Incident Analysis: the case of the Indianapolis TV Burglar.

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A woman in Indianapolis had a little trouble defending her home during a late-night break-in. What did she do wrong, and what can we learn from her experience?

Marta (last name not given) lives with her two children in an older two-story home in Indianapolis. She has a gun for the protection of herself and her kids, but as we’ll see owning a gun isn’t the same as knowing how to use it properly!

Late one night she woke to the sound of breaking glass. She grabbed her SIG-Sauer Mosquito in .22LR, went to the top of the stairs and yelled down to the main floor to find out who was there.

The answer was “the police”. For reasons unknown, Marta decided to run down the stairs and shoot at whoever had identified themselves as the police. Luckily for everyone involved, she had a hardware malfunction — she wasn’t able to shoot her SIG pistol even once.

As it happens the intruder wasn’t the police; he was an ordinary burglar there to steal her flat-screen TV. When she came down the stairs, waving her empty gun at him, he ran out the door with her television.

Marta was very lucky. She did nearly everything wrong yet, given the odds for a catastrophic outcome, the situation ended with no one getting hurt and her only out a TV set.

What can we learn from this?

Having a gun is great, and retrieving it at the sign of a forced entry is certainly a reasonable response, but having some means of communication (cell phone or at least a cordless phone) is just as important. When she was at the top of the stairs trying to ascertain who was in her house, any response from below should have been met with “I’m calling 9-1-1; the police are on their way.”

Hearing the crook say “the police” obviously didn’t strike her as being true, but what if it had been the police? If they were, descending the staircase with a gun in hand is a sure way to get shot. Even if they weren’t, it isn’t a particularly safe maneuver. A much better tactic is to stay at the top of the stairs, make sure the family is safe, and monitor the situation from a strong defensible position (while in contact with dispatch, of course.)

Her story indicates that as she went down the stairs she’d already made the decision to shoot her SIG pistol. Remember that lethal force is only a tool to protect life (or those of loved ones) from a lethal threat. Not knowing in advance that there is an immediate threat of death or grave bodily harm means that a decisions to shoot someone can’t be made.

Remember that, in most jurisdictions, a warning shot is still lethal force. Even if she just planned to shoot to scare the intruder off with her shots, it’s not a legitimate or (likely) defensible use of lethal force. Particularly in the case of a property crime, lethal force just isn’t warranted; even in those rare jurisdictions which allow the use of lethal force to protect property, I don’t think one can make much of a case for it being a good idea. Guns are to protect lives, not televisions!

As it happens she didn’t even get off a round at the burglar. She says her gun “jammed” and that the rounds wouldn’t “go in the hole” (chamber). This is most likely a weapons familiarity issue: the SIG Mosquito not only has a decocker for its double-action/single-action trigger, it also has a slide-mounted safety; the only SIG, as far as I know, so equipped.

The likely scenario is that the safety was in the “safe” position as she went down the stairs; when she pulled the trigger and nothing happened, she racked the slide to chamber a round. With the safety still on the gun still didn’t fire, so she likely (and very rapidly) cycled the gun repeatedly trying to get it to work, thus ejecting every round from the magazine.

I’ve said repeatedly that guns with manual safeties require more training and practice time (and effort), and that double-action guns with decockers likewise require more training and practice. This particular gun combines the worst attributes of both those designs, making it easy for someone who isn’t completely familiar with its action to have a function issue.

(This isn’t limited to relative newbies, either. I’ve seen many experienced shooters, people with hundreds of hours of high-level training, forget to disengage the safeties on their guns when faced with a shooting challenge they didn’t expect or weren’t prepared for. The more complicated the gun, the more things there are to forget — and it doesn’t matter how advanced one thinks himself to be!)

In this case that unfamiliarity probably saved her from a charge of assault or homicide, so it’s hard to justify this person having a different gun based on just this incident. However, we can say that she definitely needed training in the judicious use of lethal force, range time with a gun which she knew how to operate, and some time spent practicing pre-planned responses to a break-in.

Sometimes you can do everything right and still lose; the corollary is that occasionally you can do everything wrong and still win, but that’s not the most sane choice in life! Learn when it’s appropriate — and especially when it’s not — to respond with a firearm; pick a gun that you can operate efficiently even under great stress; train and practice using that gun in the kinds of conditions you might expect to need it; and plan ahead for what you (and the rest of your family) would do in the case of a home invasion like this.

Marta got lucky this time, but it could have just as easily turned out to be a disaster for her and her family. Learn from her mistakes so that you have the best chance of surviving both the response and the legal ramifications of your actions!

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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