get out. You will want to be able to back up such a command with the power of your firearm, but your voice and demeanor might put the men to flight or at the least cause them to pause and think about their next actions. Use that time wisely. Grab your gun.

A Safe Retreat?

Now comes the discussion of the possible retreat. We only suggest retreat if you can do it safely, which means you must take into account all of the stuff mentioned above concerning your escape route. Moving into the laundry room in order to get back to the garage is a good plan. You know the laundry room is safe because no one was in there when you came in, and backing through it actually creates a fatal funnel for the men if they want to pursue you through that door. But you also need to be aware that there may be a lookout or getaway driver outside of the house somewhere. Do not simply assume that getting outside will get you to safety. It will be easy to stay focused on the guys inside the house, but make sure you are looking for additional threats as you make your escape.

Also, think about what you might do immediately after the incident ends. How will you contact the police? Where will you go? Is there a safe place nearby?

You’ve just walked in on two strangers burglarizing your house. What would you do?

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About Kevin Michalowski

Kevin Michalowski is executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and a fully certified law enforcement officer working part time in rural Wisconsin. He is a USCCA and NRA Certified Trainer. Kevin has attended training across the U.S. as both a student and an instructor in multiple disciplines. These specialties include pistol, rifle, shotgun, empty-hand defense and rapid response to the active shooter.