Suppose you arrive home and notice your door ajar. You might even hear noises inside, or – God forbid, the screams of a loved one who’s been taken hostage or is being harmed by the bad guys. Do you grab your gun and go looking for the criminals, or do you retreat to safety and call 9-1-1?
Kathy Jackson had a great post about the subject of house clearing over at the Cornered Cat blog today. Although I’ve written here before about the limits of our training as armed citizens, and about why we shouldn’t go looking for intruders on our own if we can at all help it, I wanted to revisit the subject in light of Kathy’s post.
Kathy wrote, in part:
The idea of staying out of unnecessary danger didn’t sit well with the tactical crowd. Many wanted to immediately rush in and “clear the house,” playing hide-n-seek with a potential intruder. Some people feel that calling the authorities would mean they were too wimpy to take care of their own homes, and many didn’t (and don’t) realize they could literally die of embarrassment if they let their fear of social awkwardness dictate their actions.
You should definitely visit her post, which includes a great description of how the police respond to a 9-1-1 call for possible intruders in a home – and why an armed citizen shouldn’t attempt alone what the professionals do with special training, equipment, and backup. I want to talk about the subject from a different direction, and discuss why trying to clear your house by yourself may be a bad idea in that light.
Back to our imaginary scenario. Your front door is ajar. You hear noises inside, then maybe a scream. To understand why I think there’s rarely if ever a good argument for trying to “clear the house” on your own, let’s talk a bit about mission.
A cop’s mission is to investigate crimes (usually after they’ve occurred) and apprehend bad guys. They train extensively to complete that mission, which requires them on a daily basis to advance toward danger. To mitigate the risks of that danger, cops can call upon radio-equipped backup units to assist. They have body armor and often lots of firepower, and they even have useful tools (like night-vision goggles and FLIR cameras) to help them find the bad guys inside a residence or office. These technological tools are nice, but the primary strength cops have in a barricade situation is the ability to marshall a coordinated response by multiple armed officers. And despite all those technical and human resources, cops are still killed in the line of duty – an average of 55 or so every year.
A soldier hunting insurgents in a battle-torn city has a similar mission: To apprehend or kill the insurgents. Their mission also involves advancing toward danger. They have great tools to help them find, contain, capture and kill the bad guys. They have extremely effective body armor, enormous firepower (including air support) and all manner of technology. They have outstanding training, and the ability to call for backup and to coordinate action with other soldiers. And despite this, thousands of our troops have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What about the private armed citizen? Our mission is different. Our job isn’t to advance toward danger or to go looking for trouble. Quite the contrary, our primary mission is to get ourselves from a place of danger to a place of safety, and our secondary mission is to safeguard our loved ones. I divide things that way because, bluntly, you can’t safeguard your loved ones if you get yourself killed or incapacitated in the process. You have to assure your own safety before you can help others.
Viewed from that vantage point, what do we gain by going into the house after an unknown number of barricaded assailants? We give up a place of safety, and there’s no guarantee we get anything in return. Suppose for a moment that the bad guys are attacking your wife or husband, or one of your children. What happens when you draw your weapon and go through that door?
Well, maybe you can heroically kill the criminals and save your loved ones, like you do with the cardboard bad guys on the IDPA stage. But, maybe the bad guy who’s hiding behind the couch in your living room puts two bullets into the side of your head the second you cross the threshold, and then steps over your body to join his friends in the assault. Harsh, but all too plausible. What have you accomplished then besides simply adding one to the body count?
Look, it would be absolutely horrible to be outside your house, waiting for the police and listening to a loved one’s screams inside. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be, and I hope to god never to be in that situation. But self-defense isn’t about the romantic notion of being an action-movie hero or heroine. The real world is a harsh, unforgiving, messy place when it comes to violence. Good people don’t always prevail, and the good guys don’t get to wipe off the fake blood and go out to dinner when the cameras stop rolling. As noble as saving your family might be, there’s no nobility in dying senselessly, and there’s no nobility in handing the bad guys another victim.
There might be a case where a private armed citizen would want to try to clear a house solo, but I just can’t think of one. If I was already in a place of safety and there were intruders in my house, I’d secure any loved ones I could reach without jeopardizing myself, and then I’d assume a barricade position someplace defensible and call the cops. With superior numbers, training and equipment, they stand a shot at clearing the structure and getting out alive. One armed citizen against an unknown number of potentially armed criminals doesn’t stand a chance.