Most trained civilians are prepared to use force in self-defense either at their home, to repel a home invasion, or in a public place, to halt an attack.
These are the two typical settings for all kinds of self-defense scenarios, and there are many similarities between them, namely the presumption that the defender will be in a setting where their presence is justified, and the bad guys are going out of their way to bring trouble to them.
But there is another setting where one might be attacked and need to defend themselves and their holdings, and it is one place that in this author’s mind is seriously neglected on the part of most people.
I’m referring to, of course, one’s place of business, or some other non-residential property.
Certainly the impetus of self-defense and the techniques used in doing so do not really change in this setting, but several other important factors might, namely the ethics of doing so when one is not being directly attacked and how this might reflect upon the defender in the eyes of the law.
With increasing civil unrest and outright sectarian political violence becoming the “new normal” of the American landscape, these are questions the prepared citizen needs to ask themselves before they are forced to answer them with far less time for preparation or clear thinking. In this article I will furnish you with some considerations, ethical, legal and practical, for doing so.
Table of Contents
Defense of Holdings in Context
To clarify my intent for this article, when I’m discussing defending one’s business or some other piece of property I mean specifically doing so in response to a fomenting or oncoming threat: a riot, a political battle, specifically targeted violence against your property, etc.
This is somewhat different from defending yourself while at that property or your place of business from robbers that storm through the front door with guns drawn or a lone crazy who tries to jump you while you are clearing brush from a parcel of land you own on the edge of town.
Mechanically and legally, both of those examples are oftentimes identical to defending yourself in any other place that you legally, lawfully have a right to be, including your home.
But that same criteria for use of force and understanding in the eyes of the law might not apply when risking your life and limb, and certainly you will be imperiling the lives and limbs of the people who seek to damage or destroy your property as part of some organized mob violence or vendetta against you specifically.
That sounds appalling, but it is true. Additionally the practical considerations, or tactical considerations if you prefer, are extraordinarily more difficult to sort and are complicated when defending yourself and your holdings against a threat that does not involve you at the instance.
Do not delude yourself into thinking it isn’t; the surest way to attain a bad outcome it’s you underestimate the magnitude of what you are dealing with.
In short, the question is not should one and how might one defend themselves when they are attacked directly (meaning their person) while at their business or some other property besides their home; the question is should one place themselves in a position to protect a property that is imperiled by mob action or some directed, specific threat?
This is a question that is not so simple as it first appears, and the answer, as with all answers to questions regarding the use of force in a civilian context, is nuanced.
Time to dig in.
Ethics of Defending Property
Before we touch on anything else, before you do or plan anything else as a defender, you must have a clearly defined, rigid set of ethics regarding the defense of property.
In this context property means anything besides your body and your life, or the lives of the people that you care about.
Defending any of those things from harm is just about as simple as it gets ethically. Things get a little stickier when we are talking about property, be it buildings, land, businesses or any other physical (even intellectual) item that has worth and belongs to us.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes even now, but bear with me. The current social and political climate we are experiencing in the United States and elsewhere in other Western countries is currently plagued with bugthought.
You have no doubt heard that there exists an idea being promulgated by subversive forces currently ascendant that would have you believe that no property, in any context, is worth someone’s, anyone’s, life.
The moral of this despicable piece of fortune cookie wisdom is that you should never, ever shoot someone or harm them just because they are trying to take or harm your property, not necessarily your life.
Despite their obvious intention of getting their would-be victims to simply drop their guard, roll over and get what is coming through them, if we examine this sentiment through the established and codified values of our society (and indeed the internal value system that I would assert is familiar to most of the readership) there is a grain of truth to it.
In the vast majority of places and in the vast majority of cases, the law only provides that we are able to use force in defense of ourselves or someone else in order to prevent death or great bodily harm. Not merely to protect property.
At least, that is the typical answer to the question when it is asked of self-defense instructors, firearms trainers and other people whose interests revolve around such things.
The genuine answer is now, as always, somewhat more complicated. If one cares to review the state laws from coast to coast you might be surprised to find that in quite a few places the law makes allowances for the use of lethal force in order to prevent a forcible felony from occurring.
What constitutes a forcible felony, and a better question, what might constitute a forcible felony that does not inherently entail a significant risk of death or great bodily injury? Just a few examples might be:
- Breaking and entering
- Aggravated Sexual Assault/Battery
None of these crimes explicitly guarantee that the victim might die, even in the case of rape. Plenty of rapists who successfully commit the crime don’t kill their victims.
Before we go too far into the weeds, consider arson, burglary and breaking and entering, all more germane to the topic at hand: All crimes that are specifically perpetrated against property. All crimes that in the right circumstances might justify a lethal response.
I have little doubt that the majority of the readers (and, included among them, this author) would say that lethal force is not warranted or justified in the case of simple shoplifting or other petty theft, or in the case of thievery where the owner was not directly threatened, like your car being stolen when you are not occupying it.
But when the crimes against properties, indeed against someone’s holdings, intensify to a level where severe economic hardship is inflicted upon the owners, and possibly even the employees of those businesses, the calculus shifts a little bit.
What may result in the lives of owners from the loss of valuable properties and businesses by any means? Let’s have a look:
- Loss of or Reduced Income: Lowered quality of life and inability to pay bills or afford essential services like food, medical care and others is a grave stressor.
- Repossession: Most Americans do not own their vehicles out right, and inability to make monthly payments might be a loss of mobility in a setting where personal mobility is absolutely essential to the continuance of life and income producing activities.
- Child/Dependent Endangerment: It goes without saying that most people have someone or some people completely dependent upon them, be they children or adults who require personal care or financial support. When their caretaker financially capsizes, they suffer or even die along with them.
- Homelessness: A very real and devastating possibility when someone’s financial wellbeing is compromised, and may yet be inflicted upon people who lose their businesses to rampaging mobs, or lose valuable property that was held as an investment. Most Americans don’t even have a whole month’s worth of savings, and losing out on even two weeks’ worth of income is often a death knell.
It sure seems to me like someone’s business and investment properties are worth defending, at nearly any cost. I need not explain it to anyone who owns such properties just how bad their lives can get when those sources of income are destroyed.
The owners of properties have often spent fortunes on them, grown them, worked hard for them. There are more people than just the owner depending on them. It is no wonder that people want to protect them, as is their right.
Unfortunately such a decision is always fraught with peril in our time, both physical and legal. It is an easy thing for someone reading this article to armchair-quarterback it, and advise an owner of such a property to stay out of the way and tuck tail (if they know what is good for them), that nothing is more important than their life, and to let insurance take care of it!
Therein lies the rub: Only the owner of that business who has skin in the game and potentially the entirety of their income or a significant fraction of it on the line, who understands intimately what they are willing to risk their life and limb for, and who knows all too well that modern insurance is a racket that will pay only a fraction of what any property is worth can make the call.
Strangers cannot, and that means I cannot for you, reader.
But I can arm you with insights and observations to help you understand the variables. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll need to understand the situation in totality as best you can.
Legal Considerations of Defending Property
As I alluded to above the use of force by a civilian is always a risky proposition legally since the government, at all levels, jealously guards its monopoly on the right to employ violence.
Nonetheless, in most places the law makes allowances for people to defend their lives and bodies as well as the lives and bodies of others in their charge from a lethal threat or a threat that presents a risk of great bodily harm.
You can generally depend upon having a fair shake in court if you are attacked in your home or violently accosted out in public while going about your day or running errands. But be warned:
Even then, in all but the most blatantly obvious open-and-shut cases of self-defense, you will go through the attendant legal process in the aftermath to be spat out the far end of the machine over $100,000 poorer, a social and emotional wreck.
This may not be the case in all jurisdictions if you make the decision to leave or forgo a place of safety, meaning your home, your castle, in order to go and defend a property that you do not live at, your family does not live at and is unoccupied by humans except during times of business or for special purposes.
In fact, you can depend on being painted as the bloodthirsty bad guy if you live in an area where leftist sentiment is pervasive, and prosecutors like to make an example out of anyone who bucks the prevailing political ideas.
What might work against you additionally is the common legal conceit that a person who uses force against another must have acted using good sense and acted reasonably – or at least sensibly and reasonably according to the people who wrote the laws – and attempt to avoid any confrontation when it is generally possible to do so.
If you are open for business and at your place of business when it is attacked it is far more understandable that you might use force in defense of yourself and any other employees or customers that might be present.
It is less understandable perhaps, in the eyes of the law, for you to leave your home or some other place of safety to travel to your business knowing there is likely to be a confrontation, even when in reality you are the victim or victim to be, and your holdings are in genuine danger of destruction. Tough break, I guess!
This is because, in general, good guys always avoid trouble when possible and only use force, even in defense, when they have no other choice.
Again, in the eyes of the law in most places. It is the bad guys that instigate, provoke or place themselves in a position to start trouble.
It is crucial to understand this seemingly contradictory element of the law and do so through the filter of your local legal landscape.
It is no surprise and no secret that some places are generally friendlier to the notion that a citizen, a good guy or good gal, has the right to use force to defend themselves and others so long as they are in any place that they have a legal, lawful right to be at the time that an aggressor threatens them action or indirect action.
This means that if you live in a place where the right to defend your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness from those who would take it from you does not begin and end at the front door of your home, then you are well within your rights to use force against someone who would deprive you of any of them just because you so happen to be at any other property that you own, business or otherwise.
America’s legal system might still be the best thing going compared to all the others around the world but it is also gravely sick in many places, and you would be a fool to not factor that into your decision making matrix prior to embarking on a defensive action at a business or other piece of property.
I feel oily even typing that sentence out; such is a symptom of our wasted era, but it is the truth.
Putting yourself in the position to interdict or attempt to interdict a violent mob when that violent mob has the tacit approval of local, state level or federal politicians and other authorities could be a decision that has you labeled an illegitimate and dishonest actor, one who is murderous, violent or unstable.
The same might occur if you try to stop a person who is connected to influential individuals or families.
And as always, consulting with a local attorney in your area who is fluent in both the law regarding the use of force (particularly lethal force) by civilians and defending such in court is an imperative part of your preparations for a scenario like this.
I can promise you that going off half-cocked in this regard is a recipe for disaster and no amount of braggadocio will save you from the gnashing gears of the legal system assuming that you survive your actions. Hope is not a strategy, and playing it by ear is not a plan!
Assuming you have a thorough understanding of the law, you understand the local prosecutorial landscape in regards to use of force in defense and have thought through your actions and all the possible consequences you are ready to move on to tactical considerations.
Tactical Problems of Defending Property
Defending your business location or some other piece of property against a substantial threat to it it’s just not as simple as defending your home or some other dwelling.
Again, in our modern era, the biggest threat to a business posed by people is likely that of mob action: looting, burning, pillaging, and general destruction.
I and other authors have spoken at length about dealing with or at least surviving mob activity, and if you are unfamiliar with the topic I suggest you read up on it post haste because these problems are only going to get worse, not better.
You can read up on my thoughts and observations about the tactical problems facing a person trying to defend a remote piece of property in the subsections below.
What is the Threat?
- Mob: Large group of people, dozens or hundreds. Irrational, persistent, cannot be talked down. Unlikely to be dissuaded by anything less than overt and overpowering show of force or employment of force. Severe threat to you and to property. Can easily turn nasty when provoked or when one of their number is hurt or killed by outside force.
- Individual/Small Group: Easier to manage but harder to see coming. Might be permanently dissuaded by hardened or protected target or threat of prosecution/counterforce. There is a chance they can be backed off or talked down if caught in the act or prior to.
What kind of threat is your property facing? Is a campaign of revenge or harassment from an individual or a small group of people acting against your interests, or is your property potentially going to be caught up in a revolutionary protest by organized and funded partisan mobs?
This is an important factor in determining your response, both whether to act or not as well as what kind of countermeasure must be brought to bear to ensure a good outcome. Make no mistake whoever and whatever you are trying to protect against there will be an unavoidable element of risk.
If you’re dealing with a lone individual holding a grudge, or a small group of people you might be able to easily enough protect your property by securing it with security features or other barriers to entry depending on what kind of property it is.
This could be cameras, alarms, hardened shutters and improved locks or mylar window coverings in the case of a building or business, or fences, gates, bollards and other installations in the case of an enclosure or unimproved piece of land.
Obviously, the larger, less built-up and more open your property is the harder it is to control movement on to it.
A mob is altogether different, and you cannot count on any physical security measure save for the most hardened construction withstanding a mob’s attempts to breach and destroy it.
The only thing that can repel a mob is an obvious threat or demonstration of overwhelming force, force that you will likely not be able to bring to bear. Even if you can, it will all but certainly involve you in protracted and costly legal proceedings on the backside.
In the case of the former, depending on the type of people you are dealing with they may or may not present a direct threat to you physically.
Lots of deranged people want to ruin the lives of those they despise and bring ruin upon their house, but they will stop short of overtly trying to murder you.
The latter case though, a mob, is almost always a lethal threat in any instance. If you attract the ire of the mob you can be beaten, shot, stabbed, burned or literally torn limb from limb.
Also consider what the tempo of a protective posture looks like in the context of these threats.
If you are dealing with a mob that is active in the area, especially one that is pillaging and burning in the immediate vicinity of your property, you’re going to have to be on guard in a high state of alert for an extended period.
They will be goading you, insulting you, looking for alternate ways to get at you. Yes, many of them will keep their distance when they see they are facing resistance, but this will only antagonize others among the horde.
How long are you willing to maintain this defensive posture? How long are you able to actually maintain it? I mean you, yourself, personally for the duration of the event. Will you need sleep, food, water?
Anytime you let your guard down you might be rushed or your business attacked directly with Molotov cocktail or with match and gas can, even explosives.
Contrast that with an indeterminate threat posed by an individual or a small group that is bearing a grudge. You don’t know when they will strike, or how.
Are you going to live at this property to keep a watchful eye on it? Is that even a possibility? If they do show up and do not depart what then? Now you are in that strange, “half-pregnant” sort of standoff.
Also, consider what might happen when you are not around to protect your property or have someone protect it for you. Do not underestimate how dedicated some people can be in the pursuit of spite!
Quite a few businesses in the very recent past took pains to protect themselves from an initial wave of rioting only to see the rioters return and destroy the business after its defenders had slackened. Individuals, too, with an ax to grind are certainly capable of performing counter-surveillance and look for an opening to commit their misdeeds.
Unless you have nearly unlimited resources or a truly dedicated group of friends or family willing to help you you will probably not be able to maintain constant alert and protection of a property that is not your home.
The Surrounding Terrain
- Density: How many buildings or other obstructions are around your property? Will this help or hurt in your specific context?
- Observability: How can the threat approach? Will you be able to effectively monitor multiple approaches, a few, or only one at a time?
- Defensibility: Does the terrain favor your property and its defenders or potential attackers?
Where your property is located and what terrain surrounds it are essential considerations when formulating a response to a threat against it. Is your property in the middle of an urban or suburban area what other buildings occupied or not all around it?
Is in the middle of an area commonly occupied by others, either in a fixed position or as pedestrians? Is your property in a rural area or flat out in the middle of nowhere with no one and nothing else around it?
Perhaps your property is located inside or attached to another, larger structure which might complicate protecting it in a meaningful way. All of these factors will make a difference.
Obviously, a property that is in the middle of a rural area well outside of a city is unlikely to come to the attention of a mob, since mobs’ center of gravity is almost always in the areas that spawn them.
Conversely, a lone individual or small-group operating without the anonymity and protection of a mob might think twice about perpetrating an act against a property in the middle of a city, places which are notorious for enhanced surveillance and a preponderance of police, not to mention potential witnesses.
The terrain around your property will also dictate to a degree how physically defensible is.
There is almost nothing practical you can do to stop people from gaining access to a large, multi acre property even if it is fenced in as you cannot be everywhere at once to monitor the perimeter.
Conversely a business frontage or office space that is just one unit among many along a commercial row or a discrete building nestled in among other buildings is comparatively easy to monitor.
On the other hand, a building that is sandwiched between two thoroughfares will be more difficult to monitor constantly since it allows easy movement for threats on both sides.
Part of the “terrain” if you want to call it that could be the presence of other people who are not direct threats. Remember: You are solely responsible for any and all force you employ in defense! That certainly applies to gunfire or any other defensive tools that you use.
You will have to articulate to a judge and jury why you did what you did under the circumstances. Decisions you make in an instant will be picked apart and flensed- dissected molecule by wriggling molecule- by that judge and jury who will decide your fate.
This must now, as always, inform your decisions if you want to attain a positive outcome! It does no good to preserve your holdings if you wind up going to prison for a life term.
If you make the choice to fire on someone who is directly or indirectly threatening you, or is perhaps just making ready to firebomb your business, and a person besides the aggressor is hit or otherwise injured by your actions, you will be solely responsible.
In an urban or suburban setting especially accountability for every round fired and every action taken in response to the public safety is an absolute nightmare, one that massive agencies with armies of lawyers still struggle to cope with.
If you screw up and somebody who doesn’t deserve it gets hit or harm by your actions, they will jack up the jail, and try to stuff you under it.
- Ways In: If you are moving to protect your property, is there any chance that the way in will be blocked or already be made dangerous by whoever you are trying to protect it from? Consider if the way into the property by whatever path you are taking is observable by the people you’re trying to protect it from or people that are just sympathetic to them.
- Ways Out: Perhaps even more important than the route to your property or any routes that will let you get out and away from your property. If the situation turns against you and you have to flee will you have a reliable way out? Consider how fast and how accessible the route is. Failing to leave yourself an escape route, even if it is only one that can buy you time, is risky.
Consider that you are planning a defensive action on a piece of property where you might have to make a stand and quite literally fight for your life and defend what is yours. This is no small thing, and you should not treat it with any cavalier attitude.
You might be choosing, quite literally, the hill or rooftop you want to die on. If you haven’t been taking this seriously so far, now is definitely the time!
If you are defending any property from a mob, especially one in a suburban or urban area, chances are you will not have a conventional escape route unless you can park your vehicle in some sort of attached structure that will resist the mob’s attempts to breach it.
Any vehicle left accessible will be stolen or destroyed. Trying to get away from any mob on foot is foolish as you are likely to be overtaken and beaten or killed unless you are an excellent runner.
Escaping a mob through subterfuge is often best but once you have been targeted (say for having dared to stand against them in defense of your property or any property) you will not be able to just walk away by sneaking out the back door.
Some hidden or otherwise unknown or unobservable path might get you clear of the threat and buy you some time to escape on foot, but if you cannot rely upon the power and nominal protection of a vehicle you are probably in it for the duration.
If you are protecting a remote property, especially one that is accessed by unimproved paths and roads, consider that traveling these even by vehicle is liable to be slow going.
If you need help, medical attention or just a speedy exit from your defensive posture will it even be achievable?
Consider Potential Support and Relief
- Communications: What reliable methods of communication will you rely on to summon or direct friends or other aid? Cell phones, radio, telephone? All have specific vulnerabilities.
- First-Responders: How likely is it that police or paramedics could get to your location? Will they even come to your location under the circumstances?
- Friends and Associates: Consider that things go very badly and the only people you might be able to convince to come to your aid are real friends. Do they know how to get to you, know where you are? Are they willing under the circumstances?
If we are all talking straight most people and especially most preppers have at least a sliver of the fantastical idea that they will be the one, singular individual to turn the tide or hold back the darkness. The fabled hero to save the day, especially when it concerns their family and their interests!
This is understandable, and I can at least admire the confidence, but the reality is that lone badasses, even those embarked on honorable excursions, usually don’t obtain good outcomes, especially when facing down mobs.
It is wise to conduct contingency planning before you head off in an attempt to secure any property you own no matter how valuable it is.
It doesn’t make you a coward for ensuring that the cavalry can indeed ride to the rescue! This might take the form of police, EMS or just some switched on friends who are truly worthy of the moniker.
Gut Check Time: There is no guarantee that any of them will be able to assist you at all, or willing if they are able!
Consider carefully the political climate in any place that is allowing unchecked riots and other partisan violence to go on; most of the time these places keep police forces on a very tight leash, and since police manpower and resources will be limited they will be protecting properties and interests that they are directed to, not just the common man.
This does not mean they will not be able to get to you or not be willing to help, but I would say depending on where you live your chances are no better than 50/50 if they are even that good.
Also consider the fact that if you are seriously injured, which is an altogether too likely possibility, paramedic or EMTs might not even be willing to come to you; it is common procedure the paramedics and EMTs do not go into so-called “hot zones” that are not safe, since first responders being injured and becoming casualties is a bad, bad thing.
You can safely assume that inside the bounds of an active and agitating riot or a rolling shootout certainly qualifies as a hot zone! One need only turn on the news to see plenty of evidence of this.
Furthermore if you are off the beaten path, even if you are not in the middle of a dangerous situation, EMS must be able to locate you and if you have not prelogged your position with them it might be excruciatingly difficult trying to talk them on to your position in a time-is-life situation.
Protecting a business or non-residential piece of property from those who would take it or destroy it is not as simple and straightforward as repelling invaders from your home or repulsing a brazen attack on your or yours while in a public setting.
Everything, from the premise of defense under the law to the timing of when you employ lethal force changes. It is more complex in many ways, especially when it comes to obtaining a favorable outcome under the law.
It is essential that you start planning and preparing for this contingency now so you are not forced to make a decision in haste in case your holdings are ever threatened in the future. Proper planning and preparation prevents poor outcomes!