A thoughtful, tactically sound approach to how, when and to whom you open the door to your home is important to a proper home defense strategy. We've seen a variety of incidents that document this principle in different ways.
Below are links to a couple of these types of incidents where homeowners responded to an unexpected late-night knock at the door. The homeowners responded to the knock at the door with a firearm in their hand. In both incidents, the unknown knock came from law enforcement officers. In both incidents, police perceived the armed homeowner as a threat, and shot him.
This is NOT a Question of RIGHTS—
Mistaken by LEOs:
I'm not questioning any homeowners right to open the door armed with a handgun, rifle or anything else. I'm also not interested in determining if the officers made mistakes, could have done something different or were justified in their use of force.
Just like the homeowners in these incidents, you or I can't control the actions of the officers, only our own. Understanding this, we should do everything we can to keep from being mistaken as a threat by law enforcement officers. Having this mind isn't the same as ‘covering for police error,' as some people claim. Instead, it's simply recognizing the variables we control and forming a plan that gives us the best chance to avoid and survive various incidents.
Besides trying to avoid being mistaken as a threat, and getting shot by police, a proper safety plan can help us avoid being involved in a conflict in the first place.
Mistake The Intentions of the Person Outside:
The recent case involving the shooting of Ralph Yarl. Yarl, a 16-year-old kid, mistakenly went to the wrong home to pick up his younger sibling, and knocked on the door. The 84-year-old homeowner opened the door, gun in hand. The homeowner said he believed Yarl was trying to come into his home and said he shot Yarl in self-defense.
It is still early in the investigation, but police arrested the homeowner. Once again, this isn't about the homeowner's legal case. The point is that not only does the homeowner have to live with shooting a kid who really wasn't trying to harm him, but he will spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to stay out of court, and if that doesn't work, even more trying to stay out of what would be for him at his age, a likely life-sentence if convicted of even a lesser charge.
Criminals Using a Ruse:
Often we see criminals pretend to be law enforcement, a delivery driver or sometimes that their car broke down and need to use the phone to trick the homeowner into opening the door. Now here is just a recent incident that has some video to go with it. In this video captured on the home's doorbell camera, we see a criminal use the rouse that he is delivering a package to get the homeowner to open the door.
The suspect tried to force his way into the home, but fortunately, the homeowner responded quickly and pushed him back hard enough to allow him to close the door. The criminal was holding a handgun and, even though the homeowner acted quickly and decisively, the suspect could easily have shot the homeowner and gained access to the home and anyone inside.
Survival is Great, Avoidance is Better—
In this example, the homeowner survived. However, with a proper plan, he would not have exposed himself and family to that level of danger in the first place.
Yarl Shooting, prosecutors may drop the charges. But the homeowner's life, as well as that of Yarl won't even be the same. And it likely could have been avoided with a proper approach.
In the two incidents where police shot homeowners after mistaking them for armed threats, the legality of the homeowners' actions isn't in question. The officers may or may not face criminal, civil or administrative consequences. But that isn't the most important thing if the homeowners are dead, and all of it likely could be avoided if the homeowner had a sound plan.
Resources and Actionable Steps—
Below, I've identified some basic steps you can take to help reduce the odds of being involved in an incident like any mentioned above. For a deep dive into how to fortify your home and create a thorough home defense plan, consider checking out the course called Complete Home Defense: Tactics for Defending Your Castle.
First, identify any physical security deficiencies in your home or apartment. Here is a good start to understanding how you can use environmental factors in your home security plan. Look for things like proper lighting around your home, fixing broken window or door locks, trimming landscaping that block views to the street, the driveway or entryways.
Secure striker plates with long screws, not the short 1/4″ screws that reach only into the trim. Consider installing a peep hole, and a doorbell camera or other surveillance cameras. Most cameras give you the option to speak to the person at the door through the doorbell camera. Every incident mentioned above would have been avoided had the homeowner identified and spoke with the person through a doorbell camera.
And yeah, people can cover the doorbell camera, or just not respond. Well, that is a pretty good indicator you shouldn't bother opening the door, and you should call the police.
Your Armed Response:
I'm assuming you either carry your gun inside your home, or arm yourself if you are unsure who is at your door.
So, consider any windows that let someone see you as you approach the door. Some homes have sidelights, or windows on either side of the door. You may have a window in an adjacent room that someone could observe you as you stand in front of the door. In any case, consider that if officers respond to the home, depending on the type of call, one of them may try to look in to see what the person inside is doing as they approach the door.
Again, not saying the police have the legal right to blast away at anyone inside with a gun, but that is a legal argument, not a tactical, keep from being shot, tactical plan. Try to establish a safe location that provides some cover, and still allows you to communicate with someone on the other side of the door. From this position ask who they are, what they want.
From their answers you can decide to call police, maybe to confirm if they really are the police, tell them to leave the package on the step, open the door, etc. The point is, you don't have to open the door gun in hand, and then in that split second try to figure out if this person is a threat, cop or a lost kid.
Make The Plan Known:
Your entire family should know what the security plan is. You may have a specific, defendable location every family member goes to under certain circumstances. You may also want to brief guests who may stay the night at your house to keep from any potential problems.
I'm not suggesting you go into full home lockdown anytime your doorbell rings. And you really wouldn't have to if you have a multi-layered security plan that goes beyond opening the door armed with a gun.
I hope this provided some basic strategies, and some food for thought so you can plan better for these types of incidents. Again, consider checking out the Complete Home Defense course, which is available online or on DVD.