On occasion, I think back to situations that I’ve experienced and wondered how things might have gone differently, specifically in the context of being an armed citizen. Recently, having finally finished Andrew Branca’s excellent “The Law of Self Defense” book, I lay awake contemplating potential different outcomes to a property theft that I suffered several years ago. I think this can be a useful exercise to prepare for future situations. As has been said many times, the body cannot go where the mind has not already been. This preemptive visualization or after action review can help you respond more quickly and more effectively to similar situations in the future. In fact, the title of this post reflects that line of thinking.
In this particular incident that I’m using as an example, I woke up one morning to go to the gym and found my relatively new car sitting on rocks in my driveway with the wheels and tires having been stolen during the night. I didn’t hear anything during the night and my German Shepherd was still being crated in our bedroom at the back of the house, so he didn’t alert us to anything with barking either. After I discovered the theft, I was muttering about shallow graves and rudely interrogating suspect neighbors, all while fantasizing about interrupting the perpetrators with rifle in hand. While getting my car fixed was an enormous pain in the ass, eventually the theft was covered by insurance with a police report filed. Apparently, my car’s wheels had the same lug pattern as a different model and were valuable on the black market.
Let’s consider some alternative outcomes, however, that would have hinged on me or my dog hearing the thieves at work. I’m not sure how long it took them to jack up my car and remove the wheels, but it had to be at least a few minutes. What should I have done if I had been able to interrupt their thievery?
Let’s look at the legalities of this in my particular jurisdiction. In my state, in the curtilage of my property, I have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. And I can’t use deadly force to prevent property theft. So what options would I be left with?
The first, and probably best, would be to arm myself, immediately call 911, and surreptitiously observe them from the safety of my home and possibly try to take some photos or at least get a good description to provide to the 911 dispatcher. I can replace the wheels on my car. Hell, I can replace my car. I can’t do either if I’m dead or incarcerated. The only reason to arm myself is simply worst case preparation, should they escalate to invading my home.
The other option would be varying levels of interaction designed to halt the theft. Any of these variations would incur increasing amounts of risk. I could have turned on my exterior house lights to show that I was awake and aware and hoped that they would have just fled. Much more than that would have been very tenuous from a legal perspective. Had I confronted them with a weapon on my person, I could potentially be deemed the aggressor if I had to defend myself with deadly force or if a physical altercation ensued. After all, I started out safe in my locked home and chose to intervene to protect property. Had I gone out with a weapon displayed, then this could have gone very badly, with potential charges ranging from aggravated assault to manslaughter or murder if I got into a gun battle over a set of wheels. And if a gun battle did erupt, where would the thieves’ rounds be going? In that instance, they would have been facing my home, with my wife and dog inside. No es bueno. As an armed civilian, holding someone at gun point is tenuous at best. I’m sure we could all come up with scenarios where it might be appropriate, but I think that reality will often dictate otherwise. If you disagree with any of my above contentions, I would suggest that you research the legalities of your jurisdiction and think critically about potential consequences.
Some may suggest letting the dog loose upon the thieves… I have addressed my thoughts on the role of dogs in home defense on the blog before, but suffice it to say that my dogs are for alarm only, not attack. At the time this incident occurred, my German Shepherd was still a puppy (hence the crate) and was certainly not bite trained. Even if he had been, exactly what would I have done if the dog did bite or otherwise detain a perpetrator? Again, deadly force or the potential for great bodily harm in defense of property was not legally defensible, and liability concerns aside, I considered my German Shepherd a member of the family and wouldn’t have wanted to expose him to that risk.
Texas is the only state that I’m aware of where one can use deadly force to prevent property theft, and only under a very narrow set of circumstances. Now, while I think that Texas is on the right track in this regard, it is not the law of the land. In the situation that affected me, no good would have come from confrontation, no matter how infuriating that conclusion may be. This is why Branca makes a widespread suggestion to NOT use deadly force to protect property in his book. It is the safest option that incurs the least legal risk. Depending on your home layout, this may even apply to intruders in your home that want to steal your stuff but have no interest in fighting you. In Branca’s example, intruders in his home that do not cross the boundary of coming upstairs are not threats. Once they cross that boundary, game on. Until then, property theft just isn’t worth it. Everyone’s individual situation and boundaries will be unique and different. If I ever have intruders in my home, it’s pretty much game on immediately since my home is a single level and my kid’s rooms are on the other side of the house from mine. I will aggressively move through my home to ensure their safety while dealing with anyone in my way. Outside the walls of my home, even on my own property, the rules are not the same – right, wrong, or indifferent.
If you’re going to own and carry a gun, you need to think about these things before they happen. This mental rehearsal can prevent a lot of tragedy and heartache, as well as potential legal and financial ruin. While it is true that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, have a plan. However much it may make your blood boil and offend your sense right and wrong, realize that using a gun to defend your possessions is a course fraught with danger on multiple fronts. At the end of the day, I’m actually glad that I never heard the thieves in my driveway. At that point in my life, I might have very well grabbed my gun and gone outside. These days, I envision a more nuanced and mature approach with appropriate tactical considerations for the safety of myself and my family.
Finally, if you haven’t read “The Law of Self Defense,” you need to. Of course, it is available through our Amazon Affiliate link, should you wish to support the blog at no extra cost to you.
Thanks for reading, and as always, we welcome your comments and questions.