A home invasion is a type of burglary which occurs when a member of the household is present. They are real, and they happen more frequently than you might think. Do you have a firm grasp on your legal rights as a homeowner? Do you know the appropriate amount of force you may use against an intruder?
What should you do if someone breaks in? With so many possibilities and questions, it’s vital that you know your rights and options, devise a plan of action, and receive the necessary training that will prepare you both physically and mentally to protect your home and family.
According to the Department of Justice, an estimated 3.7 million burglaries occur every year.
Nearly 28% of those (1.03 million) are home invasions, which are defined as when you are home during a break-in. Home invasions make up roughly 1 million burglaries every year, which is about two every minute. Around 26% of home invasions (266,650) are violent, which means that a violent home invasion occurs every two minutes.
Having a plan is the most important preparation a homeowner can take to confront any type of crisis. This is particularly true when planning for the possibility of a home invasion.
The plan may be different for every homeowner, depending on where they live, who they live with, their home’s layout, local emergency service response time, and whether there is access to a weapon. It also must take into account the homeowner’s legal rights within their jurisdiction.
Table of Contents
- What Are My Legal Rights?
- Devising a Plan
- Are You Prepared for a Home Invasion?
What Are My Legal Rights?
Note: This is not legal advice. Consult with your lawyer.
Laws can vary by state, but here we’re going to analyze California law.
Duty to Retreat
Some states require a duty to retreat before using force of any kind.
Duty-to-retreat laws mean a homeowner must first retreat or attempt to de-escalate the situation before using force. While this can be a useful principle to avoid conflict and bodily harm to either yourself or the aggressor, it’s not always practical.
In California, homeowners do not have a duty to retreat and are not required to attempt to escape the threat prior to using force to defend themselves.
Nevertheless, the goal as a homeowner should always be to prevent a violent encounter if at all possible.
Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine
Since Californians are not required by law to run away from potential threats prior to engaging them, they are in a de facto state of “Stand Your Ground”. The same rights apply when citizens are confronted in their own homes, but with an additional modifier. According to Penal Code § 198.5, you as a homeowner have a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury when someone unlawfully enters your home. This legal presumption, and its associated justification for the use of force is California’s version of the “Castle Doctrine”.
Put another way, if you’re on the street and you use force to defend yourself, you must be prepared to justify why you perceived that other person to be a threat. However, if you’re at home, you may already presume that someone unlawfully entering your house is a threat.
Proportionate Use of Force
In any case involving self-defense, any response to a threat must be reasonably proportionate to the threat. What is considered to be “reasonably proportionate” is highly circumstantial.
Factors affecting proportionate use of force include:
- Presence of a weapon.
- Size and number of threats.
- Size and ability of the homeowner(s).
- Indications of intent, e.g. “I’m going to kill you”.
In addition, any force used by the victim of an attack must be limited only to the action necessary to stop the threat. This level of force may include deadly force. However, once the threat is no longer present, you must cease using force.
Regardless of what transpires at the scene, homeowners must still justify their actions within the scope of the law, and must be able to properly articulate their reasoning behind any use of force situation.
For example, if an unarmed intruder sees a homeowner and is shot while running away, is that a justifiable use of deadly force? Ask yourself, “Would I be able to convince 12 jurors that I did what any other reasonable person would have done in the same exact situation given what I knew at the time?”
Force should ideally be used as a last resort in order to protect yourself and your family from harm.
Devising a Plan
With these legal obligations in mind, you can now create a plan for your family in the event of a home invasion. However, keep in mind that a plan can only provide some added safety.
Awareness and the ability to respond to a fluid, high-stakes situation will be your most essential survival skills. To develop these skills, a certain level of training is necessary.
Together, training and preparation can make the difference between life and death.
While it is impossible to formulate the perfect plan—since the potential scenarios are practically limitless — you should consider adding deterrents to your home in order to prevent a home invasion, and think about how you would respond to a threat should it arise.
As with any type of self-defense, avoiding the situation altogether is always the best strategy. While burglaries and home invasions will undoubtedly continue to occur, your first priority should be hardening your home so that it does not appear to be an easy target.
This guide is not intended to be comprehensive, but is instead designed to serve as a basic checklist for a home vulnerability assessment.
Keeping your exterior lights on indicates to would-be burglars that someone is home, and illuminates many concealed angles of approach. Motion sensor lights may be useful as well in order to save energy and draw attention to whatever tripped the system.
Fortifications to your home may include reinforcing several potential points of entry, namely your windows, doors, and garage door.
These can include quality deadbolts, shatterproof glass, and metal plates which protect door locks. While these will not stop a determined adversary, breaking through them will take additional time and will produce additional noise.
That being said, you must balance security with aesthetics, and many HOAs will not appreciate residents with barred doors and windows!
A properly trained guard dog is in many ways more versatile than a firearm. Man’s best friend can alert you to impending threats to your home before they break in. Dogs can also strongly deter potential burglars from invading your home altogether, and may be your first line of defense in the event of an attack.
Knowing and regularly communicating with your neighbors will encourage you to be on the lookout for each other and will harden the general area against threats. Neighbors can alert both you and the police to suspicious people in the area. This can include writing down license plate numbers of strange cars and being watchful of a neighbor’s house when he or she is away.
If your alarm system is armed when a burglar enters your home, the sound may scare the intruder enough to make him flee. The police will also instantly be notified by the alarm company, ensuring a rapid response without you having to call right away. Additionally, alarms will alert you to the fact that someone may be breaking into your home, giving you crucial seconds to react.
Even if you have an activated alarm system, you should still dial 911 and speak to a dispatcher if you feel it’s safe. Be sure to give responding officers information about the residents of the home such as their appearances and their locations.
Security cameras help you keep an eye on what’s going on around your house and can deter potential burglars from following through with their intended crime.
Cameras can identify criminals and help law enforcement make an arrest. In the event of a use of force encounter within or around your home, security camera footage may also prove vital in justifying your actions to investigators.
Responding to the Threat
In the event that you are home, or you arrive home and find an unknown person in your dwelling, you now must respond.
In this situation, you will likely experience a high dose of adrenaline. You may have trouble thinking clearly, your visual focus may narrow, you may suffer auditory exclusion (inability to register what you’re hearing), you may freeze temporarily, and you may lose fine motor control (particularly with a firearm).
The stress of any potentially dangerous encounter may even affect your judgement. This is why it is vitally important to have a plan and training that you can rely upon. A plan helps you know what to do without having to think as much in the moment. Training helps you react without losing critical time.
Assessing the Situation
Quickly assessing the details of your situation is crucial to making smart decisions that will help you and your family survive a home invasion.
These are some immediate considerations:
- Am I alone, or do I have family members in the house?
- Where am I? Do I have exits? Is there a phone or a weapon nearby?
- Where are my family members located? What is their condition? Can they get to an exit, or are they capable of barricading or hiding themselves?
- Where is the intruder located?
- Am I sure it’s an intruder? Could it be an unannounced visit from a friend or a teenager sneaking back into the house?
- Is the intruder aware of my location?
- Are there multiple intruders? If you cannot confirm that there is only one intruder, always assume that there are more. You do not want to get blindsided by an unknown threat because you had tunnel vision with the one threat in front of you.
These questions will help you determine an appropriate response. If your family members are not in danger, it may not be necessary to confront an intruder. Also, confronting an intruder may not necessarily involve an immediate use of force.
For example: You arrive home from grocery shopping in the middle of the afternoon and you see that your front door is ajar. You remember locking it when you left and do not recall inviting anyone over.
The range of possible responses to the above situation varies tremendously. It could include waiting outside in your car and calling the police, or it could involve going to the front door and calling out to whomever is inside. The situation might require drawing a firearm and making entry.
What you decide in this particular situation will depend on your personal circumstances and assessment of the situation overall.
During a home invasion, you will likely need to communicate with your family members, the police, and potentially with the intruder(s). What you say to each of these groups could have dramatic effects on the outcome of the situation.
Here are some things to think about:
- Any attempt at communication to anyone will immediately reveal your position (and possibly the positions of your loved ones). This could be to your benefit, or it could work against you. On one hand, if intruders know that you’re home and do not intend you any harm, they might simply run away. Alternatively, if those intruders had already planned on disabling or harming the home’s occupants, you may now be at a tactical disadvantage by revealing your presence.
- Communication can be used to defuse a situation rather than escalate it. Telling intruders that you’re armed and that you’ve called the police will let them know to evacuate ASAP before they’re arrested. While a warning isn’t always warranted in some situations, giving your adversary a chance to leave without bloodshed could result in the best possible outcome.
- The ability to accurately describe the situation to a 911 dispatcher is critical, as key pieces of information will be disseminated to responding officers. This includes your location, known intruder locations, descriptions of yourself and the intruder, whether you are armed, and the presence of children in the house. In addition, a 911 call will provide an audible record of what has transpired during any confrontation.
- In the event that you and a loved one are both armed, communication will allow you to work more effectively as a team. Poor communication can lead to catastrophes (such as friendly fire), and teammates who don’t communicate well are more of a hindrance than an asset.
- If you choose to confront an intruder and decide to issue commands, be firm and decisive. Command presence (speaking with authority) will let the intruder know that you’re serious and will direct them on what to do in order to avoid possible charges.
- In case your first attempt at communication in ineffective, keep other options in mind. For example, the “intruder” may simply be someone who is mentally ill or intoxicated. Screaming at them to “get on the ground” may only result in them getting more agitated. Work through the problem and try to think of alternative approaches.
There are several options which you can choose from when selecting a home defense weapon and various accessories. Which one is right for you will depend on your level of training and your priorities.
First off, what is your home defense weapon? Is it a pistol, shotgun, rifle, or something else? Have you actually attempted to go room by room through your house with it?
A shotgun might be great for defending a static position, but it could be hazardous when taking precision shots or going around tight hallways and doors.
A pistol is maneuverable but is often the most difficult and least accurate weapon for untrained users.
A rifle is highly accurate, but could be tough to move around with effectively, and rifle rounds can travel through the target for long distances, thereby potentially endangering family members of bystanders in the area.
Next, think about where your home defense weapon is located. How can you balance safety for children in the house with the need for quick and easy access during an emergency?
What is your magazine capacity? Do you have spare magazines loaded and available? Bullets will run out quickly in a firefight, and without enough rounds you could be left stranded.
Finally, think about whether you want to use items like flashlights on your home defense weapon. Flashlights will allow you to navigate dark spaces and can illuminate and blind threats, but poor light discipline will give away your position.
How you choose to handle a home invasion will be dependent on a nearly infinite number of “what-if” factors.
For example, what if you are a bachelor with a great home defense plan for your apartment, but this weekend you’re babysitting a young nephew. What do you do?
Another example: You know your home floor plan perfectly and keep a shotgun under your bed, but now you’re staying at a vacation rental with just a side arm? What now?
One more modifier: Your home defense plan is flawless, but you don’t have a CCW and you’ve just arrived home to a break-in. Go!
The point is this: Your plan must be adaptable because the tactical environment may constantly change.
What is your level of proficiency with your home defense weapon? How often do you practice with it? Have you ever shot outside of a single lane firing range? Have your ever shot at a moving target? How fast and accurately can you shoot?
In a life or death scenario, targets will not stand still and they will be shooting back.
Are you accustomed to shooting under intense mental stress? While physical stress is easy to simulate (push-ups or running prior to shooting), it does not come close to the hand shaking nerves that accompany a real-world firefight.
Your performance will deteriorate under stress and you will likely shoot far less accurately than you would at the range. This can occur even with the proportionately smaller amount of stress which occurs during a shooting competition.
Imagine a situation in which you were invited to shoot in front of a large audience. How well would you perform only with the added factor of a large group of people watching?
Have you ever practiced basic techniques such as:
- Slicing the pie while minimizing your profile
- Turning on and off a flashlight while holding a firearm
- Opening doors while holding a flashlight and a firearm
- Moving through doorways or slicing the pie in narrow hallways with a long gun?
If you haven’t thought about these skills, then do not expect to be effective at them in a struggle.
Practicing these techniques can significantly improve your ability to handle a real-world, high-pressure scenario.
A firearm can be one of the greatest protections available to homeowners, as long as they can get to it. Do you take your firearm into the bathroom? Do you hide or stage one there? Think of all the locations you can be in your house and on your property.
Are there children in your house? Does your home defense plan account for both easy access to a firearm for you in an emergency as well as preventing unauthorized access to your kids?
Do you store other tools with your firearm, such as additional magazines/shells, or a flashlight?
What if you have to use two hands to perform some action, such as dragging an injured personal or restraining an intruder (civilians rarely carry handcuffs)? Will you put on a holster or carry anything with you?
Do you have firearms in multiple locations? What if you are in another area of the house when there’s a break-in?
Where are your entrances? These points of entry will help determine your strategy for defending parts of your home. Can windows be easily broken and climbed through?
What are the chokepoints in your home? Does your home have a long hallway to the bedrooms?
Creating chokepoints is an essential component of your home defense strategy because intruders will have to get past them to get to you. In addition, chokepoints force multiple adversaries to go through the same area, thereby reducing their numerical superiority.
Consider, as an example, that you’re kneeling behind a door frame in a darkroom and pointing a shotgun down a long hallway. In that situation, you are at a massive tactical advantage. It would take only the most dedicated attacker to attempt to close that distance.
Other simple chokepoints are doorways. Doorways are called “fatal funnels” for a reason. This is because all gunfire within the room will be “funneled” towards that one point. When defending a room, you will know where your adversary will have to come through, but he will be unable to pinpoint your location within the room. This is an immense advantage which even the most trained tactical teams must go up against every time they perform an entry.
What constitutes cover versus concealment in your house? How sturdy are your door frames, doors, and furniture? Bullets will very easily pass through virtually everything in your home.
Aside from door frames, large appliances, and perhaps a kitchen counter, chances are you have very little cover. This also means that any round you discharge could penetrate several walls and kill a neighbor. Ask yourself, what can you take cover behind while defending a position?
Are there branching areas within and around your home? Is it realistic to reliably clear all of them when moving towards a threat?
The floorplan of your home should dramatically influence any response you have to a home invasion.
Dealing with the Threat
At some point during a home invasion, you may come face-to-face with the threat invading your home. Your plan must take into account the following options:
- Hunker down and stay silent. This plan allows for maximum surprise against an intruder because the attacker will not know your position. It could also give law enforcement time to arrive and catch the intruder in the act without you putting yourself at risk. However, if the intruder unknowingly enters where you are hiding, there may be an explosive confrontation.
- Hunker down and be vocal. This plan has the disadvantage of allowing the intruder to know where you are, but presents the immediate deterrent of a homeowner with a gun.
- Confront the threat. This action will force the intruder’s hand, and may be required if there are other family members in the house. However, it is also most often the most dangerous approach.
If you must confront a threat, confront it from a position of maximum tactical advantage. Individuals should not attempt to clear rooms or break cover unless absolutely necessary. You must be mentally prepared to confront the intruder(s), and know that such an outcome could mean getting injured or killed.
For example, let’s say you yell at or engage the threat from a position of cover. Then that threat retreats into another room. Should you pursue?
If you choose to do so, you are now giving up your cover, your surprise, and you will be entering a room with a threat in an unknown location. Individuals should absolutely not attempt to clear rooms unless absolutely necessary.
However the situation plays out, you must be mentally prepared to confront the intruder(s), and that such an outcome could mean getting attacked.
There are three principles you should keep in mind if you choose to initiate a confrontation:
- Surprise: As the defender, you may have an element of surprise, which can be used to put yourself in a more advantageous position.
- Speed: Action is always faster than reaction, and seconds matter in a gunfight.
- Violence of action: Control the situation, be aggressive, do not show fear or weakness, and if you’re going to use force, commit to using force. This factors into having “command presence” as well. Give affirmative directions and make them believe in the consequences for resisting.
Practice your Plan
Once you’ve created a plan, it’s time to train with your family. This simple exercise should be the same type of drill which you might practice for a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a fire.
You can come up with some basic scenarios and practice giving clear and concise orders to your family. Help them know what to do immediately, and whether they should run, hide, or fight. Train for different conditions, such as at night when everyone is asleep, or when only one parent might be home. Teach your children how to identify strange noises in the night, and how they should alert you.
This plan does not have to be comprehensive. It can consist of some basic guidelines for the proper way to react based on your lifestyle and living situation.
After a Self-Defense Shooting
If you have shot and killed or injured your intruder, or have sustained injuries yourself, you may be in a state of shock.
Unfortunately, the battle to prove that you acted in self-defense begins at this very moment.
Before anything else, you should call 911 if you have not done so already.
Give the dispatcher your name, address, a physical description of yourself and your family, a brief explanation of what happened. Say something to the effect of, “I was in fear for my life and forced to defend myself. Please send police and an ambulance.” Do not give unnecessary details.
They will want to keep you on the line, and you should stay on the line so you know when police arrive. However, they will keep asking you questions, to which a response might be, “I intend to fully cooperate, but I’ll need some time to calm down before I answer any more questions.”
When law enforcement arrives, you should immediately drop your weapon and be prepared to clearly communicate. If a police officer is called to the scene of an armed robbery, the officer will likely have his weapon drawn. You will likely be handcuffed. Fully comply with law enforcement commands.
Cooperate with police, but request some time to calm down and speak with your attorney prior to giving any statements. Due to the auditory exclusion, time dilation, temporary memory loss, and tunnel vision associated with a violent encounter, your immediate memory may be shaky.
You do not want to give the police reason to question your credibility by giving inconsistent answers, or by being contradicted by any audio or video recording of the incident. Even statements given in good faith may be misconstrued, so prepare yourself properly before going on record.
Training is the best preparation
Home invasions are fluid situations, and in spite of whatever plan you devise to resist one, it’s said that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
If you own a firearm for home defense, it is vitally important that you train with it to develop the proper skills under stress. This includes live-fire techniques on the range, and decision-making and tactics within a real-world force-on-force environment.
At Threat Scenarios, we simulate hostile encounters in a controlled environment under the watchful guidance of an instructor. We will put your plan to the test against live role-players so that you can learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Most of all we will test your judgment and decision-making process under realistic stress.
Your experience with us will bring you as close to a real-world encounter as possible so that you can continue to train your successes and learn from your failures.
Train to be prepared.