If you interpret “home defense” in the broadest sense, the objective is to protect your people and your home from threats of any kind. That would include not just home invasions but also simple burglary and even fire. While the concepts overlap a bit, we’re going to focus on the intruder scenario here. When thinking about a home-defense plan to deal with a possible break-in, don’t forget to consider your strategy for more likely “home safety” events like fire. Many of the same planning principles apply.

Make Your Home Uninteresting

Like most people, criminals will choose the path of least resistance. When deciding whether to mug an alert 220-pound man obviously keen to his surroundings or another who has a fat wallet in the back pocket and his face buried in a smartphone, guess who will get bypassed in the victim-selection process? It’s the same with homes. If your house has motion-activated lights, low shrubbery, a solid door and a Ring-style video doorbell or motion camera on all doors, your home will be lower on the ideal target list.

Your Safe Space

Defending your family from a band of night-vision-wearing commandos is only a realistic scenario in the movies. Keep your planning practical based on real scenarios and crime statistics. If your strategy is to go forth and play Ninja hide-and-seek with home invaders, you’ve just improved their odds. Sure, you know the floor plan, but you’re moving into an unknown situation just like they are.

I’m using the term “safe space” in the pure and literal sense here. If someone breaks into your home, the odds favor a strategy of barricading in a defensible area that’s as safe as possible while you call for reinforcements. If you have to resort to kinetic action, your chances of success are better when YOU decide the circumstances.

Consider the places in your home that are most defensible. Do you have areas in your master bedroom that provide both concealment and cover? If you’re in a place that’s hidden and has a “tactical” advantage over someone coming in, why wouldn’t you want to make them play by your rules? When an army invades the fortified position of another, the old-school rule of thumb is that the attacking force should outnumber the defenders 3:1, if all else is equal. There’s a reason for that: The defenders have the benefit of “digging in” and hiding while waiting for attackers to show themselves. Why wouldn’t you “cheat” in a similar fashion to improve your odds of success?

Location, Location, Location

When choosing your safe-space position, consider entry and exit points and furniture. Ideally, someone would have to enter through an exposed position to find you while you remain hidden. Also, in a perfect world, your location would have an emergency exit. That could even be a window (assuming your location is on a ground floor). Big furniture can provide not only concealment but also cover. While nothing is guaranteed to stop a bullet, heavy dressers, bookcases and appliances offer better protection than soft furniture or drywall.

If you live in a large or multi-story home, you might define multiple safe locations because you don’t know where you’ll be when a home intrusion occurs. These things happen during the day too, sometimes when we’re in the office, kitchen or basement.

When considering where people in your family might shelter in the event of an emergency, be sure to consider where they will be in the event you have to fire your gun. Most any handgun, rifle or buckshot shotgun load will go through many layers of interior drywall while maintaining lethal velocity.

A typical home-defense plan night stand set-up including a digital alarm clock, the base of a brass lamp, a Homedics device, a pink iPhone with a magnet mount, a small black tactical flashlight with a pocket clip and a black semi-automatic pistol with alight mounted on a rail under the barrel.

Your nightstand gear should include a phone and hand-held flashlight. If you have children or others in the house, keep that firearm in a quick-access safe. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Gear Availability

Home-defense gear shouldn’t be limited to just a firearm. Equally important is a means of communication, preferably a charged cellphone so you can take it with you. Get in the habit of keeping your phone on a charger on your nightstand so that it’s readily available in the event of a fire or breaking-and-entering emergency. Also, make sure you keep a quality hand-held flashlight right next to it. That’s a great tool to have for any nighttime surprise, whether or not it’s a criminal encounter. Likewise, make sure your firearm is accessible either near where you sleep or in between your bed and the safe space you’ve identified.

Your People Plan

If it’s just you and your significant other in the home, identifying a safe location and planning is relatively easy. If you have children in other rooms, things get more complicated.

Think about possible points of entry into your home. How does that relate to your location and the children’s rooms? If you can identify a safe zone for everyone that doesn’t require passing through common areas where you might encounter an intruder, then great, there’s your plan. If the most-likely spots for intrusion are between you and your children, you have a difficult problem to solve.

We can’t cover every home-layout and break-in scenario here, but we can offer some things to think about. Statistically, most home entries are burglaries where the intruder is there to steal stuff, not kill or harm people. Given that, and if your children are in a faraway area of the house or upstairs from your location, you may elect to instruct them to lock themselves in their rooms if they hear a commotion in the house. If you don’t have that home-layout luxury, the “shelter in place” strategy may not be a winner for you. You may plan for your spouse to remain in a safe area and call for help while you venture out to protect your children.


Here’s the challenge: If you and others are in opposite areas of the house, you’ve got a tough problem, and there is no cookie-cutter winning strategy. You’ll have to think very carefully about where someone might enter and where he or she might go by the time you wake up and orient yourself to the problem. If you’re a deep sleeper, don’t assume you’ll catch someone coming in the front door. He or she may be in your room or anywhere else in the house by the time you wake up and realize what’s going on.

A perfect plan in your head is worth absolutely nothing unless it’s communicated to the rest of the family and they know and understand the procedures. You’ll also need to establish a way to communicate with others if and when you have to initiate your home-defense plan. Cellphones are convenient and can allow discreet communication to other parts of the house, but they take time. Your communication plan may rely on shouted instructions like, “Shelter NOW!” Be sure that the communication tools you choose will work when others are sound asleep in the middle of the night.

Two adult white men use blue training pistols as they go through a "shoot house" simulation. One man stands aside to observe while the other, dressed in dark clothing with a headlamp and blue-and-black pistol drawn, aims at a target through an open doorway. A "perp" paper target stands against a white drywall behind the men.

Training in a shoot house is excellent practice and very eye-opening. Fortunately, this type of training is much more accessible thanks to Simunitions, Airsoft and virtual simulators at ranges across the country. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Home-Defense Plan Dry Runs

Nothing works without practice, so as awkward as it might feel, be sure to not only communicate your home-defense plan but also physically run through it. It’s also worthwhile to walk around your home in the dark to learn how to navigate without tripping over the furniture. While you’re doing this, take note of nooks, corners and hiding places you might use to keep out of sight while making your way to a safe room, out of the home or to join your children.

Home-defense strategies can fill a book, so we’ve only raised some basic ideas and questions here. Be sure to invest some time thinking like an intruder so you can develop a series of meaningful response plans. If you were going to break into your house, where would you do it? Once inside, where would you go first? How much time would that take? If you know any local police officers, get their input too. The key is to think and plan ahead of time while being as realistic as possible about the process.


About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun, is passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has completed dozens of training programs and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program shortly. Tom has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters, including two for the USCCA: Armed and Ready, Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence. He has published around 1,700 articles for a dozen gun and shooting publications. Between writing projects, you can find Tom on the range.