If you could up your chances of surviving a violent encounter with minimal financial investment, would you commit to it? Many gun owners are quick to follow social media trends of getting the newest gun and the most Gucci gear, but overlook simple things they can do both in and out of the house to better their personal protection, increase their odds of survival, and help them win on all fronts. Why are these little tweaks so glossed over? That’s easy, they aren’t flashy, don’t garner clicks, and broadcasting them online is often counter-intuitive to what they are hoping to accomplish.
Protecting Yourself Inside the Home
Let’s start with the in-home tweaks, as this is a setting with generally fewer variables outside of our control. I am confident in saying that you as a homeowner should be more familiar with your house than someone potentially trying to invade it. Each home layout is going to be different, so I’m going to use some broad strokes to paint a picture. Take those ideas and figure out how to apply them to your home if you choose to.
First things first, reinforce exterior doors. Doors such as the front (or main) door to the house, for example, can be swapped out to solid core or steel security doors. This makes them heavier, slightly more resistant to being broken (the door itself), and is the first layer of added security. The second step is less costly and will yield an immediate, tangible result. On all hinges and strike panels, replace the screws with 3-inch screws. This allows the screws to bite into the frame beyond the hollow frame of the door, directly into the wood of the house. While this will not prevent break-ins, it will increase the amount of time someone has to spend kicking your door in and even delay people using tools.
This same upgrade can be applied to interior doors, and I suggest doing just that to at least one; figure out a room in your house to turn into a fallback room. This should be a room large enough to contain anyone that lives in your house. In the event of a break-in, an attack, or an event where you need to gather in one place, this is your spot for your family to rally and decide the next course of action. To that end, you will want to secure this room to the best of your ability. Upgrading to a solid-core door is a great idea. Replacing all of the bolts on the strike plate and hinges with 3-inch screws is a must, as again you’ve bought some time. The final upgrade here would be to add a privacy bolt or a deadbolt, to further slow your would-be attacker. These seconds can add up when preparing for a final stand or when exiting through a window.
For my house, it was important for me to have everyone on the second floor when we are asleep. This creates a natural choke point on the stairs for anyone breaking in and allows me to create a defensive position. If someone were to break into my house while we are all asleep, as far as I’m concerned, they can take anything on the ground level they want. Communicating that if they come up the stairs, I am armed and will defend my family is a crucial step, as it illustrates their intent. If you announce that you are armed and will use force to defend yourself or your loved ones, and someone moves to call you on that, it shows that they intend to cause harm, not just rob you. This litmus test for intent is important for you as the defender, as it communicates your need to escalate your level of force. Please understand, that I know laws vary from state to state, so do yourself the service of knowing what is and is not legal for your location. For my home in Nevada, covered by both Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, I would be more than covered in this scenario if I were to use lethal force on someone coming upstairs after repeated warnings that I was armed and would defend myself.
Protecting Yourself Outside the Home
Outside the home there are significantly more variables to account for, so “winning in the streets” is going to come down to managing what you can, being as prepared as you can be, and in the end, at times, getting a little lucky. A little bit of planning, some self-assessment of skills and needs, and a dose of realism will serve as some of the best tools you have access to.
The first thing to remember whether it is inside of the house, or out in the world, is that you win all of the fights you are not in. This is true of any physical encounter but is even more important when you add in force multipliers like knives or firearms. Simply put, if you can avoid an encounter, you are guaranteed to come out ahead because of it. This is not me telling you that running is the best option, but rather not being in that situation, to begin with. One of the best examples I can give is from my time growing up outside of Washington D.C. As a teenager, my friends and I would often go up to the nation’s capital to see concerts, skateboard, and more. It became quickly apparent that there were areas of the city that we stuck out in the worst ways possible, and had no business being there the vast majority of the time. There was a time when three friends and I were dropped off to see a concert in Southeast D.C., and after the show let out, we were approached and questioned by a seemingly hostile person about what we were doing there. Another guy stated we were with him and to let us be, which seemed odd to us as we had never met him, only moments later to hear gunshots as the first guy walked a block down the street and shot two people at a gas station. Had we not been in that area, we would have never been potentially in harm’s way. If you find that you have to go to an area that you know is dangerous, that you believe could lead to issues, have a plan for your time there to minimize your risk.
Do not draw unnecessary attention to yourself. This is sound advice in most scenarios, but doubly so in an environment like I just described. If you have to go into an area that may be unwelcoming, go about your business with purpose, and don’t present yourself as an outsider or tourist. Avoid wearing flashy or expensive items that could make you a target. Some people consider open carrying of a firearm to be a deterrent, I see it as advertising you have a firearm that someone could potentially take. I am much more of an advocate of concealed carrying if it is legal for you, as it minimizes some of the attention you get from those around you, both in terms of making you stand out and in the context of negative perceptions from the general public.
Protecting Your Vehicle From Theft
Another area to keep in mind with regards to drawing attention is your vehicle while you are out about your business. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice reported more than 800,000 counts of motor vehicle theft across the United States. Putting stickers advertising firearms, tactical gear, and other related products paint your vehicle as potentially having those items inside. It’s one thing if you are in your car at all times to defend it, but that isn’t realistic. When you exit your vehicle, you have now made it a billboard for items that many criminals are looking for. There is something to be said for having an unassuming appearance, for both you and your vehicle.
Protecting Yourself From Surrounding Environment
Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of personal security is paying attention to your environment. These days, it is more common to see people walking with their eyes glued to their phones than not. Add in some noise-canceling headphones, and that person has made themselves oblivious to the world around them. While this may be comforting to them, it also makes them an easier target. I’m not going to preach threat levels or how you should keep your head on a swivel, but I will say that you should be receptive to the information the world around you puts out when it applies to your well-being. Scan your peripheral vision for threats, listen for sounds of a situation escalating or the sounds of someone rapidly moving toward you, and occasionally glance around you to see if anything looks out of place. I promise you that doing this will serve you far better than catching another six minutes of whatever youtube video is trending.
Be realistic in your skillset. This is going to mean something different for everyone, but the focus here is on getting back to your home in one piece, without having your quality of life diminished significantly. There are going to be times when you simply cannot avoid trouble, no matter how much planning you have done. We cannot control those around us, so the human element can sometimes introduce events that were not planned, and as a result, we must respond appropriately. Last year I was at a course and was asked how I would respond to an active shooter near me at a shopping mall. I was then asked how my answer would change if the shooter were at the mall but was not near enough to be seen (aka would I go try to hunt the shooter down). I was then asked the same question, but my wife and kids are with me. The last one threw me, as before being a father, I could say with 100% certainty that I would have tried to end the threat. Adding in the element of a family I am now responsible for, my priorities have shifted, and I have to ensure that they are safe and that I am present long after that event has ended.
Too often we have delusions of grandeur and don’t think about the long-term consequences. Going back to the scenario of the active shooter in a mall, let’s say you are armed, you are a single person with no kids, and decide to engage. What are the long-term repercussions of that event? Are you being realistic in your assessment of your skills, or are you trying to take a 50-yard pistol shot under stress (when you haven’t trained that or even tried it, under the most ideal conditions)? If you do take the shot, what are the repercussions of it? Did you hit an innocent bystander that you are now responsible for their wounding or death? Can you be charged criminally? Will there be civil suits against you? Are you prepared for the legal fees associated with the fallout? These questions don’t even factor in the social consequences you might face.
Like it or not, luck can be a factor. Anyone that has done any kind of knife fighting training will tell you that if you get into a knife fight, you will get cut. This isn’t a question of “if”, it is a question of “when and how badly”. The most prepared knife fighter in the world can still be caught by a lucky blow from an opponent and end up dead. The most proficient gunfighter in the world can still be hit by a stray bullet and crippled. Luck can either be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on which side of the coin lands on any given day. The key is to be as prepared as possible to mitigate luck and take it as far out of the equation as possible. This is one reason why training and learning to embrace being uncomfortable are so important.
The point of this article is not to dissuade anyone from defending themselves or those around them. I do, however, want everyone to be realistic in their approach, realistic in their self-assessment, and understand both the risks and outcomes associated with being involved in an event. Do everything in your power to eliminate the variables in an encounter, and make sure that any action you take can be articulated (both in the how and the why). Do everything you can to avoid a fight, but if a fight comes to you anyways, do anything in your power to win on all fronts (if you aren’t cheating in a deadly force encounter, you’re losing). Stay safe out there.