It is 7:30 in the morning. You are a 14 year old girl who is home on a weekday over spring break. Your mom already left for work. You are awake and your younger sister is still asleep.
You hear a strange sound. You step into the hallway outside your bedroom and hear someone in the garage. You run to the kitchen and grab two steak knives. With a knife in each hand, you open the garage door and shout,
“Get out of here. Get out of my home. You don’t belong here.”
The intruder drops the property in his hands and runs to his truck. You pull your phone from your pocket and take a video of the intruder. You also take video of his license plate as the intruder backs his truck down your driveway. You’re frightened, but you manage to call 911.
Your intruder is arrested as he crosses over a local bridge. He is charged with aggravated breaking and entering, trespassing, attempted larceny, and disorderly conduct. He has a criminal history that goes back four decades. The intruder has been arraigned 130 times for burglary and robbery. He is held pending a 200 thousand dollar cash bail.
Your mom says you are amazing.
Let’s talk about what this young woman did correctly, and then think about what we should do before we leave our teenagers home alone.
Our young defender thought that something seemed out of place. Our inclination is to ignore strange sounds if we only hear them once, but this young lady overcame her hesitation and acted to protect herself and her sister. She got up and investigated what was going on. She identified the noise as someone moving in her garage. She armed herself with two knives. She opened the door into the garage, but she stayed inside her home. She gave clear verbal commands. She did not close with or chase the bad guy. She collected evidence with her cell phone. She then called 911 and asked for the police. Her voice was trembling as she talked to the 911 operator, but she did it.
The defender had a number of choices. She could go to her sister’s room, lock her sister’s bedroom door, call 911, and wake her sister. She could call a neighbor for help. She could wake her sister and retreat to a neighbor’s home. She could lock the garage door and stay inside the home and wait for the intruder to leave or for help to arrive. She could arm herself, call for help, and confront the intruder.
That is quite a list. I’m not sure what the best course of action was for this young defender, just as I’m not sure what would be best for your family to do. I am sure that none of those are easy choices in the excitement and fear of the moment.
This defender armed herself with two knives. I think I am fairly large and strong, and I do not want to go hand-to-hand with someone who can cut me with either hand. I might win, but I’ll probably get cut.
Our defender faced the intruder but stayed inside her house. She used a commanding voice and gave clear instructions. Said another way, a 14-year-old girl frightened a 58-year-old man. Well done.
She was frightened but she also kept her wits about her to take a video of the intruder.
What should we do if we were there? I’d wake my children, retreat with them to a secure room, and ask one of them to call 911. If our neighbors were armed, then I’d ask the other child to call a neighbor.
The problem with advancing on the intruder is that I’m leaving my family unprotected behind me. I don’t know how many intruders there are. I don’t know where they are, and I don’t know how they are armed. I might move toward the intruder if there were an armed adult who could stay with and defend my children. Maybe.
That may sound like a good plan now, but how would it sound when we hear unexpected crashing sounds in our garage? Now is the time to talk to your family about what they should do.
Now is the time to build your plan.
Teenagers are at a difficult age when they are old enough to leave alone but not yet old enough to ask them to defend themselves with lethal tools. They already use life-threatening tools like knives and the stove. They may use lawn and garden tools, and some of the edged tools for home and yard care. If they are 15 years old or older then they may have their student driver’s permit. A car is far more powerful than any personal firearm.
When should we teach our children to defend themselves and others? Let me offer you this perspective. Many of the teenagers I’ve met feel invulnerable and they want to confront the bad guy. Rather than argue with them, I ask them this,
“Suppose you win but that you’re hurt in the fight. Who is left to defend your younger brother or sister now that you’re injured?”
That is basically the same question I ask myself when I make a plan to protect my family. That question reminds both of us that our family is our treasure, and not the relics stored in the garage.
Some 14-year-olds might have hunted for several years. Some might have their own firearms, but most do not. Those early teenage years are when I’d introduce them to non-lethal tools like OC spray. Check the laws in your state.
If there is a car in the garage, then teach your children how to hit the car alarm on the key fob. That is another good reason to put your keys in the same place every time you return home.
Your children could set off the home-alarm system if you have one. If you’ve talked to your neighbors, do you have a plan so that your children and theirs can run next door to safety? An angry neighbor defending your kids beats a cop on the phone.
I’ve seen youngsters in firearms safety classes. I’ve seen them in armed-defense classes. I’ve shot against them in competition. I’ve introduced young teens to basic firearms safety. Those activities inform us about their maturity. It is harder to tell when they are old enough to use a firearm for home defense.
Ask yourself if they can control their anger. Does your child know when to stop shooting if their family members were at risk? Before you think that is an easy question to answer, then ask yourself if you are confident that you’d know when to stop your defense if your husband or wife were at risk. Some teens are ready and some are not.
When it comes to weapons of choice for new shooters, some people prefer a small 22 caliber pistol because of its light weight. Some suggest a 22 caliber semi-automatic rifle with a laser sight since that is one of the easier weapons systems to learn for new or infrequent shooters. Think about the type of gun you would loan to a neighbor if there were a storm coming. That is probably a good gun to consider for the younger members of your family.
The best thing to arm your family with is a plan. From there, you’ll have to see what fits your family best.
-Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve.
About Rob Morse
Rob writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.