Break-In Defense

break-in defense and firearmsShoot-to-wound or shoot-to-kill? That’s the question we’re tackling this week. If someone shoots the intruder in a break-in defense situation, which approach is “right”?

It’s a hot-button and emotional topic for a lot of people. We’re not going there. It’s not our style. We deal in facts – and only the facts – because we know you’re intelligent and responsible gun owners/enthusiasts who can handle the truth.

The Simple Truths

Let’s agree to a few straightforward certainties about lethal force before we begin:

  1. The definition – In the United States, lethal force by a civilian is justified when the individual believes his/her life or the lives of others are in imminent danger (a kill or be killed scenario).
  2. Limitations – There are certain limits to justifiable lethal force. If it takes four rounds to eliminate the threat and you shoot five then it ‘s excessive force. You’re (likely) answerable to a court of law.
  3. You NEVER aim your firearm at another person unless you’re prepared to take a life.

In the legal world, anytime you aim a firearm at another individual it is considered lethal or deadly force. The law DOES NOT differentiate between shooting someone in the leg, arm or chest. You’ve fired a weapon at another individual – lethal force was used.

Warning Shots

Think firing a warning shot into your ceiling is going to stop an armed intruder ? Think again. It may stun them for a few seconds and allow you to get ‘away.’ But it won’t deter them from doing what they came into your home to do; harm you and your family.

If all they wanted was your stuff, they would leave their firearm(s) and weapons at home. The fact that they illegally entered your home armed is a declaration of war against you and your family. They will stop at nothing to get what they want, including killing you or anyone who gets in the way.

There’s A LOT of adrenaline in those moments of anticipation. Will they? Won’t they? Anticipation and fear of the unknown are not your friends. You cannot anticipate how another individual will act, so don’t try. Remember, remain alert. Stay covered and immediately implement your home-invasion emergency plan.

Defensive shooting

It’s only self-defense if they fire first and you return fire. Is it fair? Does this save lives? That’s a debate for another post. For right now, it is what it is.

Now, back to our discussion about break-in defense and how it works in real life.

Defensive shooters are taught to shoot at the biggest, slowest-moving part of the human body. And that’s the upper chest. It’s the easiest area of the body to hit but, and this is IMPORTANT, shooting someone in the arm or leg can be just as deadly – there are arteries in both those extremities.

Often, shooting to wound gives the intruder the advantage. Shots go wild and ricochet off furniture, walls, ceilings and strike an innocent bystander. If you were under cover you’ve given your location, or general location, away. Maybe, you’ve angered them. There are too many unknown variables for this to be truly effective.

Protecting Yourself

Intent is the key to whether your self-defense claim is enough for law enforcement at the end of their investigation. Make one nervous move and it could be the beginning of criminal proceedings AGAINST you.

Claiming you only shoot to wound doesn’t do you any good during a police investigation. In fact, it nearly nullifies all the protection of the self-defense laws because it removes the key element – fear for your life or the life of others.

Remember: Regardless of objective or outcome, you are LEGALLY justified in using lethal force if you fear for your life and/or the lives of others. That means you’re also justified in shooting to kill. Understanding the legalities of shooting to kill should be part of your defensive training.


Break-in defense is too broad a topic to cover in one post so come back and see where we take this conversation next. And if/when you find yourself debating with less informed people try remembering they don’t have all the facts and this contributes to their idea that in a self-defense situation you can shoot to wound.

One last thing, for now: a license to carry doesn’t mean you have a license to kill. You are not James Bond.

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About Bret Smith

I am a long-time lover of all things outdoors. Whether hunting, shooting, fishing or just hiking and camping, I take every opportunity to enjoy nature and share it with others.

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