The Cornered Cat
House clearing

Over the weekend, there was a heated discussion on a firearms board I moderate. The basic question was, What should you do if you come home and find the front door to your house wide open?

Several people — including yours truly — said that the smart thing to do would be to call the cops. Let them go looking for trouble while you stay safe.

The idea of staying out of unnecessary danger didn’t sit well with the tactical crowd. Many wanted to immediately rush in and “clear the  house,” playing hide-n-seek with a potential intruder. Some people feel that calling the authorities would mean they were too wimpy to take care of their own homes, and many didn’t (and don’t) realize they could literally die of embarrassment if they let their fear of social awkwardness dictate their actions.

You might remember reading my own point about this not all that long ago: “Don’t go looking for someone who wants to kill you. Not by yourself, and not without extreme need.” To reinforce that point with some additional perspective, here’s a truly excellent post from “Powderman,” who is a law enforcement officer in a western state. I have used it with his permission.

This is addressed to those who say that they will clear their homes alone in this eventuality; those who would hesitate to call the police, and those who are concerned about false calls or false alarms, and “crying wolf”.

I am the one who gets the call from Dispatch saying that a person has an open door; possible burglary in progress, (address), homeowner/occupant is (insert location here) and is watching the residence.

My reply is, “Received. Do you have a description of the homeowner?”

Dispatch then gives me your description.

By this time, I’ve got every light on the vehicle going, but no siren. Why? I want to CATCH them, not scare them off. Usually, there are at least two units responding to back me up, as well.

My lights go off a couple of blocks away. I and at least one other officer will contact you and ask a few questions.

Does anyone else have a key?
Have you given anyone permission to enter?
Did you leave anyone home; is everyone accounted for?
Are there any pets inside?
Did you leave any firearms or other weapons accessible inside?

Finally, do we have permission to enter and clear your home?

Units will set a perimeter to observe and secure all sides of the home.

I’ll prepare to go in with a partner. We’re both wearing body armor and radios with earpieces. Both of us will grab our patrol carbines (AR15 type) and chamber a round. We’ll make sure we have a couple of reloads as well.

I’ll then tell you, “Stay behind cover, and whatever else you do, do NOT approach or enter the house until you see us come out.”

We will then enter and clear the home.

We are wearing body armor and carrying rifles. We do NOT, except under extreme emergency, enter a home alone.

We accept that if someone is there, there is a good chance that we’ll get into a fight–possibly a gunfight at VERY close quarters.

My son was in Fallujah in 2004. He cleared buildings with other Marines for two solid months–and Fallujah is a pretty big city. And yes, he told me that he did encounter hostiles while clearing buildings and houses. If you think trading a few shots inside is a daunting challenge, try getting into a gun fight, with both sides going full auto at almost muzzle contact range.

HE has told me that he will NEVER clear a building or house alone–and this is a guy with more experience than most of us can ever think of.

For those who still want to do it, think of it in this way–what is a more somber trend of thought–you waiting for the police to arrive, with the possibility that your hard earned belongings are being taken…

…or having someone approach your wives, husbands, sons or daughters to tell them that one of the people they love most in the entire world just got shot to death?

Folks–PLEASE do not attempt to clear the house by yourself. Call us. It doesn’t matter how many times you call–I would rather respond 100 times to your address to clear your home with no result, than have to respond ONCE to collect your dead body.

13 Responses to House clearing

  1. piraticalbob says:

    p.s. we WILL probably shoot your dog, even if it is a golden retriever wagging its tail. Because we can.

    • Kathy Jackson says:

      Actually, if you have a dog in that situation and he isn’t making territorial noises, you probably don’t need to call the cops.

      If you call the cops and you don’t restrain your dog before they arrive, that’s just stupid.

  2. wkeller says:

    Good advice. I think where the desire to clear your own home comes from, especially from those who look in the mirror and see “a shooter” is that they get to employ all the “tacticool” stuff they learn through different course work or that they practice at IDPA. They get to “pie” corners, “rollout” around corners, work their flashlight . . . . Just too cool to pass up.

    The one big difference? In training and competition there is no bad guy . . . . I mean the type that can kill you.

    Perhaps an exception – you arrive home, door open, house dark and you had left your wife and/or youngish child home alone. Honestly, at that point I would have a hard time waiting (and, in our area at night it can be 10s of minutes). I would view it as an “in defense of life” situation.

    Still, without being there – no real way to evaluate it.

    My standard comment in class, when I cover situations like this – “keep your head in the game”. A shooter who doesn’t think is a dead shooter! No one home, only concern are your belongings?? Back off, call the professionals.

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      If you reasonably believe there’s a life in danger, of course you go in!

      Even with that, if you can get 911 on the phone before you go, that’s a smart move. You don’t know what kind of medical aid your loved ones might need, and the faster you get it coming, the faster it will arrive.

      • larryarnold says:

        Well, maybe. It would have to be immediate danger, IOW she’s being hurt, I can hear screaming.

        Hostage situation? Call the pros.

        • Kathy Jackson says:

          Good point. Thanks for the clarification. Every circumstance is different. We can set up generalized rules of thumb, but because there are so many possible variables, it’s difficult to address them all.

    • larryarnold says:

      “you arrive home, door open, house dark and you had left your wife and/or youngish child home alone.”

      1. She got distracted, left the door open/it didn’t quite latch, blew open. She’s napping. You go in tactical, she think you’re the badguy, you think she is. Not good.
      2. Badguy is there, has her tied up but isn’t going to hurt her. You charge in, he kills you, now has to kill her to eliminate witness.

      I’d have to have a definite indication that immediate action was vital. My first inclination would be to back off and phone her.

      “Just too cool to pass up.”

      Yeah, I’ve met that guy. Thinks the non-violent conflict resolution part of my class is “the coward’s way out.” Usually not someone who has really been there.

      Unfortunately a lot of schools concentrate on “winning the gunfight” instead of “surviving the encounter.”

  3. momwithagun says:

    I’m not sure I would go in to clear my house even if I could hear someone screaming inside. As awful as it would be to stand there and listen while something like that happened, transforming the incident from one with one casualty to one with two casualties helps nobody. It’s like with the oxygen masks on a plane: You have to put your mask on before you help others, because you CAN’T help others if you’re dead.

    If I can get myself and my loved ones to safety, great – I’ll do that. If I hear noises in my dining room in the middle of the night, I’ll leave cover if I can do it safely to secure my daughter, then batten down the hatches and call for help. I come home to find my door ajar (and optionally people screaming inside)? I have no idea how many bad guys there are, where they’re located, and how they’re armed, so I’m making a strategic retreat and calling the professionals. They’ve got body armor, and radios, and backup. In my area, they’ve also got NVGs, and access to a FLIR camera so they can locate the threats before they make entry.

    It’s all about mission for me. As an armed citizen, my primary mission is to stay alive, and my secondary mission is to safeguard my loved ones. I can’t safeguard my loved ones if I’m dead or incapacitated. House clearing on an IDPA stage is a lot of fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to tackle in the real world.

  4. Jeri says:

    my husband and I watch a lot of TV….mostly Black & white old movies…..we both have been known to get involved enough to communicate with the characters….mostly yelling at them about the dumb thing they are doing…. entering a house when the door is ajar, or going downstairs with a baseball bat after hearing a noise usually gets at least one of us yelling, “that’s stupid! What are you thinking!?” I’m sure it is good practice for us in case we are ever in that situation for real.. 🙂

  5. Old NFO says:

    Only way I’m ‘clearing’ my house is if I’m already inside… And it will be me and the German Shepherd doing it. If I’m outside, calling the cops FIRST, and not entering!

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  7. CNY DJ says:

    I would always call 911 and at least get the “pro’s” on the way. I would only enter before they got there is I was really convinced that it was an “either – or” situation and action was needed NOW.

    We always comment (or yell at the tv) when in the movies they always seem to do stupid things. But then if they did not then the 2 hour movie would only last 15 mun.

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