Have you ever woken to strange noises downstairs? Or seen a shadowy figure walking across the back yard? Are you worried that someday you may open the door to a stranger who pushes his way inside your house?
If so, you may want to prepare for the possibility of a home-invasion robbery.
Luckily, there are many non-lethal options available to deal with that possibility, and non-lethal might be the safest way to go. After all, those menacing shadows behind your house could just be kids taking a shortcut through the neighborhood.
Perhaps the single most-important item to have handy when an intruder is on the property is a telephone.
Telephones and TASERs
"Call 9-1-1 immediately, and then retreat for safety," advised Steve Tuttle of TASER International, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that makes the well-known electric-shock devices.
If you feel you must protect yourself, your family and your property, a TASER or stun gun, especially one that shoots a TASER projectile, is a possible option.
As Tuttle explained, "It allows a 15-foot zone of protection and a 30-second window of opportunity to get to safety."
Check to make sure you're allowed to possess a TASER or stun gun. They're restricted or illegal in eight American states and in most other English-speaking countries.
Sprays, legal and otherwise
Pepper spray directed at the eyes is also an effective method to protect oneself by incapacitating, but not killing, an intruder.
But be sure to get a can that's designed to shoot a stream 15 to 20 feet. Anything closer is not a safe distance, because a now-enraged intruder might be able to reach you.
Pepper spray is legal for personal protection in all American states, with some restrictions, and in the state of Western Australia, but is illegal in most other English-speaking countries.
Some people recommend wasp and hornet spray, which also shoots a long, tight stream, as a cheaper and more effective alternative to pepper spray.
But bear in mind that using insecticide as a weapon, even in self-defense, breaches federal and many state regulations.
Insecticide hasn't been tested for safety on human targets, and you may be liable for any injury the assailant suffers.
Furthermore, there's little evidence that wasp spray can really stop an intruder — and plenty of evidence that pepper spray will.
What not to do
What you don't want to use in case of a home invasion is a baseball bat, a knife or any other weapon that will bring you close to the intruder. The weapon could be grabbed by the intruder and used against you.
Tuttle also gave this advice on how to safely open your door when someone unexpectedly knocks on it:
— Check through your door's peephole or window to see the visitor. If don't know the visitor, or he or she is not in plain sight, call out to confirm his or her identity before opening the door.
— Keep your non-lethal weapon and telephone close by if you decide to answer the door for a stranger.
— Establish a rule with your friends and family to always call before visiting. This way, you can always expect the visit and know that if a knock comes without a prior call, the visitor is most likely a stranger.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never try to be a hero — especially if the intruder has a gun.
As the National Crime Prevention Council says, "If someone tries to rob you, give up your property — don't give up your life."