Monday, April 1, 2013

Home Invasions and Practical Statistics

I was awakened a few days ago around 4am by a thump downstairs. This is about the time that the newspaper is delivered to our front porch, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

But a thunk sound below my bedroom at 1:30am a few days later was a different thing, and I got up and did a systematic search of my 3-level house. In truth, I was pretty sure the sound was a book falling off an unbalanced stack downstairs, or perhaps even a weird dream. How I did that search speaks more to my “weaponized” (NOT firearms) house and my background: I'm a Taiho-Jutsu sensei. Of the Japanese martial arts, this one is sometimes called “Jujitsu on steroids.”

Oh BOY! There may be a 1% chance I can USE this!

But first, back to home invasions. The expression alone conjures terrible images from lurid newspaper reports. If you are only robbed and beaten up, you are fortunate. Home invasion differs from a burglary in its violent intent, and this distinction appears to be largely American.

Home invasions are real, if very rare. Statistics on these are notoriously hard to find, in part because of different crime classifications in different jurisdictions (in many places these are classified separately as homicide, rape, kidnaping, etc.). However, the impact on the human psyche is not unlike the impact of shark attacks. As in most of these “news” events, the real killers are rarely mentioned:
  • fishermen wantonly kill millions of sharks every year just for their fins; 
  • handguns in the United States kill 1,130 times more people per year than lightning does, and 
  • 31,672 more people are killed by handguns in the United States each year than are killed by sharks.
To put things in perspective:

In 2011, there were 8,583 murders in the United States committed with handguns. However, there were 31,672 TOTAL handgun deaths - all the rest (73%) were suicides, with the occasional handgun accident lumped in. This is comparable to motor vehicle deaths in the US.

There is a message here: having a handgun ready to blast someone in your home is statistically a far greater threat to you than the statistical chance of any possible safety it may offer. Read on.

There were 118 reported shark attacks world-wide in 2011, with 17 fatalities. There were 47 “unprovoked” shark attacks in the United States in 2012, with just 1 fatality. You have to wonder about the “unprovoked” caveat: do a lot of people “mess” with sharks? The vast majority of shark attacks occur in Florida. One human death to several million shark deaths is a very unsportsmanlike ratio, IMHO.

There were 28 Lightning fatalities in the United States in 2012, and some 24,000 lightning deaths worldwide. Again, you have to wonder at the disparity in the statistics, as the US represents 6% of the world population. There are many possible reasons, including regions like the Pacific Northwest where lightning is a very rare thing, or perhaps people live in flimsier houses elsewhere.

Back again to home invasions. Are you at risk of one? A pattern of dealing in illegal and “recreational” drugs will dramatically increase your potential likelihood for being targeted. Living in Anacostia, Maryland, or south Chicago will also dramatically increase your risk, but this is probably no surprise to anyone in the US.

What can you do about it?

The reality here is dramatically different than what the National Rifle Association would have you believe. If a woman carries a handgun, there is an 80% statistical likelihood that it will be used against HER: in other words, she will be either shot with her own weapon, or pistol-whipped with it. That’s a pretty large statistical number - basically it is a high probability.

Another take-away: don't carry a pistol in your handbag.

If you’ve ever been to a gun-range, the following observation will be obvious:
It takes slow, calm focus and concentration to hit a human target at 5 meters (16 feet) distance. Imagine trying to do that in the dark, when charged with adrenaline, and both the shooter and the target are moving.

There is a video on YouTube where a traffic stop ends with a perp jumping out of a stolen car and firing several shots at the police officer. The dashboard cam shows that the officer then proceeds to fire at least 12 rounds at the perp, who is running in a straight line towards the nearby forest. NOT ONE BULLET ON EITHER SIDE HIT ITS TARGET.

In a home invasion situation, a handgun is an excellent means to poke holes in your house - and probably several neighboring houses at the same time. It will likely NOT protect you.

  1. Actually, there are several. There are two excellent and inexpensive tools for this, in fact, and used together they are pretty effective:  The first is a cell-phone that has been charging near your bed. USE IT. Call 911 and the entire conversation will be recorded. 
  2. The second tool is a Mag-Light. This has a steel shaft, and a six-C-cell version is the sine qua non, if hard to find. Held on your shoulder, it can be used to both momentarily blind an attacker in the dark and strike a devastating blow. It works like an ASP baton, but it is significantly heavier.
  3. There is also a Taser, if you can afford one (and the necessary training that goes with it). A Taser has been shown to be nearly 100% effective in disabling a targeted human being for up to several minutes after a single zap. There is at least one case, however, where a very angry man fired weapons at police and nearby civilians continuously after taking 42 separate bullet "hits" to his body. Only the 43rd bullet, which severed his upper spine, stopped his murderous rampage.

So...should you then search for the invader and pound him? 

NO! Searching for the invader in your home, no matter HOW many stripes you have on your black belt, is statistically stupid - tactically, medically, and legally*.

Instead, with the cell phone in one hand, you can provide your address to the 911 Operator, and then maintain a running recording of what you see - perhaps including the only court-defensible and relevant description of any intruder that you might encounter. Your objective, however, is to GET SAFELY TO YOUR FRONT DOOR, UNLOCK IT FOR THE POLICE, AND THEN GET OUT.

Leave it to the professionals to deal with the intruder. They can use a Taser (far more disabling than a handgun), pepper spray (which you would only inflict yourself with if you tried to use it without some training and experience), and a handgun if absolutely necessary.

Then stand back and watch. Use your phone to video the "perp walk" for your family, friends, and local TV station.

* Stupid Tactically, Medically, and Legally:
  1. First, compare yourself against a trained pair of completely awake and alert police officers. You lose majorly in this comparison.
  2. Second, a significant number of people, inexperienced in using a handgun in complex circumstances, end up injuring themselves with their own weapon (3rd degree burns, lacerated hands, even self-inflicted gunshot wounds). 
  3. Third, unless you have an unlimited bank account, you should expect that ANY use of a firearm on another human being - for whatever reason - will require hiring an attorney, and then months of court appearances and thinking about them.


  1. That helps put things into perspective with the recent gun debates going on around the country.

  2. um...I have a sense of unresolved feelings now, that will continue the rest of the day and probably keep me up tonight. WAS there someone IN YOUR HOUSE??!!

  3. ....also, I hear the distinct cock of a shotgun is a pretty good deterrent as well.

  4. First, a shotgun will severely mutilate another human being. Hard to justify that. Second, it will blow a much LARGER hold in your walls than a handgun will.

    Police officers I have trained with tell me that a much more effective deterrent is a laser. Tasers come with one (for aiming) and though expensive, you can fit one to many handguns if you are so inclined.

    My sensei in Virginia said that when a perp sees a red dot wiggling around on his chest, that it sobers him up quickly.

  5. Naw, I was 99% certain that the sound I heard was either a sleepy bird falling off a perch during the night, or a book sliding off an unstable pile in the family room downstairs (I'm married to someone who reads 1 - 2 books a day).

    My initial objective was to check if the motion-sensor lights had gone on in the back deck - if so, I would have attached my wife's hand to my waistband, and with the cell-phone and mag-light in hand I would have headed to the door.

    When I saw that no deck lights had come on, I checked windows and doors and went back to bed. There were several break-ins about 3 years ago in a nearby neighborhood: a pair of tweakers looking for something to help feed their habit.

  6. 1) You have VERY CONVENIENTLY left out any statistics regarding the number of crimes prevented or stopped due to the presence of a handgun. If you focus only its use in murders or suicides, and leave out the hundreds of thousands to millions (estimated) of times per year it is successfully used in defense in the USA alone, then you tend to present a very skewed analysis of the usefulness of the handgun for stopping crime. That would be like saying that 40,000 people are killed every year in cars, so cars are dangerous and useless (ignoring the reality of the millions of times every year that they are used with great success).

    2) Your comments about gun accuracy in stress situations are, for the most part, accurate. However, with training, that can be overcome.

    3) I doubt the accuracy of your statistic about the chances of a gun being turned on the woman who carries it. If 80% of gun-toting women get attacked with their own gun, there would probably be hundreds of thousands if not millions of reports annually of women being assaulted or killed with their own guns.

    4) You need to provide references for many (if not all) of your stats in here.

    I agree that your best choice in a home invasion is to (1) get out of the house, or (2) hunker down in a secure room. Those aren't good options for many people, however. The reality is that someone may have children in the house which he feels -- and is -- obligated to protect.

    Finally, police almost never actually stop crimes, and they don't really deserve the credit you are giving them in your article. When it comes to protecting yourself or someone else in your home, it will almost always be up to you. The police will be happy to show up, usually well after the fact, take some notes and hopefully -- if they are lucky -- go capture whoever robbed, beat, raped or murdered you and your family. But that doesn't actually PREVENT it from happening, does it?

    Good article over all. It is persuasive and well written, but there are some key points that need to be reconsidered and sources need to be provided for at least your questionable stats.

  7. I'm completely sick of people who are defending guns when the logic seems so obvious. You placed your argument well, I only wish you cited the sources for the damning statistics you have put up. I did my research though and found them. YOu cant tell gun people anything, and they hate the word control more then they do murder

  8. A cell phone....really? Lets look at that. An intruder breaks into my home and I dial 911. Then I politely ask the bad guy to kindly wait for 15 minutes before he robs and beats the snot out of me?
    I'll try to remember that it is better rely on the benevolence and professionalism of criminals who break into my home. Its foolish for me to have a means to defend myself. When seconds count, the police are only minutes away!