Fortifying Yourself And Your Home Against Crime

In my first post on crime, I urged you to accept the reality of the criminal threat and to mentally choose not to allow yourself to be easily victimized.  Hopefully you’re reading this second post because you’ve sworn off the denial, distraction, and passivity that characterizes most people and decided to do whatever you reasonably can to protect yourself, your family, and your home.  If this mindset of yours is authentic and deeply felt, you’re more than halfway to your goal.



Your next step is to form a self-protection plan. Helping you do that is the purpose of this second post. “Self-protection” is too large of a subject for one article, so I’ve narrowed it down to something you can reasonably take on in the near future: fortifying your home and yourself against crime.  I’m going to focus on three types of crimes, because your plans to defend against all three are closely related.  

  1. Burglary when your house is unoccupied.
  2. Burglary when you are home.
  3. Home invasion robbery.

Legal definitions vary from state to state, but in Pennsylvania burglary is defined as unauthorized entry into your home or other building (with or without the use of force) with the intent to commit a theft or a felony. Burglary is considered a property crime because the usual intent is to steal valuables that are not in the physical possession of another person.  By contrast, robbery is stealing valuables from a person using or threatening to use force.  Robbery is a violent crime against a person for the purpose of theft.  

Burglary in an Unoccupied House

Most burglaries are intentionally committed when the criminal believes the house to be empty.  Burglars want to avoid being confronted by a home’s occupants because they’re afraid of getting hurt by the homeowner or captured by the police.  Most burglars are unarmed when they break in (except for a tool they might have used to force entry) because they have no intention of having to hurt someone to complete their crime and safely escape.  This crime presents the least amount of physical danger to you, but it is by far the most common of the three.  Whatever plan you come up with has to address this issue comprehensively.  Fortunately, most of your plans to prevent burglary will be useful in your plans to deal with the next two crimes which are far less frequent, but far more dangerous to your physical safety. 

Check out this typical burglary story caught on video.  The teenage burglars crawled in through a “pet door” on an exterior door, ignored the friendly pets (2 dogs, a cat, and a noisy bird), and ransacked the house.  (“So easy a caveman could do it!”)  Atypically, the owner, who had been previously burglarized, had set up a security camera in her house, which she monitored live via the Internet while she was at work.  She saw the intruders, called police, and the two boys were arrested. 

It would have been a good idea to get rid of the pet door.  Anyone want to bet these were the same two who burglarized her place the first time?

Burglarly When Someone is Home (or Comes Home)

Try as they may to ensure that the houses they break in to are unoccupied, burglars sometimes break in to houses when someone is home or comes home during the crime.  Even burglars who break in when they assume you are home (asleep) have every intention of getting in, stealing some valuables, and getting out undetected and unhurt.  As you might imagine, this is a much more dangerous crime for anyone who is home at the time of the break in.  Usually, the burglar will run away the moment he realizes someone is home, arrives home, or wakes up from their sleep. 

This is the best result for you, but you can’t count on it.  Things can turn violent a number of different ways, and once they do there’s no telling how badly it will end.  In the moment he realizes someone is home, the burglar may decide to use violence to succeed in taking valuables (even if he has never been violent before).  Or he may decide to commit a different crime in addition to stealing valuables (rape, murder, kidnapping).  Or he may feel trapped and use force simply to escape the house.  Check out the story of this couple who came home to find a burglar in their house.  It could’ve turned out much worse, as the residents were not prepared to try to stop the burglar.  Prepare in advance before you try anything like this!



Home Invasion Robbery (Violent)

Home invasion robbery is a very violent and dangerous crime and is thankfully rare.  Home invasion robberies are almost always committed by two or more criminals who are armed and quite willing to use any level of violence necessary to get what they want.  Home invasion robbers intentionally plan to attack while you are home and to use violence to get you to give them what they want, even if it’s in a safe or a different location.  Many home invasions involve murder or attempted murder, so as not to leave any witnesses. 

Criminals who commit these crimes are generally very experienced in crime and violence, and are tired of making off with small amounts of money and valuables in simple burglaries and convenience store stick-ups.  Home invaders are looking for a big score which they have reason to believe you can deliver to them, and are willing to take the risks and use the violence necessary to succeed.  Check out this NY Times piece about the brutal Petit family home invasion.  As you read this account, note how easy it was for the criminals to gain access to the house, how unprepared the family was, how little crime this community normally experiences, how brutal the crime ended up being, and how true this saying is:  When seconds mean the difference between life and death, the police are just minutes away.

Develop a Comprehensive Plan

Start with the easiest, most common threats to deal with and work your way up the threat scale as far as you can afford and believe is realistic in your situation.  Develop a comprehensive plan and upgrade your defenses as conditions/events indicate.  

The entry level threat is the common burglary described above.  Burglars want something worth stealing, an empty house, low visibility while they’re making their entry, and easy access to the interior of your house.  Your job is to deny them these things and frustrate them at every turn.  (In a sense, your house has to be set up to defend itself while you’re away!)  This is first and foremost a mind-game.  You want to change the criminal’s mind about breaking in to your place.  You want him to conclude there are plenty of other places that would be easier and more profitable for him to burglarize.  

Your first goal is to make the burglar conclude breaking in to your place is not worth the payoff.  If you drive a $60,000 car, wear a $5,000 wedding ring or watch, and live in a $500,000 house, you’re already at a disadvantage, because you can’t hide these things.  Any obvious signs of wealth (even living in certain zip codes!) attract burglars, because they figure you have stuff laying around the house they can steal even if they don’t plan to steal the watch on your wrist.  However, do whatever you can to conceal the cash and valuables you have in your house.  If you have precious metals and cash at home, you should keep that a closely guarded secret (i.e., only you and one other person should know about it, if possible).  Guns should not be displayed, no matter how tastefully.  Valuables should not be visible to someone who comes to your door, looks in your window, or stands and talks to you in your entryway.  Valuables and safes should not be visible to teenagers and other visitors to your house, contractors doing work in your house, or to your landlord if you rent.  Most burglars are males between the ages of 14-25 who have been in your place with your permission at an earlier date (or know someone who has and has talked about it).  

Your next objective is to do your best to make your house appear occupied even when it’s not.  And remember that burglars don’t necessarily just look at your house once from across the street to decide whether it’s unoccupied.  They listen for sounds (voices, TV).  They observe patterns (garage door open or closed, mail or newspaper not brought in, snow not shoveled). They knock on the door or dial your phone number, and if you answer, they come up with a reason for calling/knocking and move on to someone else’s place, or try yours again another time.  They check your social networking site to see if you’re on vacation.  They check the newspaper to discover who’s going to be at a wedding. Some of the guidance often offered includes: lights on timers, leave a TV on, have a neighbor pick up your mail while you're away, etc.

If you can’t convince the burglar casing your house that it’s occupied, you want to make it appear too risky and difficult to get in undetected.  You want to set up the exterior of your house to convince the potential burglar that there’s no way he can approach your house and work on gaining entry without being in plain view to neighbors, passersby, and police on patrol.  That means proper lighting (e.g., motion-activated lights on all sides of the house out of reach from the ground) and proper landscaping (i.e., Is there any vegetation he could hide behind while gaining entry through a door or window?)  A sign or signs advertising your alarm system and real or decoy security cameras are in this category, whether or not you have an actual alarm/camera system.  The signs and cameras indicate two things to the burglar: 1) you’ve thought of burglary already and taken steps to prevent it, and 2) the alarm signs and cameras indicate “someone” is “watching” him even if you and your neighbors aren’t.

If the burglar decides you have valuables worth stealing, you aren’t home, and he won’t be noticed, your next line of defense is to make getting in to your house too loud, time-consuming, and difficult.  Sadly, most burglars gain entry through 1) an unlocked door (e.g., the Petit home invasion) or 2) an unlocked window.  This is quick, silent, and easy.  Don’t make it so easy, people!  The next most common point of entry is a locked door, which is much less secure than most people realize on a door that has not be properly fortified.  Go to this site and watch how easy and quick it is to kick in the average door (I’m not selling this company’s products, just showing you how easy it is to kick in a locked door).  In truly high-crime areas, your doors and windows should be guarded by steel security doors and bars, since normal doors and windows are simply too easy to defeat, even by amateurs.

Despite your best efforts, you have to plan for the possibility that a burglar will overcome all your efforts at prevention and succeed in breaking into your home/apartment while you are away.  Now what?  Well, don’t give up, because here’s where the fun starts!  Now your burglary alarm system should be tripped, starting a countdown in the burglar’s mind about how long he has before the police and nosy neighbors start arriving.  (I advocate real, monitored alarms, not just alarm signs).  Most burglars stay in the target house for less than five minutes anyway, but a noisy alarm siren and the EVENTUAL arrival of the police is important to make sure he doesn’t overstay his welcome. 

The monitored alarm helps ensure that the burglar won’t have the time to find your well-hidden valuables or crack open your safe, no matter what else he finds laying around in plain view in those few minutes.  You should have a list kept in a safe place (like your safe) that itemizes all of your valuables, including serial numbers and photos.  You can engrave what the police call “owner-applied numbers” on items that don’t have serial numbers, or in addition to them.  Your home phone number is a good number to use.  All of this helps with insurance reimbursement and in getting your stuff back if the police do make an apprehension.  Oftentimes, a search warrant is served on a suspected burglar’s residence or car and many items are found which are suspected to be stolen.  However, most of the time the items cannot be returned or additional charges placed on the suspect because there is no way to identify the owner of most stolen merchandise.  You can get yours back by giving the police serial numbers, owner-applied numbers, and photos of valuables stolen when you initially report a crime.   

I have barely scratched the surface of this subject, and there is much additional research that you must do to plan out your home’s defenses.  Here are some sites to help you.  These sites include checklists which you can use to perform a self-assessment and plan your upgrades.

I would be remiss not to emphasize how important it is for you to fortify yourself, not just your home.  You (your mind, your disciplines, your skills) are the keys to keeping your home safe from burglary.  Whatever you do and whatever upgrades you add to your residence, be disciplined and use whatever you’ve got diligently.  I once responded to a report of a burglary at the Philadelphia home of a celebrity whose name you may know.  This wealthy, well-known woman keeps a second home in Philadelphia and was the victim of a burglary there while she was out of state at her primary residence.  The burglar broke a pane of glass in the garage door, and then reached in and pulled the cord that activated the garage door opener.  Once inside, he closed the garage door, and, in complete privacy, easily forced open the door from the garage to the residence.  No burglar alarm was installed which would’ve called the police at that point. 

The burglar spent a lot of time searching for valuables, including cutting open couch cushions.  The burglar tried to move the safe he found locked and secure in the bedroom, but it was too heavy to move more than 3 inches.  Then he found over $100,000 in jewelry and watches in a shoebox in the same bedroom with the safe, and left a happy man.  To top it all off, there was no insurance to cover the loss!  If you have locks, lock ‘em.  If you have an alarm, activate it.  If you have a safe, put your valuables in it.  Don’t make it so easy on them, people!   And whatever you do, stay alert and aware.  If someone followed you home from the jewelry store or bank, would you notice?  If someone was watching you and your house off and on for a week, would you notice?  And if you noticed, would you take effective action?  Would the burglar watching you get the distinct impression that you were watching him?

Now, on to burglary while you are home.  For this crime, you need all of the preparations you made for burglary while you are not home, plus some.  Because of the increased risk of danger to you and your family from the burglar, some things you may have already done become more important and some new things come into focus.  

First, it is critical for your safety that you get some kind of warning that an intrusion into your home has begun.  The need to configure your perimeter, doors, and windows to slow the burglar down and force him to make noise is crucial.  You need that warning and that time to respond, no matter what your response is going to be.  It doesn’t do any good to have a “safe room” or a home defense firearm or a plan to run out the door screaming for help if the burglar gets in and gets to you before you can execute your plan. 

Fortified doors and windows along with a properly-activated alarm system are the bare essentials to give you enough time to respond.  Arrange your passive defenses to give you enough time to activate your plan, and be realistic.  If you have a safe room or a firearm, test how long it would take you to get everybody into the safe room or actually deploy your gun in the worst case scenario (eg. when everyone is asleep).  The longer it takes you to implement your plan, the more time you need from the moment you realize you’re getting burglarized until the moment you and the burglar are face to face.  Most people are much too optimistic about how long it would take them to respond.  (If you have to run to the bedroom closet to get your gun, unlock it, load it and run to the burglar’s entry point, your house has to be unusually slow and difficult to enter to give you that much time.)  If you are unable or unwilling to use force to defend yourself in this situation, then your house must be that much stronger.  You can’t afford to allow the burglar inside while you’re there because you’ll be completely at his mercy if his intentions include violence.

All TV commercials by companies selling burglary alarms contain wildly optimistic estimates of police response times.  Even in Philadelphia, which is densely populated and where police are generally close by (even if they are already busy with other calls), response to burglary alarms runs into the four to five minute range at best, and to two or more hours at worst.  Calls to 9-1-1 by residents stating that someone has broken in and is still in the house are almost always reached in less than three minutes.  Suburban and rural response times are generally much, much longer, unless you’re very lucky and a Deputy or Trooper just happens to be close by when the call comes out.  Don’t count on it!  However, even three minutes is an eternity if you’re in your house with a burglar, and I urgently advise you to have a better plan than hiding and hoping until the police arrive.  The advantage of having a firearm close at hand, and the skill to use it, is that you can deal with the worst case scenarios much better and without regard to what the police do.

There is also the issue of how our worsening economic problems are inevitably going to slow down police response times due to fewer police on the street.  Watch this TV news report of two women and a child who waited 35 minutes for police to arrive while watching a burglar persistently trying and ultimately breaking in to their home.  One of the women had to fight the man off with a vacuum cleaner (!!) just as the police arrived.  It could’ve been much worse.  What would you have done?  What if the burglar intended to kill or hurt the occupants and he got in three minutes earlier?  

Home invasion robbery is different from burglary because the robbers want you to be home and they’re not scared off by you or any weapons you might have.  They plan to use threats, pain, and, if necessary, torture to get you to open your safe, go to the bank and empty your account, or give up whatever it is they think you have.  And God help you if they have the wrong address and think you’re a drug dealer with a stash of cash and drugs.  That mistake is made by home invaders more than you might think, and it always ends badly for the residents, because no amount of torture can make you tell robbers where your drugs and drug money are if you’re not a drug dealer!  Home invasion robbers depend on the element of surprise, speed of action, and the willingness to use extreme violence to overcome anything they think you might do in self-defense.  

The key in home invasion robberies is to deny the robbers entry into your home. Once they’re in, it’s very unlikely anybody will come to your rescue, because from the outside there won’t be anything suspicious to see or hear.  The skill and intelligence of the robbers is important, but even an amateur home invader with below-normal intelligence who is willing to use extreme violence will overcome most victims.  Most people simply aren’t prepared enough for this kind of crime, even if committed by dummies.  But since I expect our economic problems and diminishing law enforcement resources to worsen, I also expect this sort of crime to become more common.  So, in addition to recommending that you take everything above very seriously, I offer the following suggestions, particularly to those of you who have enough wealth to make a you a potential target for home invasion.

  • First, you must not allow yourself to be pounced upon by home invaders who are waiting for you to come home or to leave your home.  Could someone follow you home, pull in behind you, pull a gun, and demand entry into your house?  Could robbers be waiting in hiding near your door and then pounce when you arrive/leave?  Eliminate any hiding places on your property.  Establish a perimeter fence or wall.  Arm yourself and get the training necessary to adequately defend yourself.  Decide in advance, if you are outside confronted by home invaders and your loved ones are inside, that you will die before letting them inside.  Warn them any way you can, and don’t let the robbers in.
  • Second, you must establish a way to “interview” people who knock on your door, without letting them in or making yourself vulnerable to a “push in” once you open the door.  The simplest method is to install a two-way intercom system and arrange it so you can see the people outside while you talk to them.  The second way is to install a heavy duty steel bar security door outside of your house’s door, through which you can talk with and see anyone who comes to your door.  The security door can be mounted just on the outside of your house door (like a flimsy screen door but much stronger).  Or you can enclose your porch or entry way with security bars and a security door.  This way you can talk to strangers pleasantly without fear of them rushing you and getting inside.  Once the home invaders are inside, you’re way behind the curve.
  • Third, firearms and the attendant skills are absolutely mandatory if you expect to be able to cope with a home invasion.  This has been optional up to this point, but not with home invaders.  The same is true of a top-of-the-line alarm system that includes the capability to send a silent alarm to the police without the home invaders knowing about it.  These panic alarms can be sent from the control pad by the entry door and from portable transmitters carried on your body.  Ferfal deals with home invasion at great length in his book and blog.  Since most Americans aren’t yet much concerned about this issue, I’ll direct you to him if you are one of the few who is concerned and wealthy enough to be a target.  Of course, if our economic problems and moral decay continue in the direction we’ve been going, it will take less and less wealth to attract the attention of the more and more criminals willing to engage in this kind of crime. 

If you have questions that have not been answered here, ask them in the following comments section or send me a private message.

- thc0655


This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil.  The content is written by readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site.  If there are topics you'd like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.

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Thanks for writing another excellent article with helpful links.  I particularly like how you use your years of experience as a police officer to focus on the practical things we need to know, and wake people up to the reality of the threat.  I think your most important message is that we need to think about this and prepare ahead of time.  Trying to play “catch up” in these situations can go very wrong in a hurry.



Thank you again for another excellent artlcle.
One thing I want to bring up is fact that homes these days are NOT constructed with defense in mind. Most security-minded people work around the design of the home.

In medieval times, castles had approaches from the left so invaders’ shield arms would face away from defenders. Staircases curved upwards in a clockwise direction to handicap attackers’ sword arms from reaching back to swing forward while defenders could swing freely and downwards for greater effect. The stairs were also of uneven height to slow or trip attackers moving in darkness who were unfamiliar with the pattern.

Maybe in the future, besides bars on windows and steel doors, people will think about defense in mind. Maybe brick or stone to enclose a “safe room”, a recessed entryway against intruders who may want to run into a door or use a battering ram, etc.


You got me off my chair.  Calling burglar bars guy right now.  Those back windows are way too vulnerable. . .thanks.

The legal liability can be quite high when you use a firearm to defend your property. If you shoot someone trying to break in to your home you can be prosecuted for various crimes like manslaughter, etc. or even sued by the bad guy’s family. I urge everyone to get professional training when once you acquire firearms for home defense. Know the law in your state and city.
Thanks for a great post.

[quote=Troutbum]The legal liability can be quite high when you use a firearm to defend your property. If you shoot someone trying to break in to your home you can be prosecuted for various crimes like manslaughter, etc. or even sued by the bad guy’s family. I urge everyone to get professional training when once you acquire firearms for home defense. Know the law in your state and city. Thanks for a great post.[/quote] 
Law abiding citizens using firearms are effective in taking bad guys off the street for good while sending a message to other bad guys.  Before they harm YOUR family.
Lobby your legislators for strong castle doctrine laws in your state.

This link got disabled.  Here it is: 

This should work…Protect the home or bring dinner home LOL. It is on my shopping list…15 rounds…one side can be loaded with buck & the other side with bird shot.

Excellent, Excellent Writeup. You gave me some ideas that I’m going to implement, like, tonight!
I’ve been in my house for 7 months and I figured I was safe. My next door neighbor is home everyday childsitting the neighborhood kids. I live in a very sheltered neighborhood. Every other house seems to have a dog. When one barks, it seems they all do. My next door neighbor is a policeman and I’m a mile away from the police station. On the flip side, I discovered the previous owner was into drugs, a lot of drugs. Since my neighborhood was so “safe”, I didn’t even bother to change my door locks, until I realized that. What was I thinking?!?  I’ve read that there have been several burglaries reported in my small, suburban town lately. That’s a wake up call to me and so is this. Thanks again.

thc0655, thanks so much for writing about home protection!  It is an area where I have been feeling we are not adequately prepared, so your ideas are timely and welcomed.  I don’t like to think that such precautions may become necessary, but I sure don’t want to be without them if they do.
I got charged by 2 big dogs when I was on a walk a couple of years ago.  They had been somewhat threatening towards me before, so this time I was prepared with pepper spray, and used it when they crossed the road running and barking maliciously at me.  ( I’m a “dog person” and have handled many other dogs coming barking at me with no problem.)   I hated it.  I was scared, and they kept coming at me; I would spray one, it would back off, then the other would come at  me, and I sprayed it, and it would back off, and the other would come back at me, until finally I got away.  The only thing I would have liked less would have been having those 2 big dogs charging me and not having that pepper sray when I needed it. (-Not quite the same as a home invasion story, but hopefully it conveys the same “better to be prepared and not need it than to not be prepared and need it” moral to the story!).

[quote=pinecarr]hopefully it conveys the same “better to be prepared and not need it than to not be prepared and need it” moral to the story!).
It does indeed.  Same reason I’m doing thorough research on a handgun right now (and for some time now).  I so DON’T want to take this step, but have now become convinced that it’s irresponsible to do otherwise.  Started saving for it about 6 mos ago.  
Viva – Sager
nota bene:  edited for proper Ainglish.

I don’t want to take that step either Sager, but I’m beginning to feel it’s the responsible thing to do too.  Can you give me a heads up on any useful info your research has turned up.  First and foremost, how much of an investment does it represent.I also think about basic security measures and how much they could interfere with things I enjoy like camping out in the backyard with the kids and walking around outside in the dark enjoying the stars and the night sounds.  I guess I could turn off those motion sensor lights when I’m out at night and make it my responsibility to be aware of any suspicious sounds.  And then there’s a fence - that really goes against my grain too.  I’m probably going to reluctantly take some of these steps and fill in the gaps with a strategy of look poor (my favorite) and be aware.

Please excuse me if mentioning a commercial service is a problem.  I am not trying to be a shill or anything like that.If you are thinking about getting a defensive firearm you need to make sure that you get the proper training.  There are two aspects to the training.
The easier of the two to get is training on operating the firearm, although there are degrees of training and tactical aspects that are open to a lot of difference of opinion which I will not get into here.
The other, overlooked, aspect is training on the legal and ethical aspects of defending yourself with lethal force.
I went down the path of investigating and getting the proper training and here are some of my thoughts.
At the minimum you should read “In the Gravest Extreme” by Massad Ayoob.
If you can afford the four days and $800 or so for tuition you should definitely take the MAG-40 course “Rules of Engagement for the Armed Citizen”.  You can find out about this on the Massad Ayoob Group web site.
The first two days they cover basic safety topics and teach you how to safely draw from a holster and fire.  This builds up to taking a test similar to what the police use for their annual qualification test (slower time and not as long distances).
If you are a new shooter they will get you off on the right foot.  If you have been shooting a lot but never had formal training you will probably learn something.  If you have had a lot of training already you may want to skip the first two days and only take the classroom part.
The second two days is the really unique part of the training.  There are a lot of trainers who can teach you to shoot.  Ayoob excels at teaching when, when not and why to shoot.  He covers all aspect such as before, during and after the encounter, dealing with law enforcement, doing things to avoid later problems in court etc.
In any case, I think you should strongly consider this training.  I took the four day class and then the next year I took the classroom part over again - that is how important I feel it is.
Another good resource is the Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network.  This is an organization that helps you get your act together from the legal perspective so if (heaven forbid) you ever have to defend yourself you are not trying to figure out this stuff at the last minute.
You can join for $80 and get access to their lists of lawyers in each state and be eligible for the various types of assistance that they provide to members that end up in court, but I will leave you to read that on their web site.  When you join you get three nice DVD’s.
You can also read their monthly newsletters which have a lot of good articles for free in their archives without becoming a member.
In any case if you decide to get a defensive firearm please take the time to get professional training so that you will act in a responsible manner and will be aware of all of the ramifications - ethical, legal and tactical.

[quote=steveyoung]I don’t want to take that step either Sager, but I’m beginning to feel it’s the responsible thing to do too.  Can you give me a heads up on any useful info your research has turned up.  First and foremost, how much of an investment does it represent.
Well, the amount of investment depends greatly on what you buy and why and new-or-used, etc. etc.  Best place for good advice on this subject is the Definitive Firearms Thread.  Those folks have it nailed down nine ways to Sunday.
For the record, I’ve narrowed things down a bit to S&W 627, CZ75, or maybe Glock 19.  (Smaller-ish handguns for concealed carry purposes…[assuming I could get permitted]…)  With 2 of these 3 options I’d be buying used – couldn’t afford it otherwise…
But yeah, ask the cats on the DFT.  They’re the ones to answer your ???s…
Viva – Sager 

The advice to seek training is a good idea.  You might get by with reading a book and going to the range a few times with a mentor who can give you instruction, but you should get professional training when you can afford it.
If you are only concerned with home defense then get a pump shotgun.  I would recommend a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500.  Both of these have been used extensively by military and police.  Both of these are very reliable and it is easy to find parts if you need to repair or upgrade.  Shotguns are also affordable. “You can find a pump shotgun for $300-$400.  You could find a single shot for about $100.  You will also need cleaning equipment, hearing protection, eye protection, and you need to stockpile at least $100 in ammunition.  A shotgun is the most versatile firearm as you can change the effect by altering the shell you use.  This makes it a good choice for hunting and self-defense.  A 12 gauge is the most common, but a 20 gauge is sufficient and you get a big reduction in recoil.  I would look at an improved cylinder choke for home defense.  The choke controls the rate that the shot expands when it leaves the barrel.  Improved cylinder means very little choke and it will let you use buckshot and slugs effectively.  I think that #4 buckshot is a good choice as you get about 27 pellets that are slightly bigger than a 22 bullet with a 12 ga.  Use # 3 buckshot in a 20 gauge.  Another advantage of the shotgun is it is less likely to penetrate walls and injure your neighbor.

If you plan on getting a concealed carry permit then you need a handgun.  You need this if you want mobile protection and not just protection in your home.  Handguns are inferior to rifles and shotguns when it comes to stopping power. You need to worry about stopping power as you do not want a bad guy to return fire after he is hit.  You will need to balance the size and weight of the handgun with the stopping power.  High quality hollow point ammunition is a must as it increases stopping power and lowers the chance of a ricochet.  You also need to decide if you want a semi-auto or a revolver.  Revolvers are very reliable and they are easier to use.  Get a revolver if you only intend to go to the range 1-2 times a year to practice. You will need to go more often if you want a semi-auto.  The advantage of the semi auto is you get a thinner gun, more ammo, and faster reloads.  If you’re looking at a revolver I would look at a J frame (snub nose) smith and Wesson like the 642 ($375) or the Rugger LCR ($410) in 38 special.  A bigger more capable revolver would be a 357 magnum. 

The problem with semi-autos is they can malfunction in multiple ways.  You need to train to know how to clear the gun if it malfunctions.  Higher quality guns malfunction less.  Glocks, Springfield XD, Smith and Wesson M&P all have good reputations.  You should expect to pay $400-700 for a decent quality semiauto.  I would go with a 9mm for a first gun.  Ammo is cheaper and it should be adequate with good quality hollow points.



Thank you thc0655 for a very needed post on the topic of crime and self defense.
I am a civilian with more than 25 years of shooting and, reloading experience and I have 72 hours of professional basic handgun training.  I know how easy it is to make a mistake in purchasing a firearm that I later found didn’t suit me for some reason.    Because events are accelerating and time is ,in a sense, running out I thought I would offer some observations to those who are new to firearms in an effort to help others avoid some common pittfalls in purchasing your first handgun.

Go to a gun store and ask to look at various models you have researched.  Be very careful to observe how the grip feels in your hand.  For example, compare a Glock 19 to a S&W M&P9 both chambered in 9mm (and both have a history of extreme reliability).  I think you will notice a distinct difference in grip feel.  Choose a model that feels comfortable in the hand since in training you will shoot hundreds of rounds of practice ammunition.  Ask to be shown how to operate the handgun’s controls, see if you are comfortable operating the controls.  Don’t make any purchase decision at this point.

Ask a friend to take you to a shooting range for your first shooting experience.   Perhaps you will get the opportunity to compare a revolver in 38 Special to a semiautomatic in 9mm.  It’s probably best to stay away from magnum handgun rounds for your first shooting experience.

Some shooting ranges will allow you to rent a handgun model to try it on the range.  If you can, do this with a friend.  Some ranges offer NRA certified basic handgun training courses at a nominal cost.  Its a good way to get started.  You will never know how a particular model handgun feels in a given cartridge until you actually fire several charged magazines through it.

When your ready to purchase your first hangun choose a make and model that are commonly known and available chambered in a commonly acceptable defense and available cartridge.  That is 38 Special, 9mm, 40 S&W, or 45ACP.  The 45 ACP has the sharpest recoil of all these listed cartidges.  Ammunition avalability has been more difficult in recent years and you will need more than you might think.

Another source of training is Grey Group and Defense Training International.  Mr. Ayoob also has written many books on firearms in addition to “In the Gravest Extreme”.  They are worth reading.

And last, begin learning about a concept called “combat mindset”.   Law enforcment officers and military groups train in this to assist them in handling the stress of a violent encounter with another person. 


You might want to look at a Ruger LCP.  It’s a .380 and small enough to carry comfortably in a pocket.  They’re selling like hotcakes around here.Doug

Echoing Sager’s post, the DFT, for the newbies here, is the Definitive Firearms Thread.  All the issues noted above have been discussed there and more.  Check it out.  I think you’ll find it informative and useful.
I realize that, given the volume of information on CM, it can seem a bit overwhelming to find what you’re looking for but using the search function and checking the archives is worth a try.  We’ve had a lot of new folks come here in the past few months and we’re seeing a lot more reposts and repetition of information than we’ve had previously.   


Something to consider if one decides to defend his home with a firearm. There has been a tremendous rise of Meth in many areas of the USA. These types have little brain left & are usually pretty wired up to say the least. They do not stop easy with a handgun but one shot with a 12 gauge & they go backwards…always! Then you end up in court & evidence will show you only shot them once instead of multiple times with an underpowered handgun. I believe this will help your case that you did not use excessive force.
The size & sound of a pump shotgun will make an impression on any criminal which may send them running without having to even use it. Much easier to be on take in a high stress situation.

Top cop Raymond Kelly says Harlem Blue Flame Co. owner "Shotgun Gus" shot in self-defense

New York's top cop on Saturday defended the shotgun-toting Harlem businessman who became a reluctant hero by blasting the bandits terrorizing his store.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Charles (Gus) Augusto “acted in self-defense” when he killed two thugs and wounded two more on Thursday.

“He certainly had the right to defend himself and his co-workers,” he said. “I know he took no pleasure in this thing. It was the toughest day of his life.”

Kelly spoke as officials prepared to arraign the two tough guys who survived being shot by Augusto on Thursday.

“No one could take pleasure in taking a life, but all indications are he acted pursuant to New York penal law,” Kelly said of Augusto


A 72-year-old businessman who has operated the Blue Flame restaurant supply store for decades, Augusto grabbed his gun after the invaders burst into his store and began beating up his store clerk.

Augusto said he told the alleged ringleader, 29-year-old James Morgan of Manhattan, they had no money and pleaded with him to let them go. But Morgan wouldn’t listen and resumed pistol-whipping Toxie (JB) Hall.

So Augusto fired three times, killing Morgan and 21-year-old Raylin Footmon. Shamel McCloud and Bernard Witherspoon, both 21, staggered bleeding out of the store and were quickly caught by cops.

“I would have been happy if they’d all run out of the door,” Augusto told The Daily News on Friday when he reopened his store on West 125th St. “I’m sick to my stomach over it.”

Augusto also bristled at being called a hero.

“I would have felt like a hero if I could have talked that kid into going home,” he said.

Asked if he had another weapon in case somebody else tried to rob him, Augusto said, “I’m not going to tell you that.”

It was later discovered that Augusto did not have a permit for the shotgun, which he had purchased more than 20 years earlier - and had hoped he would never have to fire.

Police officials said Saturday that shotgun owners are required to register their weapons with the city - unlike permits needed for handguns. Augusto’s shotgun was registered.

Augusto stayed home Saturday and the store was closed.

The front door was still pitted from the shotgun blasts. And on the sidewalk, specks of blood were still visible.

Great follow-up!

Thoroughly enjoying your contributions, THC.