By Rob Morse, March, 2024

I’ve studied thousands of ordinary citizens who defended themselves. Some of those events are common. Some are extraordinary. In this news story from Española, New Mexico, it is hard to tell if the defenders were lucky or if they were good. Here is my analysis of a true self-defense story. 

An older couple was at home in bed. They heard a sound coming from their garage at four in the morning. Given that they were both in their seventies, it must have been quite a noise to wake them up. The male homeowner grabbed his gun and both of the homeowners went to see what was happening.

They saw an intruder in their garage. They shouted for the intruder to leave. The intruder attacked the female homeowner and pushed her to the floor. The male homeowner then shot the intruder. Both defenders retreated back into their home.

The female homeowner asked 911 for help. The male homeowner put his gun away by the time the police arrived. They pointed to where they’d last seen their attacker. Both victims gave brief statements to the arriving officers. EMS declared their attacker dead at the scene.

Officers noticed the damage to the house and the garage from the intruder’s forced entry. Also, the officers were familiar with the attacker. He had over 11 prior arrests for burglary and drug charges.

The homeowners were not charged with a crime.

There are many things this couple did that certainly helped them that night. They decided that they needed a firearm for personal defense. They locked their doors and windows so the intruder had to force their way into the home and garage. That means the intruder had to make noise that alerted the homeowners. It seems that both homeowners paid attention to the bump in the night rather than excuse it as a routine sound.

These defenders worked together. They shouted that they were at home and that they were armed. The armed defender shot the attacker when his wife was attacked. The male defender then stopped shooting when the attack ended. The couple retreated into the home, but stayed near the scene. The armed defender continued to protect them while the second defender called for help. They knew to have empty hands when they met the police. (No guns or cellphones) They also told some of their story to the police.

As good as that sounds, there are a few points that are easy to miss.

This analysis requires some speculation since we weren’t there and don’t have security surveillance videos to watch. Let’s imagine that we were in their place. Suppose you and your spouse go out into the garage to see what made the noise. The armed homeowner is in front.

  • If the female homeowner is immediately behind the armed defender, then the armed defender can’t turn around and shoot without pointing a gun at his partner. Maybe it would be better if both of them were armed.
  • If the unarmed defender decides to stay in the doorway, then the intruder might get to the unarmed defender before the armed defender can position himself between the two of them. That seems to be what happened in this case. At best, this leaves the armed defender in the difficult position of pointing his gun near his partner while she is being attacked. As strange as it sounds, she might have saved her life by falling down. That vertical separation from the attacker may have given the defender a clear shot.
  • Real defense is harder than shooting at paper targets at the range. The female homeowner and the intruder were probably moving as she was attacked. That means the defender has to be accurate because their family member was very close to the attacker. He had to be quick because they didn’t stay in one place very long. In addition, they are in a garage at four in the morning. They might be fighting in the dark or the dim. That makes it harder to use iron sights.


A situation that seemed simple suddenly became very difficult.

Clearing a structure is hard even if it is an area as simple as a garage with a few cars in it. Most police departments will send in a dog rather than risk an officer. Note that Special Weapons and Tactics teams (SWAT) spend a lot of their training time working on entry and clearance.

I’m not trying to scare you, but I do want to plant the seeds of doubt in your mind when you hear sounds in the middle of the night. Do you really have to go see what is happening and try to clear your house or a dark garage?

Let’s go back and look at this defensive situation again. The defenders were in their 70s. A 28-year-old male who starts throwing punches at them is bringing lethal force to the fight. Also, an elderly defender is unlikely to be able to physically overpower that 28-year-old career burglar.

If you do search for an intruder in the dark, what are you going to do when you find them, or when they find you?

In this case there was a single intruder. Often there are multiple criminals involved since someone acts as a lookout and someone remains in a car for a rapid escape. We don’t know where they are or how they are armed.

The sure way for me to win that fight and avoid being shot, stabbed or beaten is by not being there. In my case, I’m more worried about my spouse being hurt than I am about the thief taking our lawn mower and camping chairs.

Best practice is usually to grab your gun and your flashlight. Turn on the lights in your bedroom, lock the bedroom door, and call 911. Best practice is for both you and your partner to be armed. Have your phone next to your bedside gun safe at night. It is better to barricade yourself in a defensible room and call police than to go hunt the bad guy.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do something to stay safe at night.

How about installing a motion activated light in your garage and over your outside doors. That has the added benefit of putting the bad guy in the light while you are hiding in the darker areas of the home. You can see him but he can’t see you.

If an intruder breaks in and injures one of your loved ones, can you apply trauma care and stop the bleeding so that they are in good condition when the EMTs arrive? We’re more likely to use first aid than to use our firearm in defense.

There is one last point that we don’t want to overlook. Best practice is to talk to the police but not talk too much. Thinking about it now will help us recognize when to stop talking.

Briefly describe the situation. Explain that you are the ones who called them. Point out evidence, in this case, the broken doors or windows. Say that you’ll appear as a cooperative witness. Then say that you’ll talk to your lawyer before you submit your full report. Leave details for the written report.

READ MORE: 7 Strategies to Survive the Legal Aftermath

You’ve just been through a traumatic event that took place mere seconds after you were asleep. Give yourself the gift of time. Your lawyer will probably want to talk to you today, and talk to you again after you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

I’m glad you made it this far.

– Rob Morse writes the SlowFacts blog. He is a regular contributor on the Polite Society podcast and at Lock-N-Load radio. He also hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast.