A question came up on Twitter about pump shotguns for home defense. In particular, the questioner had been advised that a pump shotgun might be a better choice for home defense than an AK-series rifle. I tried to answer the question there but quickly confronted Twitters 260 character limit and had to bail.

            It occurred to me then that I’ve never addressed the home-defense shotgun here on the blog so here we are addressing that oversight. We’ll call this one: THE HOME DEFENSE PUMP SHOTGUN or something equally SEO grabbing. I’m not going to do a lot of compare and contrast in this short essay.

            The first step in any engagement is to develop an understanding of the situation that is evolving in real time. This doesn’t call for breaking out the white board and a bunch of colored markers. Its just a quick series of answers to obvious questions. What woke me up? A sound. What is that sound? The Army describes this as trying to understand everything that is happening “in the present in terms of friendly, enemy, neutral, and terrain situations…the end state that represents mission accomplishment…and the events that must occur to move from the present to that end state.”

            See why I couldn’t do this in 260 characters?

            I start with what seems obvious because it is where decisions about home defense begin. Long before a burglar (or assassin…I mean…I don’t know you, it could be an assassin) breaks into your house, you have to have discussed with family (or other occupants) what “the mission” is. For most of us, that mission is “to protect my family from harm” and the desired endstate after a break-in is “the bad guy is out of my house, the police are on the way, and everyone here is uninjured.”

            Now, for some of you, the mission includes protecting your Xbox and your stamp collection. I can’t help you there. That’s an example of “mission creep” and perhaps in another essay I’ll explain why anything beyond “to protect my family from harm” is a stupid, stupid addendum to your mission.

            Understanding your mission then, you can begin to explore what sorts of threats your family faces. For the vast majority of us, that threat is a simple burglar. He’s young, stupid, unarmed, and just wants something he can snatch and pawn. That is threat that we should plan for most, but not the only threat you must prepare for. Its possible our intruder is on drugs, or playing Manson Family. In my own childhood, there was a prominent threat from a series of jealous husbands because my father made bad decisions. Maybe there is a dangerous ex you need to keep in your planning.

            My point is that you have to have a plan based on the realities of the situation as you understand it best and not based on how cool you want to look in the police reports.

            With an idea WHO you are going to be dealing with, its time to look at WHERE you’re going to be dealing with them. Have a good look around your house and try to establish which walls are protecting your children and which walls you can turn to wreckage. How far is the intruder (who is probably in your living area closest to the front door) from your office, your bedroom…from your weapon? What obstacles, what cover and concealment are between you and that point of entrance as well as others? What if the intruder came in through the back? How will you know and how much time will you have to react?

            Last, consider your own ability to respond under the most likely conditions. Will you have to put your glasses on? Are you well-trained and well-practiced with the weapon you’re reaching for or are you under the delusion that you’re just a natural born killer no mere man can stop? You’ll either be groggy from sleep or in an excited state from fear. Not the best time to learn to use your weapon or to engage an intruder.

            And so we come to the shotgun. The pump shotgun.

            Force is one of those things that is easier to escalate than de-escalate. De-escalation is certainly possible, just not as easy. In the 1+1 theory of use of force that I was taught as a policeman, the lowest level was officer presence, the acknowledgement that simply being on scene changes things. The next level was verbal commands. Then we got to actual hands-on violence.

            We’re going to do the same thing with our shotgun.

            As was noted in the thread that inspired this essay, there are few sounds in the world of firearms as distinctive as that of a pump-action shotgun being worked.  Again, since the threat is most likely a mere thief looking to snatch and grab, he’s as interested in getting out unharmed as we are going back to bed unharmed. He hears you coming. He hears that shotgun being racked. There is a very real possibility that the confrontation is over before you see each other.

            But maybe not.

            He’s on drugs or, for some reason, his buddies outside make it difficult to run. He needs to see we’re serious.

            Now, he’s probably unsettled by these events as well. He’ll be made more unsettled by the loud sound of that shotgun being fired. I keep a wad cutter loaded as the first round in my shotgun. That means I can fire that first round without fear of hurting anyone or damaging the furniture.

            The next two rounds are birdshot. If I have to fire again, the target will regret it. Birdshot IS lethal force because of the possibility of doing great damage at close range, for example, a face full of birdshot could blind a man. At the same time, the possibility of small shot over-penetrating or us now having a corpse in the floor is slight.

            Any use of force after this only occurs because the situation has gotten more serious instead of less. Maybe his buddies are rushing in, maybe he did have a weapon and he’s drawing it to stand his ground in our house. The next rounds are buckshot, designed to end or disable.

            The next round (and all of the rounds stored on my stock) are rifled slugs. If I’m in a shoot-out, I can fight as effectively as if I had my rifle.

            Now…someone is asking about “what if” our intruder isn’t a mere thief but is a full fledged ninja assassin with no objective beyond killing everyone in the house. This is where your training and familiarity with your weapon comes in.

            If you discover immediately that you have a real threat and need to handle it with those buckshot rounds, you should be able to cycle through working the shotgun and firing it in fractions of seconds. Cycling your weapon through three or four rounds won’t have a negative impact on the outcome of this engagement.

            So there it is.

            In the end, your training, your situational awareness, the thought you’ve given to winning such an encounter beforehand (and your meditation practice in case you think I forgot) will be the decisive factor.

            But I firmly believe that training and proper understanding of the combat environment (also known as your house) will lead you to embrace the pump shotgun as the weapon of choice.

            As always the comments and my emails are open, especially if you disagree with me.

            Good luck.

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