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Self-Defense in an Apartment: You Need to Be Aware


Earlier this month, I discussed aspects of self-defense in mobile homes. Some of the considerations involved the use of firearms in tight spaces and the dangers posed by missed shots and overpenetration. Self-defense in an apartment presents these same concerns and some additional aspects to firearms use.

The biggest difference between self-defense in a trailer and self-defense in an apartment — at least the way I see it — is ownership. An apartment is strictly a rental property. Although a mobile home may also be rented, it is more often owned. Renting a property places some limits on what you can do to improve your defenses. This may be especially true in housing for which you receive government assistance.

Limitations of Home Defense in an Apartment

For example, you will not be able to install a hard-wired alarm system in an apartment. You might, however, be able to utilize a SimpliSafe alarm system — which requires no hard wiring — if your lease permits its use. Triggering an audible false alarm in the close confines of an apartment building, even on one occasion, will not keep you in good stead with neighbors or your landlord. Make sure you read the fine print of your lease before you consider such a purchase. The addition of stronger locks that require more keys, such as deadbolts, will likely not be approved.

Also, when you’re defending an apartment, there are additional areas of safety responsibility above and below you. A few years ago, an apartment-dweller was putzing with his loaded handgun. He managed to discharge a round through the floor into his neighbor’s apartment. Thankfully, no one was injured.

In an apartment, negligent or poorly aimed shots can endanger multiple neighbors. While there are floor joists and plywood sub-flooring and drywall sheets on the ceiling, Murphy’s law dictates that the unintended shot will miss the most formidable barriers and continue in a dangerous direction.

Five Tips for Self-Defense in an Apartment

Here are some suggestions to avoid tragedy when defending yourself in your apartment:

  1. Select a handgun with the lowest possible risk of overpenetration due to a missed shot. I am convinced that a .410-caliber handgun (Smith & Wesson Governor, Taurus Judge or Bond Arms Derringer) loaded with a field load or even a standard buckshot load is one of the safest yet still effective choices you can make. Consider a home-defense arm that is different than your carry gun.
  2. Invest in a Safe Direction ballistic pad or case for loading and unloading, especially if a semi-automatic pistol is involved. These pads are rated to stop most conventional (non-armor-piercing) handgun rounds.
  3. Make sure of your field of fire. Have you selected a defensive point that endangers the least amount of people based on the direction of fire?
  4. Because of the potential risk to your neighbors, try using forceful verbal commands, including the warning that you are armed and will shoot. This may give the intruder one last chance to retreat. The intruder needs to retreat, not you!
  5. Have less-lethal defensive means ready at hand.

Defending yourself with a firearm anywhere is serious business, but self-defense exercised in close proximity to others greatly increases the need for carefully tailoring your defensive plan to your environment.

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About Scott W. Wagner

After working undercover in narcotics and liquor investigations, Scott W. Wagner settled down to be a criminal justice professor and police academy commander. He was also a SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader before his current position as patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. 

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