The publication last week by The Journal News of the map of homeowners who have licenses for guns in Westchester and Rockland certainly has stirred up quite a raucous controversy in our area as well as nationally.
It’s interesting that when the counties released the information to the paper under the Freedom of Information Act, they provided the names and addresses of those who are licensed for firearms, but would not release the specifics types or number of guns in any household. So, we really can’t know whether our neighbors possess a single pistol for home security, or other guns for target shooting or hunting.
But I suspect most guns are for protection of one’s own home and life.
Checking on my own neighborhood, I find that among the 70 homeowners on my block, 10 of them are licensed for firearms. Because we’ve never seen this kind of public information before, it’s hard to know if that is a typical percentage.
A while back, I wrote an article about home security and asked my local police department about the advisability of having a gun in the home and any possible repercussions in the event that a homeowner had to use it, faced with the event of an intruder. This is one of those things none of us ever wants to think about, but I’ve thought about it a great deal, especially in light of the current discussion and the fact that home invasions seem to have followed us to suburban living with more frequency
The question really is, what should we have done in advance to avoid such an occurrence, according to Chris E. McGoey, a crime prevention expert with whom I spoke at the time. “Once an intruder is in your home, it’s late to wonder what to do,” he said, “but typically there are three basic responses – you can resist the assault, comply with all commands, or try to flee as the scenario evolves. The choice is personal, based on your own assessment of your physical and mental capabilities and your belief as to the level of eminent danger.
“The better approach is to build physical barriers in layers, starting with the perimeter of the house whose four sides should be fortified from the ground up, securing all doors and windows,” he continued, “but most intruders just come through the front door, with the owner letting them in!” There should be a family plan that no one gets in unless there is a phone call first from someone you know.”
I had difficulty asking the question foremost in my mind. What is the risk for a homeowner who finds it necessary to kill an intruder? I asked it of Detective Sean Lewis in my local Yorktown Police Department who specializes in crime prevention. He responded, “In such a situation, New York State Criminal Procedure Law says that the homeowner is not obliged to retreat.” That’s my answer: stand firm and protect yourself and your family with whatever means necessary.
But again, Detective Lewis advised that we employ all preventative measures to avoid that situation, starting with a “Neighborhood Watch’ program, announced on street corners with signage. He suggested that homeowners call their local police stations to inquire about participating in the program.
Detective Lewis also forwarded to me an email called “Things Your Burglar Won’t Tell You,” culled from several investigators and criminology professors who interviewed a large number of burglars in prison systems.
You may have received the same or a similar email but, if so, the points bear repeating as a reminder. I have extrapolated some advice from the burglars’ comments in the list below.
1. I may look familiar to you because I was at your home recently cleaning your carpets, painting your shutters, or power-washing your siding and deck.
2. Thanks for letting me use the bathroom when I was working in your yard. While I was in there, I unlatched the back window to make my return a little easier.
3. Love your landscaping. Lots of flowers tell me you have taste, which means there are nice things inside, and I can hide behind your shrubs since you don’t keep them pruned.
4. Yes, I really do look for newspapers piled up on the driveway.
5. If it snows while you're out of town, I’ll know it because there are no foot tracks. But, you might get a neighbor to provide them for you.
6. A good security company also alarms windows on your second floor where I might be agile enough to enter for direct access to your master bedroom and jewelry.
8. If it’s raining and you’re fumbling with your umbrella and forget to lock the door, remember, I don't take a day off because of bad weather.
9. I always knock first. If you answer, I'll ask for directions somewhere or offer to clean your gutters, but don’t take me up on it.
10. I always check dresser drawers, the bedside table, under the mattress, the refrigerator and the medicine cabinet, but I almost never go into kids’ rooms (this was not true with my burglar who was quite thorough).
11. I won't have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it's not bolted down, I'll take it with me.
12. A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system.
13. Too things I hate most: loud dogs and nosey neighbors.
14. I'll break a window to get in, even if it makes a little noise. If your neighbor hears one loud sound, he'll stop what he's doing and wait to hear it again. If he doesn't hear it again, he'll just go back to what he was doing. It's human nature.
15. I'm not complaining, but why would you pay all that money for an alarm system and leave your house without setting it?
16. I love looking in your windows to know whether you’re home, and for flat screen TVs or gaming systems. I'll drive or walk through your neighborhood at night, before you close the blinds, just to pick my targets.
17. Avoid announcing your vacation on your Facebook page. It's easier than you think to look up your address.
18. To you, leaving that window open just a crack during the day is a way to let in a little fresh air. To me, it's an invitation.
19. If you don't answer when I knock, I try the door. Occasionally, I hit the jackpot and walk right in.
20. If someone in your family dies, get a house sitter when you go to the funeral. I always check the obituaries to know when a family will be out of the house.
Here are two other suggestions I’ve heard recently; one is legal and the other open to interpretation.
Keep your car keys next to your bed. If you sense that someone is trying to enter the house, press the panic button for your car. With the alarm going off, the intruder won’t want to hang around.
Another tip I received from a reader is the use of wasp spray rather than pepper spray for self defense. I was told that wasp spray can shoot up to 20 or 30 feet and is more accurate in hitting its target. I researched this and found that federal law prohibits the use of a pesticide that is inconsistent with its intended use.
However, some might argue that this method of self defense might be compared to a homeowner’s hitting an intruder over the head with a shovel, which is certainly not the intended use for a garden tool either.
It may be unpleasant to think about the possibilities of burglaries, or worse, the terror of a home invasion, but we know that they do happen and, lately, they seem to happen in our communities more often. Being informed and taking every precaution possible, rather than trying not to think about it, is the smartest thing to do.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner (PrimaveraPR.com) who writes frequently as The Home Guru. For questions about selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.