Previously in this series, I discussed the importance of increasing your awareness and being reasonably fit. In this article, I’ll cover the starting points of home security and the importance of understanding the law in regard to preparation for self-defense. Much of the information in the first section is taken from my 2014 book Defend Yourself, which covers all aspects of armed home defense in great detail.
Hardening the Target
Self-defense doesn’t have to mean taking action against multiple people trying to break through doors and your barricades, but it absolutely could mean that. Having real barricades and real physical security is a must if you take home defense seriously. A reinforced entryway is a great place to start in regard to making your home at least appear to be a harder target. The first thing a potential attacker should see when he approaches your house is a gate or a security-style storm door. More than just a fence or simple screen door, there should be something that locks and tells any potential intruder you take your security seriously. This may be all you need to keep your home and family safe.
Very few criminals are thrill-seeking violent predators looking for a fight or a challenge. Most are looking to steal easy pickings or prey on vulnerable victims. If your home sends a message that you care and are making an effort to secure your property, you will most likely be passed up by the professional predator. In the world of security, there is an entire field called “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED). This is an approach to security that incorporates landscaping, lighting, movement control, and other subtle aspects of design to make a place less attractive and/or accessible to would-be criminals. Several years ago, Personal Defense Network produced an entire DVD on the topic to aid homeowners in applying the fundamentals of CPTED to their home security plan.
While you may not have a fence, or even a yard, if you have the budget, there is one simple security option that any home should be able to accept: security-style gated storm doors on all entryways. These gates are actually a storm door, a screen door, and part of the home’s security. You can leave these doors open during the summer and get the breeze and fresh air, but because it is actually a reinforced steel door with a reinforced frame and a solid lock, you will be much safer than you would be with a traditional flimsy screen door. Being safer doesn’t have to mean you are locked in a cave. The heavy-duty storm door tells criminals that if they decide to try to get into this target, they’ll have to fight their way through.
When it comes to the main entry door of your home, this is your real gatekeeper. It will keep you away from everyone who’s outside, and keep your family safe … or not. It also sends a message to those on the outside that you take your security seriously. The door should be solid, without large panes of glass, if any. Also make sure you do not have large glass panels adjacent to your door, as that means not only is the door frame likely to be weak, but also that criminals will have the option of breaking the glass to gain entry to your home. The entry door itself must be solid, either wood, fiberglass or metal. Your door frame should also be strong and the hinges mounted with upgraded screws. The entryway door is incredibly important, and of course your lock system and the way it integrates with the frame are big parts of that.
Make sure you have a deadbolt. Deadbolts come in many qualities and styles, and there is some solid truth in this arena to “you get what you pay for.” If you head down to the local big box store and buy a deadbolt for $20, it is going to be better than nothing, but maybe not much. You can spend up to $200 on a high-quality deadbolt lock with a hardened cylinder that resists defeat through drilling. The investment may be worth it, but remember that the deadbolt itself is just part of the entryway’s integrity. In every test of forcible entry, deadbolts of any quality can be defeated if they are used with typical weak strike plates, weak frames, and/or weak and shallow screws. Upgrading to longer, stronger mounting screws and a “strike box” on the frame side of the door will dramatically enhance the security of your entryway. Whether you use a strike box or not, make sure the throw of the deadbolt extends at least one inch out of the door itself.
Some type of peephole should be part of your exterior door. If someone rings the doorbell, you want to identify them before you open the door. Today, you do not necessarily need a traditional peephole. It is relatively inexpensive to mount on your porch a security camera that you can view from inside your home, possibly even away from the doorway. This will minimize your exposure to potential harm if someone is planning on forcing their way through the door.
Keep in mind, if someone’s been knocking and you don’t see them when you look through the peephole, ask them to step in front of the door. If they won’t, you already know you have a threat. Call the police.
The exterior door, screen door, your hardware, and the peephole work together to keep people outside your home.
Passive Security Measures
These are items you purchase, install, and/or activate in order to make your home safer without your having to take an active role. While money is the primary resource you need to utilize these measures, some also require that you do employ them properly. If you buy a vehicle with four-wheel drive capability so you can drive more safely over slippery roads but you fail to activate the system while driving through snow and slip off the road into a ditch, you’re going to feel pretty foolish. Imagine having a reinforced door you forgot to close or a security alarm you neglected to set on the night your home is invaded by violent intruders. It’s well known in the security world that all the passive measures in the world do no good if the human element doesn’t do its part. As you consider the value of these items, remember you need to at least maintain them, if not actively ensure they are working and being used on a daily basis for them to help you.
It’s amazing what can be done for a reasonable amount of money. For less than the cost of a defensive firearm, you can have a system with door sensors, motion sensors, cameras, multiple keypads, and the ability to contact both you and the authorities by cellular signal … and you can control it all from your phone!
Used properly, the technology is so advanced that many of the traditional discussions about home defense tactics shift dramatically. Imagine if you were awakened by a ring tone from your phone that told you your perimeter had just been breached and, with a quick swipe of your thumb across the touchscreen, you are shown a live video image of a figure moving through your living room and toward the stairwell. How does that change your thought process and plan of action when compared to “you’re awakened by a [proverbial] bump in the night”?
A dog is one of the absolute best security investments you can make for your home and family. A proper dog can serve as early warning system, threat deterrence and, if trained properly, active physical defense. But there is a price to be paid for this four-legged asset. Dogs become part of the family. They need to be fed, cared for, and accommodated in the home. Not every home or living situation is conducive to having a canine as part of the security plan, but it should certainly be considered.
Understanding the Law
Self-defense and the law are closely connected in many ways. That being said, too often I hear people express concerns about using force to defend themselves that lean toward asking if they could defend themselves legally without regard for whether or not they should defend themselves against someone who is trying to hurt them. In my opinion, the answer to the latter question is always “Yes!” The law may constrain your preparations, certainly should influence your plans, and will likely be involved in the aftermath of a defensive event, but it should never be interpreted as preventing you from defending yourself against harm. You have not only a right, but also a responsibility to defend yourself. Let’s look at how understanding the law benefits you.
Preparations for Self-Defense
When you begin your preparations for self-defense, understanding the law can aid you in deciding when and how you will defend yourself. A clear understanding of the law will allow you to understand what constitutes a situation in which the use of force against another person is excused, when calling the police is appropriate, and how your location may change what you can do legally.
Your first step can be to research the laws governing the use of defensive force in the areas where you live, work and travel. Be aware that you may not find any specific section of laws in your area addressing “self-defense,” but what you will probably find are exceptions to the violations of laws that are involved in striking, cutting, or shooting another human being under defensive circumstances. You should also examine case law in regard to situations that have actually occurred to see how your local courts have dealt with specific events. You might also research news stories to see how the local prosecutor’s office has dealt with events in regard to whether or not charges have been pressed under specific circumstances. A thorough understanding of these issues will help you prepare mental lines which, when crossed, clearly dictate that you can use force to defend yourself in the eyes of the law. Further, you will also gain an understanding of how you might plan to defend yourself in specific situations with regard to using defensive tools. In some jurisdictions, situations outside your home (or work or vehicle) may be dealt with very differently than situations within.
Your Self-Defense Plan
Any plan you make for personal defense, with or without a tool, should always be made within the confines of the law. For example, if you cannot legally own a gun, it would be foolish to obtain one for the purposes of possible defensive use. If you know an act would be illegal under normal circumstances and you plan to undertake it anyway, you are not being responsible. Understanding how to legally purchase, own, and carry defensive tools helps you plan appropriately. Furthermore, planning your specific triggers to defensive action should take into account the local law, and how prosecutors and judges have viewed acts of defense against harm in the past.
Legal Aftermath of Self-Defense
There will be legal concerns after even the most justified use of defensive force. Whether or not you will be charged with a crime and the possibility of being sued civilly will almost always be part of any event. Having a thorough understanding of the law and a good legal defense plan in place should make the aftermath much easier to deal with.
Consulting with a lawyer who is well versed in self-defense law ahead of time is a great idea. Even if you are focusing on defense with a firearm, be sure to distinguish between lawyers with experience in the justified use of force and those interested in broader Second Amendment, Gun Trust, or similar firearms issues.
Several organizations exist to provide legal education, advice, and/or financial support to those interested in personal defense, especially when armed. Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network is one such organization that has worked with Personal Defense Network to develop educational information, including two complete DVDs on the topic. In the aftermath of an event, having an established relationship with a lawyer or an entity to help you find (and fund!) one can relieve a great deal of strain during what is sure to be a stressful time.
Taking a training course or attending a seminar, such as the Massad Ayoob Group 20-hour lecture class, can also help you prepare not only for the legal ramifications you may face, but also for the emotional and social issues following use of force.