Thursday, June 6, 2019

When Things Go Bump In The Night

       Grant Cunningham contends that while firearms and self-defense instructors have worked hard at training students to draw quickly and shoot fast and accurate, too little effort has gone to the issue of when it is appropriate to shoot. He continues:
      Let’s take home defense (which is, more appropriately, the defense of people inside of the home). Many people have mistaken assumptions about what they would (or should) do if they find an intruder inside their house. They may even keep a loaded firearm within easy reach when they’re asleep, so they can respond quickly when they hear that “bump in the night”.

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      The reality is that the sound you heard is most likely not an intruder, and grabbing the gun the instant you wake up is a good way to end up with a negligent shooting. This is why I counsel my students to grab the flashlight first and to positively identify the need for the gun before laying hands on it.
He also cites to this 2018 article from Claude Werner (the Tactical Professor) on "The odds and stakes of home protection." Essentially, Werner is concerned about people failing to identify or that mis-identify targets, shooting a loved one or other innocent person. He notes, for instance, that "[o]n average, my research indicates that someone mistakenly shoots their spouse, child, or other innocent person in their home every single week in the United States." His solution? "Two words, 'Who’s there?' and a flashlight would go a long way to prevent these tragedies."

      While Werner concentrates primarily on the identification of the target, he raises the issue of a defender having the attitude of "I'll shoot anyone I find in my home." That is, an automatic, predetermined plan to shoot any intruder.  I came across an article just a couple weeks ago of a man--a father--who had done just that, and wound up killing his own daughter who was trying to enter his home to deliver food.

       Greg Ellifritz also addressed this issue recently. In his article, "Shooting Through Doors and Walls," he similarly argues against shooting without first challenging an intruder and identifying the intruder. Similar to Werner, Ellifritz advises:
      If you can’t identify your target, you shouldn’t shoot.  It’s that simple.  One of the basic four rules of firearms safety is “Know your target and what’s beyond”.  Have we forgotten this simple lesson?
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     [Y]ou should develop a clear challenge protocol.  Yelling out a simple “Who’s there?” works fine.

     The intruder is far more likely to be a family member than a ninja coming to assassinate you in your sleep.  Any family member will likely call out when you voice your question.  Tragedy averted.
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     If you call out and don’t get a response or the response isn’t what you expect, you need a second challenge: “I have a gun and have called the police.  Get out of my house right now.”

      Gather your family in your designated safe room and call police.  Let them find the intruder(s).
He also observes: "You can always escalate, but you can’t bring that fired bullet back."

       How much identification do you need? My reading of Werner and Ellifritz's articles are that they are recommending shining a light (this is supposed to be at night) on a potential intruder so that you can clearly see and identify the intruder, or, at least, verify that the intruder is not a loved one, friend, or other innocent, but is a threat. Gabe Suarez, on the other hand (if I have read him thoughts correctly), suggests that the degree by which you need to see the target for identification is exaggerated by some trainers. He argues:
      The figure in your house that is definitively not a member of your family...silhouetted in the moonlight, moving uninvited through your house is bought, paid for, and gift-wrapped.  There is no need to identify him any further - as a point of fact, he has been identified already has he not?  Yes he has.  "Not invited", and "Not a member of your family" are pretty clear.  You are not doing the cop thing of searching another man;s house for a 'suspect" of a crime and unclear about what or whom you will find.  Your home is pretty clear as is who belongs there after dark.

      When you have enough to identify as not invited and not a member of the household, you really do have enough...except maybe in Maryland or some such place.  Keep the light off and your mouth closed and press the trigger.
In a separate article, he elaborates:
      In the military context one could say, "those not dressed like you".  Similar in application for home defense.  The man and wife who live alone...only two of them in the home, seeing a large shadow looming in the doorway.  The shadow is a "THEM" not an "US".  Certainly they could seek more information, shine a light on the matter as it were, but to what end?  The US is far more important than the THEM.

      The mom with the three kids hiding in the bed room knows the large shadow in the doorway is not an "US".  To cause her to second guess herself at this moment is irresponsible.  I know...I know...I hear the critics telling me it could be a drunken neighbor, or a friend playing a prank. Funny how I do not recall, nor do my associates, ever having a drunken neighbor suddenly appear in our homes...nor would we play a prank of that nature on one another. ...

      I have always locked my doors to keep the errant drunken neighbor away.  If your neighborhood is rife with drunken neighbors prowling in the wee hours, I suggest you do likewise and lock your doors rather than plan on illuminating him in the hallway. ... 
      Something else I see still these days, even in the era of jihadist and urban terrorism, among the other usual threats, is a desire by some trainers to want to minimize the adversary.  "You won't have a squad of ninjas coming at you", they say with a hearty belly laugh..."It will be some teenage beatnik". It is almost as if they are channeling Joe Biden's advice of home defense.  You know...for every teenage beatnik burglar, I can give examples of three armed home invaders who could at a glance be identified, even in a darkened home by their movements, actions and the process of elimination.

      Look again at the two shadows.  Look hard.  You are at night...and your wife is at home with your two infant daughters.  Do you really want her to challenge the shadow that has forced entry into your home?  To illuminate him with a flashlight in case it is your drunk friend that decided to break into your home late at night while you were away?  Really? 

      I do not...I think her and the family are far more important than welfare of "the shadow" for her to second guess and try to rationalize avoiding the necessary steps.  She is cleared to fire...and quite justified as well.

      Nothing is free kids.  Your life and your family's life are far more important than the life of the bad guy shadow moving down the hallway towards you. 

     Target identification is relative and not absolute.  Once you have enough, waiting for more is a tactical blunder.
      I have no doubt that you could, in many instances, spy an intruder just from the light pollution in or about our homes. (Although Jon Low has reported, in fading light, losing the ability to identify his target before losing the ability to make out his sights). Light from street lamps, porch lights, etc., intrude from outside, while, at least in my home, the multitude of electronic devices ensures multiple sources of light from various power or charging indicators inside the home. The question is whether you can be reasonably sure that the outline or shadow is someone not supposed to be in your home.

       My household includes my children (well, offspring, since I guess they are too old to be considered children), my spouse, and several pets. Thus, my presumption is that if something wakes me up it is due to one of them, and if I think some investigation is warranted, I'll take a flashlight that I keep next to my bed and investigate. I have an alarm system, a dog, and good locks on my doors, so it is not an unreasonable presumption. Besides, my sons are grown enough that I can't assume that the hulking silhouette I see is an intruder, and the Good Lord knows that they often stay up late playing video games or watching videos.

       But, as I've written before, this is a situation where you have to weigh speed versus safety. In some cases, such as the door being kicked in, it may be enough to identify that the person kicking in the door is a threat without having to get enough light on the subject that you could later give a detailed description. But you also don't want to shoot someone in your household who is sneaking in late, bumbling around in the dark after using the toilet, or the drunk neighbor that happened to stumble up to the wrong door.

      I have not had an incident of a "bump in the night" noise inside my home that made me think I needed a firearm, but noises outside are treated differently. If I am investigating outside my house, I will generally take a firearm with me as I investigate. In that case, I will unobtrusively carry a handgun, either in my hand with my arm at my side or in a pocket with my hand on it, and a flashlight in my other hand. Since it is most likely a cat or raccoon that has caused a ruckus, I don't want a neighbor to, by chance, see me walking around in my yard with a firearm out and call the police. If you live in a rural area, you may want to carry a shotgun or rifle for poking around your curtilage or barn yard given the lower chance of a neighbor spying you and because you may be dealing with a predator attacking livestock or having to shoot at a greater distance. For me, though, living in a boring neighborhood, I prefer the discretion of the handgun.

      But here I am wondering off the topic, which is identifying a possible intruder. Besides a verbal challenge, there is the issue of lights. While everyone loves the latest and greatest 1000 or 1500 lumen flashlights, I think they are overkill inside a typical residence. There is so much light reflected back from various surfaces that the high lumen lights can be blinding to the user. I have a 500 lumen light mounted to my "someone is kicking down the door" gun that I think is too bright, even, for inside my house, but am comfortable with an older (and dimmer) Surefire I keep by my bed. You should experiment to see what works best for you.

       Here is a good video that provides an overview of several flashlight techniques:

      Something that gets overlooked many times, however, is the simple expediency of turning on houselights or outside lights. Massad Ayoob, in his book, "The Truth About Self Protection," describes having rewired his house so that he can control various lights in his house from his bed room. I don't know if you have to go that far, but your houselights will give you much better illumination in most cases than a flashlight. I'm fortunate in that I have easy access to light switches as I progress through the house. Whether to flip on the lights will depend on the circumstances. I certainly don't want to blind myself, or backlight myself.

      Of course, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. On one occasion, my wife and I had a late-night (early morning?) call from her mother who was very distraught, but we couldn't determine what was the matter. We live nearby and my wife had keys to her parents' house, so we quickly drove over and entered the house. I knew that my father-in-law had firearms, so I was very careful to announce who I was when I entered and calling out to my in-laws. (It turned out to be a case of a bad dream and disorientation of my wife's elderly mother). But just something to keep in mind: you may be the person entering a relative's house in the dead of the night.

     In addition to a flashlight, whatever firearm you use as your "bump in the night" gun probably should also have night sights. If that time comes that you need to use your weapon, your light may illuminate the target, but that doesn't mean that you will be able to see your sights; and maybe you will have enough ambient light to see your target without a flashlight, but not enough to clearly see your sights. (Tom Givens, who keeps tracks of his students' deadly force encounters, has stated that of all of the incidents involving his students, none of them needed a flashlight). An illuminated sight, whether electronic or tritium, could mean the difference between a solid hit and an ineffective or miss. The author of this December 2012 Pistol Training article suggested an exercise to determine whether you need a night sight:
       I recommend a pretty straightforward experiment to evaluate this yourself. First, take the slide off your pistol. Now walk around your house with it, holding it where you would if you were shooting. Aim at objects everywhere: out in the open, in corners, in nooks and crannies. Go from room to room just like you normally would. Don’t turn lights on or off, just leave them as they are normally. Try to get a real shootable sight picture like you literally had to make a hit, just like in real life. If you can, try to do it during daylight, at dusk, and at night. You’ll quickly see that there’s a tremendous range of lighting conditions. Sometimes you and the target will be in the same light. Sometimes the target will be lit but you (and your gun) are in shadow. Sometimes the opposite will be the case.

      Odds are you’ll come to two conclusions. First, sometimes, night sights aren’t enough. Second, sometimes, night sights (front and rear) are the difference between being able to aim and not. 
I hope this article gives you some new information, or at least something to think about. I also hope that demonstrates that identifying and reacting to "bumps in the night" involves the interaction of interrelated factors, equipment and techniques.


  1. I keep dogs in the house. The dogs will tell me if the noise of someone moving about is family or intruder. No barking or growling no worry.

    1. Scientists speculate that dogs were first domesticated for their meat, but I suspect that their ability to warn was a prime feature. Man's best friend and all that.

  2. There is a cheaper solution than rewiring your house. You can buy a remote gizmo for wall plugs. Strategically placed, they will provide adequate light for identification without exposing yourself.

    1. Good idea. Any particular brands you recommend?