Top 5 home-defense tips for the real world

You don’t have to look hard to find bogus home-defense information.

It’s everywhere on the internet, television and in print.

There are a lot of opinions on the topic — some good, some bad and some incredibly stupid.

In fact, our former vice president famously recommended defending your castle by firing a double-barrel shotgun through an open door to scare intruders away. This technique may actually work, assuming you have a heavily armed secret service detail in your home as backup.

The vast majority of emails I receive from readers — about 85 percent — contain questions about home-defense scenarios.

That in mind, here are my Top 5 tips — realistic tips — for home defense.

As with any self-defense advice, take away what you think will work and discard the rest:

1. Be realistic in analyzing the threats you face in your home, but train and prepare for the worst. A middle-of-the-night home invasion by armed thugs is the most severe threat out there, but one most home owners will never face. Most armed home invasions involve drug dealers — period. It’s their way of resolving a business dispute. Still, this is the scenario a switched-on home owner should prepare for — multiple armed suspects forcing their way into their home. When you work out a tactical plan for you and your family — and planning is crucial — this is the scenario you should plan and train for.

Residential burglars are similarly not a nighttime threat. Most burglaries occur during the day when the homeowner is away. The burglar is usually conservatively dressed and may carry a clipboard or wear some type of uniform. They go door-to-door until they find an unoccupied home. Then, they’ll boot the back door, ransack the home and leave. If there’s a car in the garage and they can find the keys, they’ll take that too. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this: Officer, I came home and my garage door was open, my back door was kicked in, and all my stuff is gone. 

Also, keep in mind that not everyone trying to enter your home unannounced in the middle of the night may pose an actual threat. They may be a drunken neighbor attempting to enter the wrong house, or the boyfriend or girlfriend of your teenager.

2. The best home-defense weapon is a modern carbine with a white light, red dot sight and a standard capacity 30-round magazine. Most professionals realize that handguns have several limitations for home defense. They’re anemic, regardless of the caliber. They’re difficult to shoot accurately, and they hold half the ammunition of a modern carbine. While a shotgun is incredibly devastating at close range, they’re more difficult to shoot than a carbine and, despite Hollywood myths, they still need to be aimed, especially at close range. Shotguns are heavy and their recoil is punishing for smaller shooters. They hold, at the most, 8-10 rounds and they’re much slower to reload. By comparison, a modern carbine is lighter and much easier to shoot. In my humble opinion, one of the major benefits of a carbine over a shotgun involves engaging multiple shooters. It is much easier to transition from target to target with a carbine. A shotgun, especially a tactical model, is like swinging a railroad tie.  

3. Deadly force encounters happen at the speed of life. Forget all the cool tactical accessories — like plate carriers, tactical vests and spare mags — you hope to don when the bad man breaks into your home. You simply won’t have time. You’ll be lucky to be able to get to a gun. That’s why it’s important to anticipate the thug’s actions. The first place most burglars go to is the medicine cabinet in your bathroom, since they’re looking for prescription pills. Therefore, by the time you hear glass break, they’ll be halfway to your bathroom.

Since these events happen so quickly, one of the major problems most home owners face is switching on — realizing there is a threat and then reacting quickly to that threat.  Complacency kills. The inability to quickly switch on can have deadly results. Victims are already at a severe disadvantage. The bad man is totally switched on when he boots your back door. His adrenaline is pumping. He’s expecting and is ready to react to a threat — you. Your mind is and always will be your primary weapon, as long as you’re capable of switching it on quickly.

Once switched on, your response should be swift, lethal and extremely aggressive. Even if outnumbered, speed and extreme violence-of-action will often carry the day. Bad guys are typical bullies. They are not prepared for an overwhelming violent response.

One tactical consideration most homeowners ignore is the lack of suitable cover inside their residence. The best way, tactically, to picture the interior of your home is as a great big open box. Sure, walls, doors and furniture will offer you concealment, but there is nothing inside the average American home that will provide cover — actually stop bullets — save the condenser in your fridge. Even if you’re not exposed, taking “cover” behind a door or wall can still get you shot if the bad man knows you’re there.

4. Train with your tactical light until proficient. I have searched thousands of rooms using a white light — roughly half of these searches, I’m sure, I screwed up in some way. It’s not easy, nor is it intuitive. Here are my Top 10 tips for using a tactical light.

  1. Be judicious: Use quick bursts of light, rather than leaving the light switched on.
  2. Move between bursts.
  3. Don’t back-light family or friendlies.
  4. A burst of light aimed at a white ceiling will illuminate a room enough to distinguish threats (a technique for handheld lights only, not weapon-mounted lights.)
  5. Ask yourself if you really need light. No one knows the layout of your home better than you. Also, consider when it’s more tactically prudent to flip on a light switch.
  6. Manipulate the light’s toggle switch with your non-shooting thumb — never your trigger finger.
  7. Practice shooting with a light. The first time you fire your pistol with a light should not be when there’s a bad guy in your home.
  8. Check your batteries weekly. Have plenty of spares.
  9. If you have a laser/light combo, know the setting. It should be left on light-only or light and laser, never laser-only.
  10. Keep the lens clean. Shooting with a weapon-mounted light will deposit burned powder and gunk on the lens, significantly decreasing its output.

Generally, in my humble opinion, the more light, the better.  In fact, I’ve never yet seen a flashlight that offers too much light. My defensive handgun has a 400 lumen Olight. My AK has a 1,200 lumen model mounted on the rail. The only consideration with using powerful white lights is that you should practice, to be sure they don’t wash out your red dot.

5.The best alarm system is a big dog. Dogs also offer strong deterrent value and they are always switched on. Even the most hardened criminal won’t venture into a home if there’s a chance they could lose great big chunks of their body. In my humble opinion, electronic alarm systems offer false peace of mind. Once a home alarm is triggered, the alarm company notifies local police, which takes time. Once police are dispatched, which also takes time depending on their call load, officers will usually not respond with lights and siren. They’ll drive the speed limit because they respond to false alarms all the time. It’s routine, On the other hand, a dog can provide an instantaneous, aggressive response. Immediacy is key. Remember, when seconds count the police are minutes away.




About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Hi, Lee. Interesting and useful article. You may want to re-visit Joe Biden’s remarks, though. He did not advocate shooting through an open door. He said that he advised his wife, in the event someone was pounding on the door, to shoot THROUGH the closed door; also, that shooting into the air would scare off intruders on the property. Some statements are so stupid it’s hard to believe you heard the correctly the first time……

  2. Most excellent: something that requires re-reading and refreshing our minds often. As a retired prosecutor, handling home invasions was one of the most enlightening facts of today’s life and the need to be vigilant.

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