When a false alarm isn’t so false

You’re dozing at the end of a morning REM cycle when your home security system goes off.

This is not a sound you expect to hear. Dazed, you roll out of bed, your feet barely finding the floor under you before your body weight shifts under you. Your partner shuffles to squint at the alarm system display on the wall.

“DOOR OPEN LOFT.”

As she reads it, the words sink into both of your brains. The message means the door on the upper floor has suddenly opened.

What do you do?

This the situation Kacey and I faced this morning, and it was a adrenaline-spiking reminder of how unprepared we really are — even when we think we’ve taken reasonable precautions.

We have a state-of-the-art home security system, yet when it sounded this morning, we hesitated about what to do. I wasn’t awake enough to formulate a coherent response. Kacey wasn’t fully awake either. She opened the bedroom door, started to go downstairs instead of upstairs and tripped, thudding down toward the landing.

I didn’t know what caused the thud, so I ventured over to the bedroom door. I listened for a split second, heard only silence and headed up the stairs. The door was indeed open; that ruled out an alarm malfunction. Was anyone there? I stepped out onto the deck. Nothing. I went back inside and looked in the small closet. Nothing. Could the wind have blown open the door? A breeze puffed sporadically.

I went back down the stairs and found Kacey. She told me that she’d been out on the deck the previous day and had forgotten to lock the door. So, that was it: It was the wind.

We laughed about the episode (especially her tumble down the stairs in the wrong direction), but the incident has made me think. What would we do in that situation if it were an actual break-in?

Last fall, before we decided to buy the house, Kacey said one of the important things she wanted to have in her house was a gun. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. Working in the media, I’ve read many stories about residents whose guns are stolen and sold on the black market or used against them in home invasions. There are so many gun stats out there that anyone can bend the argument either way, but my impression at the time was that keeping a gun was a bad idea because of those very reasons. My mother’s and father’s families have a long history of hunting and gun ownership, but I wasn’t raised that way, so I never felt very comfortable around them.

But now I have a different view. I was robbed in January, and there was no more powerless feeling. I’m not saying that carrying a gun everywhere is the way to guarantee safety. And that’s very difficult to do around here, legally anyway; Maryland is one of a few states that have made it quite hard to get a concealed-carry permit.

What today’s false alarm did remind me of, though, was that personal safety is only an illusion. We live in that illusion, using things like elaborate alarm systems and car alarms (whose sounds have become so ubiquitous as to be easily ignored), but there are always people out there who want to shatter that illusion. And then what?

In the case of a home break-in, there aren’t many options. You either run, acquiesce or fight back. Let’s say a robber had been there in the house this morning — when Kacey and I ventured out into the hallway, we would’ve had no chance against an intruder determined enough to stay inside after the alarm sounded. And fleeing down several flights of stairs — and getting through several locked doors — doesn’t seem too appealing either.

If you’re confronted by someone who is determined enough to break into your home, the only good option is to fight back. And the best option for that is a gun.

And if you are going to have a gun, you’d better be prepared to use it, and to use it at any time.

I see a visit to the shooting range for Kacey and me in the near future.

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