Ep. 33 Should I Shoot? The Late Night Prowler

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Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Ed Combs, the Associate Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine.  

Check out the last five episodes in this series:

“Should I Shoot?” is a question you never want to have to ask when it’s another human in your sights. That aside, those of us who carry concealed make it our business to be ready to defend our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and sometimes “Should I Shoot?” is a question that needs to be answered immediately.

After the recent car-and-knife attack at Ohio State, there was an online meme going around of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones shoots a scimitar-swinging bad guy. It’s a pretty cut-and-dried example of what cops used to call a “good shoot” back before cages in squad cars and polymer frames: Bad Guy clearly presents himself and makes his intentions known, Bad Guy has a weapon and begins to close with Good Guy, Good Guy shoots and ends the threat Bad Guy presented.

I don’t know about you, but scimitars aren’t seen too often in my parts (at least not yet). The question of whether to employ deadly force is usually a lot less Hollywood.

Let’s say you’re asleep in the middle of tomorrow night and you wake to the sound of your locked front doorknob rattling. After you realize that, yes, that is your locked front doorknob rattling, you secure a firearm and a powerful flashlight before calling 911. As you confirm that everyone’s accounted for, you tell the operator that someone is trying to get into your house and that, no, you are not expecting any visitors. Everyone who’s supposed to be in the house is already there and, yes, you’ve personally confirmed that. No, you do not intend to go investigate and, yes, you will wait for law enforcement to arrive unless whoever it is comes to you.

Then you hear the doorjamb break, followed by erratic, heavy footsteps in the entryway. You’re frightened but kind of relieved to realize that your hearing’s become more acute than you can ever remember it to be; you can hear a piece of the broken doorjamb snap it off as it’s snagged on something. You can hear giggling and what sounds like both a male and a female voice. You can hear a shoe hit your floor as if it was dropped, and you can hear someone clumsily trying to shut your now-broken front door. Without realizing it, your training’s kicked in: you’ve dropped your phone on the bed, you’ve moved away from the line of your bedroom door and you’re now standing in an offensive posture with your light and weapon at low ready.

You hear additional footsteps coming toward your bedroom door and now your vision has caught up with your hearing: Even in the low light of your darkened bedroom, you can see the doorknob begin to turn.

“Should I shoot?”

Such a circumstance brings into tight focus what is popularly known as “Castle Doctrine” law. You are in your residence, you are minding your own business and someone breaks in. You, as the legal resident, are allowed the legal leeway to simply assume that this invader intends to harm you and defend yourself accordingly.

Should you shoot?

Now we’re back to all of that difficult decision-making … that difficult decision-making that has to happen within the next quarter-second. Let’s look at what we know.

Most burglars usually enter residences in the middle of the day, when they have the highest chance of finding the place deserted. Actual burglars don’t want anything to do with anyone.

Most home invaders are usually either silent or dynamic in their entries. They usually either sneak in and have you overwhelmed before waking you or they smash in like a natural gas explosion and overcome the residents with violence of action.

What you heard was neither of those things.

Should you shoot?

Well, let’s remember what we need in 99.99 percent of combat shooting: target identification, target verification, and target isolation.

On the one hand, you have identified a verified, isolated target: someone who isn’t supposed to be in your residence that kicked in your front door and is now turning the knob on your bedroom door. Plenty of you have already clicked this window closed; you’ve basically said, “The knob starts moving, so I shoot. What would you expect me to do? Whoever it is shouldn’t have been in my house.”

Well, maybe.

On the other hand, angry as you might be about the brazen violation of your personal security, personal safety and the sanctity of your home, I come from what most folks would call a “big-time drinkin’ state” (and, depending on the time of year, so do you).

You heard the locked doorknob rattle, you heard the door break and then you heard … laughter. You heard a shoe come off.

At least one person in my high school class broke into his parents’ home in a rather spectacular fashion while extremely intoxicated. A few years ago, one acquaintance of mine was placed in the county detox facility after walking through the plate-glass front of a hotel in a fashion that was described as, “Like the liquid metal guy in Terminator 2.” On more than one occasion, I’ve gone to the wrong hotel room and tried to get in, and that was just from extreme travel fatigue.

Do home invaders take their shoes off?

Sometimes.

Should you shoot?

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • rt66paul December 16, 2016, 3:36 pm

    Sadly, this could be your daughter’s boyfriend, who is just trying to get away so she doesn’t get in trouble. Many kids do not realize what they are doing, they just go for the moment. Shoot to wound, is another stupid idea, because if it really is a bad guy, he could shoot you and then torture the rest of your family.
    Yes, I want to know who, what, why before I have to pull the trigger, but if you feel you are in danger and in the right, you may feel you have to shoot.
    I will try NOT to lose any sleep over it as long as you do the same.

  • Bob Walters December 16, 2016, 2:25 pm

    If you managed to break into my home via the double locked, dead bolted, alarmed door. The next sound will be my 44 going off. You can play the WHAT IF game all day, but a forced entry into a home results in justified deadly force. Being sued by family members for the loss of their love ones is pure B.S. If you love your drunk home invader so much, get them help, keep them at your home and out of mine.

  • Captain D December 16, 2016, 1:35 pm

    One can only imagine in a break-in situation that your heart will be pounding up through your throat and head like you just ran a 100 yard dash in under 9 seconds. While expecting the intruder will be armed and the worst is about to happen! With that in your mind you must still stay in mental control and focused. This is where proper and effective training and a rehearsed game plan kicks in automatically and you know exactly what you’re going to do. Retreat and do not use deadly force unless all other options have been implemented and exhausted. If you shoot before confirming the threat, it may be a moment you wished you could take back for the rest of your life. That is in addition to the possibility of spending the rest of your life behind bars – and not the one’s that serve drinks…. So another short story; A woman is home alone, it’s late, she just turned off the TV after watching a very scary movie. As she is getting ready for bed in her master bath at the back of her house she hears someone at her side door trying to break in. Already creep’d out by the scary movie, now someone is trying to force entry into her home. She is so scared she is losing her mental focus and control. She arms herself, enters the dark hallway that leads to the dark side door and without saying a word unloads all six .45 rounds from her revolver through the door killing the ‘potential’ intruder. Only to find out seconds later that the person trying to get into her house was her intoxicated brother. He didn’t want to drive drunk so instead of going home he took the short cab ride to his sisters house to crash there for the night. Apparently in his drunken stupor he didn’t want to wake his sister and was attempting to get in without a key by breaking the little window in the door so he could reach in and unlock it. Had ‘she’ just simply yelled out that she was armed and he responded she would have realized it was just her drunk brother. Moral is training, planning and preparation to minimize dumb mistakes that may cause you a lifetime of misery much less financial disaster. Training, planning, be prepared so if the situation ever arises you are 100% ready even if half asleep.

  • LJ December 16, 2016, 12:42 pm

    My grandfather had a similar incident happen to him back in the early seventies while living in a duplex. His very young neighbor, that he never met due to conflicting work schedules, staggered home after a late night of heavy drinking and being extremely intoxicated couldn’t get his key to work in the lock.

    Not realizing he was at the wrong duplex unit he pried off a screen on an open window in the front room and climbed in. Hearing his drunken intruder fall on the floor my granddad jumped up out of the bed and grabbed a Lee Enfield he kept loaded in his closet. As granddad rounded the corner he chambered a round in the .303 and it scared the young man so bad he defecated in his pants.

    Granddad said he had already taken the safety off and started pulling the trigger when the young knucklehead screamed and pleaded for his life. After holding him at gunpoint while waiting on the police to arrive he realized how lucky the kid was and how lucky he was for not taking a human life when it wasn’t necessary.

    It was a stupid mistake – but an honest one. I’m sure the kid was forever grateful to God for not losing his life that night.

    Point being – think – before you take a life, even if you’re in the right. but don’t loose YOUR life while doing it! Protect yourself and your family!

  • flintman50 December 16, 2016, 11:45 am

    This is a tough one….you are all spot on. The best offense is a good defense…as counter intuitive as it may seem, you should retreat, assuming you and loved ones are together, as far as possible from the bad guy. Put as many “barriers” as you can between you and them. Make noise and statements, ie “I am armed – leave now”. So many mitigating circumstances,…..If the perp you shot turns out to be a 17 yr old punk looking to steal your game system, you’re in for some tough times,,,,If the perp is a hardened scum bag with a history, it won’t be as bad. Castle doctrine aside, if you shoot and the result is a fatality, you have assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner. The Law frowns on that. All these actions build a case in your favor when the SHTF. In our litigious society, figure the bad guy’s relatives will sue, You will have to hire a lawyer, but you and the family are alive……

  • Monica December 16, 2016, 11:05 am

    I am female and live alone, I have no family members nearby.
    That said, these intruders would have been shot by me, shoeless or drunk. regardless.

  • KimberproSS December 16, 2016, 10:15 am

    Crash, slam, step, step, step, turn, rattle, rattle, Boom..

  • Richard December 16, 2016, 10:04 am

    This happened to a good buddy of mine. About 1 in the morning he heard someone get his front door open. He got his gun, a flashlight, and his wife dialed 911. My buddy peaked out of his bedroom door and a guy was standing in the hall admiring the pictures on the wall. My buddy yelled at him and the guy turned around and stared at him. He was as drunk as someone could be and still stand up., he & his wife had just moved to our small town in Louisiana from New York and had been staying with his siter who lived exactly 1 block behind my buddy’s house. When the police arrived, the guy’s wife was with them. She had called the police earlier because her husband hadn’t come home after work and they were out searching for him. The guy came by my friend’s house the next afternoon to apologize to him and thank him for not shooting him. He said he just got lost and thought this was the right house.

  • Mike Hrenko December 16, 2016, 8:44 am

    You should be in a position the guy in the picture above is, with flashlight ready to light them up; at this point, I would definitely shout a warning to the intruder, they haven’t made it to the closed door and the phone is still in contact with 911, so having a warning recorded would be the best thing to have as your defense. Keep shouting and warning, but when the door opens, blind them with the light, that will be the split second you need to identify your target and proceed from there.

  • Steve December 16, 2016, 8:10 am

    Warning shots and warning shouts give away that (a) you are in the house and (b) roughly your location. You thus lose, forever (and seconds can seem like forever), the element of surprise. If possible, I would play a waiting game, gathering information until the invaders presented themselves or I needed to start moving toward them. (I would probably be in motion already, trying to get to the most tactically advantageous position possible, without being seen.) Overall, I think that in the case of home invasion you need to be biased toward shooting first and asking questions later. You are likely to know if your family situation is one where it could be possible that one member could be drunk and breaking in. (In my family, which consists of a wife, a brother in an assisted-living place 1,000 miles away, and two dogs, that would never happen.)

  • Brad December 16, 2016, 7:45 am

    If my family is 100% accounted for and someone just used force to enter my residence, I’m not waiting to figure out their intentions or state of intoxication. Not worth the possible injury or death to a family member or myself because someone else might not be able to handle their alcohol or drugs. Hate it for you, but stupid hurts and can be fatal. (would be a legal shoot here, castle doctrine state)

    • Vince December 16, 2016, 11:25 am

      Drunks have brothers sons wives, dont kill them if it is not life threatening, help them home, determine their intent before you shoot a harmless drunk. If it was one of my loved ones, and you needlessly killed them, you have a serious problem. Help them and i will buy you a new door. Believe me you would have a hard time living with a legal but morally wrong shoot.

  • AL-G December 16, 2016, 5:13 am

    If everyone in your home is accounted for, I’d fire a warning shot. If the burglar runs off I’d call the police but if he stays… He’s a dead man!

    • Bob Peck January 20, 2017, 11:20 am

      How in the hell can you fire a warning shot safely in your home AL-G??? By firing your so-called warning shot you may just have killed your neighbor asleep in his or her bed next door to you. You obviously have no clue about gun safety and really have no business owning a firearm. Remember that little gun safety rule about being sure of your target and what’s beyond it?? Take some classes pal!!

  • Will Drider December 10, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Maybe the drunks that broke in think YOU are the one that is illegally in their house and attack? There is not a lot of cognitive reasoning going on if they break into “their own house”. They are a threat of some level until their not and the situation is contained and controlled.

    The “Should I Shoot?” Is actually a equation calculating circumstance totality. There is a difference between preperation and premeditation. We are in default mode to No until the threat triggers a Yes response. We can’t predict exact circumstances but others will apply specifics (some may be unknown to you during the event) and judge after the fact.

  • Gary Kuyat December 10, 2016, 1:28 am

    Seems like the right thing here is to get good cover and announce that “you are in the wrong house – get the F* out”. Anything but compliance indicates that there is real danger. By this time my dog is going nuts if these folks are strangers. There is no way I would let strangers enter my bedroom after kicking in the front door – I don’t care how much they were shoeless chuckleheads.

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