A few years ago at an IDPA match, the chief range officer read off the scenario description of one stage for our shooting squad: “You are at your grill in your backyard barbecuing when a group of home invaders attacks.” One member of our squad scoffed and said, “Who the hell would have a gun on them at their own backyard barbecue?”
I was there with my significant other and a couple we regularly shot with. The four of us looked at each other and smiled because we would all have given the same answer: “Every damn one of us.” All four of us are constantly carrying a gun at home.
This topic often comes up in gun forums online. When it does, those who carry guns at home are invariably castigated with statements like, “I don’t live someplace where I need to wear a gun at home, and if I did, I’d move!” We can expect that to be a feeling shared by much of the jury pool. After all, constitutes the general public. Therefore, we can also expect it to be something the prosecution would play upon if we faced politically motivated charges after a home-defense shooting, and something the plaintiff’s counsel could be expected to harp on if we were sued over the same thing by the family of the deceased.
The best defense would be to clearly, lucidly explain why we had that gun on in the first place. The following eight cases illustrate why carrying a gun at home is sensible and, arguably, necessary.
Tragedy Because of not Carrying a Gun at Home
Case One takes us to Kansas. In 1959, two vicious ex-cons named Perry Smith and Richard Hickock simply walked into the family home of farmer Herb Clutter in Holcomb, Kan. Clutter, his wife and their two teenaged daughters were methodically murdered execution-style with shotgun blasts to their heads — after Herb’s throat had been slashed. Smith later confessed, “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” This highly publicized incident was the core of Truman Capote’s best-selling book In Cold Blood, which was followed by a movie of the same title.
The killers had entered armed. Their subsequent confessions indicated that there were many points in the ordeal when they had dropped their guard and could have been neutralized by one or more members of the victimized family — if those victims had been able to quickly access a firearm. While we may presume that there were firearms present inside this Midwestern farmhouse, apparently none were within reach of the victims. All of them died helpless. Hickock and Smith were later executed for their hideous crimes.
It should be noted that these two psychopaths were also strongly suspected of the murder of the Walker family in Osprey, Fla., under similar circumstances, in which a young mother was raped and killed, and her husband and two small children were also murdered during the home invasion. In that case, neither of the adult victims was able to access a defensive weapon.
Case Three took place in Cheshire, Conn., on a quiet afternoon in 2007. Armed with a realistic-looking pellet gun and a baseball bat, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes invaded the upscale home of Dr. William Petit. The doctor was savagely bludgeoned and then tied up. The intruders also raped his wife and strangled her to death. Then, they sexually assaulted one of his daughters and then set fire to the house, killing both daughters. Only Dr. Petit managed to escape alive. Though convicted and sentenced to death, the attackers’ sentences were commuted to life in prison when Connecticut abolished capital punishment.
In these three atrocities, the toll was three rapes and nearly a dozen murders. Impartial analysis indicates that if any of the adult victims present had been simply carrying a gun, there is a strong chance that they could have turned the tables on their attackers and saved themselves and their loved ones. Sadly, none were armed, and all died helpless.
When a safety procedure that has not been widely adopted is suggested, there will always be people who say pompously, “That’s ridiculous!” Why? Simply because they haven’t done it that way before. We’ve seen it in resistance to the concept of arming teachers to protect students against mass murderers in schools. We see it also in the context of the home-carry discussion. We hear, “It’s ludicrous to carry a gun when you’re taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn!” But is it really ludicrous? When that topic comes up, I always think of the following three incidents.
This incident occurred on the West Coast. An off-duty law enforcement officer was shot to death on his front lawn while mowing. A car full of gangbangers pulled up and opened fire on him, apparently because he’d been active in arresting members of their gang. The officer was unarmed. Caught helpless and exposed, he died on the front lawn of his home.
An off-duty NYPD officer who had won major police shooting championships wasn’t carrying a gun the day he took a garbage can out to the sidewalk and saw two punks mugging a woman on the street. He ran to the scene and engaged them, but they were armed with metal pipes. The officer heroically managed to overpower and subdue both of the assailants. However, blows from their pipes smashed at least one of his hands so badly that he had to retire. He never won a shooting match again.
Another NYPD officer was taking out the garbage, but this one always wore a 2-inch-barreled Smith & Wesson J-Frame in .38 Special whenever he had his pants on. Before he could drop the garbage off, he became aware of a domestic dispute next door, which quickly escalated. Drawing his gun, he took control of the matter and emerged unscathed. He had, you might say, taken care of the garbage twice in the same trip. The presence of a firearm made the difference.
Carrying a Gun at Home Keeps it Always Within Reach
Isn’t it enough to have a gun somewhere in the house, perhaps loaded in a quick-opening lock box? Maybe, but maybe not. It all depends on the circumstances. If there’s an unexpected knock on the door, are you going to retrieve a gun before answering it? And if things go downhill fast — as so many home invasions do — will you be able to reach it in time?
The next case occurred in California. A 90-year-old WWII vet and retired sheriff’s deputy found himself confronting an armed home invader. Not wearing a gun on him, he told the criminal he had to go to the bathroom or lose control of his bowels. There he was able to access a .38 Special. He engaged the gunman and was shot once. However, he managed to put three bullets into his antagonist, winning the gunfight. He prevailed, but one wonders if he might have been able to take control earlier and survive without being wounded at all if he’d had the gun on his person at the beginning of the encounter.
The last case also took place in California. A mid-40s couple was at home with their 20-something daughter and their young granddaughter when an unexpected knock came at the front door. The husband went to get one of his 30 handguns, but this allowed his wife to get to the door before him. As the husband came up behind her, the home invader shot his wife in the head, killing her instantly. The husband emptied his .45 into the murderer, who fell, mortally wounded.
His killing of the killer was, of course, ruled justifiable. But he would forever ask himself whether his wife might still be alive if the gun had been on his person and he had reached the door before she did.
The people I’ve mentioned here had no serious problems in court. There were reports that the severely shot-up home invader in Case Seven tried to sue the nonagenarian homeowner, but I’d expect that to be laughed out of court. If opposing counsel suggests that you were paranoid for defending yourself with a gun you wore at home, I suggest you flash back to a dialogue I read many years ago in a magazine. The anti-self-defense guy said sarcastically, “What makes you think someone is going to jump out of the bushes at you?” The pro-self-defense guy’s answer was a knockout punch that ended the argument: “Because someone did jump out of the bushes at me!” And that’s why you should always be carrying a gun at home.
This article was originally published in Combat Handguns May/June 2019. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.