Economics of Home Protection

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Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie) - 47 Ginger Headed Sailors

Or: Why you don't need that AR-15 to save your TV.

I've had some conversation with friends who are very vocally talking about upping their gun count since Sandy Hook, all in the name of "more protection". Discussions of AR-15s and such.

You have to do some complicated math with yourself to make sure you're suited for such a thing, and I don't think many people do this. I've been having this conversation with myself for about the last decade and have come to this conclusion: My house is best protected by a healthy dose of apathy with a dash of altruism. I look at it like my car. I don't lock cars, unless there is Company Property in it, and even then, I'm not super worried, that's what FDE is for. If someone looks in my car and decides they need my sunglasses more than I do, or indeed they need the whole car more than I do, they're welcome to them. If I don't lock my car, my sunglasses are gone. If I do lock my car, my sunglasses are missing, I need to replace a window, and if they're jerks, get 1000 little cuts from the glass in my driver's seat.

There was a time when I thought about getting a weapon for my wife since I used to work very late, very often. I'm pretty sure that had we done so, I'd have come home to a hail of bullets at 3am some day.

If you're thinking of getting something like an AR-15 or SKS or other assault rifle, you're banking on many unlikely events:

  • Someone breaks into your house
  • You're home when someone breaks into your house
  • You hear them breaking into your house
  • They are not aware that you are in the house
  • They aren't between you and your gun safe
  • You have time to get to your gun safe, load your gun, hunt your thief and gun him down, all before he's done and gone, without alerting him to your presence.
  • So all of that happens, it's 3 in the morning and you now have a relatively long gun in your hands and are clearing your house. You and that AR have to come around every corner together, as one, in the dark. You have a single projectile per trigger pull, you're in your underwear, and can't turn any lights on. You see your thief, and you shoot.

    Several things happen: You are now muzzle-blind, so you either keep shooting, but not seeing anything, or you've got your thief.

    Or you miss your thief and have sent a .223 round (or 7.62 if you have an SKS AK copy) through your wall and into your neighbor's condo. Now you have two problems.

    You also have to be willing to take another human's life for trying to steal your things.

    You have to decide if your goal is "Kill the Intruder" or "Stop the attack". These goals are not similar. If you aren't willing to kill another human being for trying to steal an iPad off your coffee table, you shouldn't have a gun in the house, simple.

    There are decisions to make about lethality. If you do have a condo or apartment, are you willing to risk your neighbors lives in the event you miss the guy with your TV in his hands (spoiler alert: You will miss more than you hit, dark or no dark). If you don't miss, you've also just destroyed the TV you were trying to save.

    Now, plan "B". You have a shotgun. Perhaps the most effective home invader deterrent is the sound of you racking a shotgun and a shell hitting the floor. That pretty much means "LEAVE, NOW". However, you should not make that sound unless you're willing to back it up with violence.

    What do you load?

    Do you want to blow a foot wide hole in your thief with 00 buckshot? Well, there's that neighbor problem again, now you've sent 8 projectiles into their condo (or your TV).

    Birdshot would have a better chance of being stopped by the wall between your condo units, somewhat, and would still do a fair amount of damage to anyone with your iPad in their hand.

    If you demand a range weapon, I vote those riot cop beanbag rounds. They're a good compromise between violence and less lethality. Statistically you are many, many times more likely to shoot one of your family members, or yourself, no matter what weapon you have on hand. When you shoot your wife or child, would you rather they lose an eye, or break a rib, or would you rather be scrubbing brain off your living room ceiling for the next six months?

    If you don't want to kill someone, you might just sleep with a baseball bat under your bed, or a golf club. I don't think this works because whoever just broke into your house, it's likely they're more violent than you are. If you pull your swing, or "bunt" them, there's every chance they'll grab your bat and beat you to death with it.

    So, shotgun, beanbags, rack the gun once if you want to just make whoever it is run away. Of course this gives you away and opens you up to be the recipient of a hail of gunfire of your own.

    Better, in my mind, is pepper spray. You can have that stuff pretty much everywhere in the house (only stupid people have pistols hidden around the house, especially if those stupid people have stupid children running around). The consumer grade spray is like 2MM scoville units, about the same as the CaJohn's Vicious Viper sauce I use to skim-coat my pizza. If you lay down a pepper spray cyclone, you're going to get your intruder. You're also going to get you. However, what you're not going to have is a man bleeding to death through the massive hole in your TV. When the filth show up to clean up the mess (you did, of course call the police before you engaged a possibly armed intruder, right? RIGHT?), they're going to find two morons scratching their eyes out in agony, not one dead man and one smoking gun. Or one smoking gun, one escaped intruder, 8 holes in the wall and a 6 month old neighbor with a new grey & red color scheme in her nursery.

    The best way to do this is to have a starting point of determining the maximum level of violence you're comfortable dishing out. I will never, ever, intentionally kill another human being. What I am willing to do is put myself between them and my wife, and beat them senseless for their efforts.

    Your first priority is "protect your family and yourself". If that means "hide in the barn until your intruder is done taking your crap, well hey, at least you're safe". Guns are not for "warning shots", either you shoot to kill or you don't take it out of the box. I'm personally not that comfortable with injuring someone for life either.

    I've decided that the vanishingly infinitesimal risk of a crazed lunatic breaking into my house, while I'm not home, and doing monstrous things to my wife is not worth worrying about as much as the very real risk of there being a mishap in which one of us is hurt or killed either by ourselves, or by someone else taking that gun away and killing us with it because they're obviously much more violent than we are, after all they broke into our house with the intention of hurting us.

    I don't know if this is because I place such a low value on my own life that I don't feel like my life is any more "important" than anyone elses, including the guy breaking into my house to steal my laptop. Therefore, they can have my laptop, or my TV. If they want my wife, they'll have to get through me and my kung fu grip. If they're willing to kill me to get to her, well, they earned her, best of luck old man.