Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
It’s An Extreme Measure, but At Some Times and In Some Neighborhoods, it’s a Good Idea.
In some parts of the world, a man’s home is more than a castle; it’s a fortress. It’s not uncommon in some third-world nations—where political instability, civil war, terrorism, and drug cartels rule the streets—to see homes surrounded by fences, locked gates at the driveway, and doors and windows reinforced against gunfire.
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And it’s Not Just About the Third World.
Some neighborhoods in the U.S. resemble war zones. Every day, stories show up in the news reporting the tragic death of a child from an errant bullet fired in a drive-by shooting or an all-out gunfight between gangs in the streets.
Recently, people have taken to the streets in the U.S. to protest and counter-protest. People with opposing points of view on both sides have shown up for these protests and demonstrations armed with loaded assault rifles.
So far, the only gunfire has been between the protesters, but if open gunfire occurs on a broad scale, the potential for collateral gunfire striking innocent victims, bystanders, and surrounding homes puts everyone in danger.
The unfortunate fact is that many events can lead to gunfire striking a home, and those possibilities occur on 5 levels. Each one of these levels represents an alert for action and preparation if incidents related to gunfire become frequent.
Level 1: Hunting Related Gunfire
I own a cabin in the Manistee National Forest in Michigan. On two occasions, a bullet has struck the front porch of the cabin during hunting season. The police pulled the bullets from the walls both times and verified that they matched the caliber of a hunting round from a deer rifle.
If you live in an area where hunting is both popular and close to home, you might want to think twice about hunting season if you haven’t already. We usually avoid sitting by windows or parts of the home that could be in the line of fire during the day.
While we don’t consider it a constant threat, we are definitely on alert during hunting season or if we hear gunfire in the distance at any time of year. Some people just don’t understand nor respect the range of some high-caliber ammunition, and that’s why you should.
Level 2: Crime Related Gunfire
These are gunfire incidents that fall in the category of drive-by shootings, botched robberies, or domestic disputes gone wrong. If you live in a neighborhood where any of these occurrences are common, you have probably taken the necessary steps already.
Then again, neighborhoods and situations evolve, so if occurrences become more frequent, it may be time to take some precautionary steps.
Level 3: Gang Related Gunfire
Gang violence certainly falls in the category of a crime, but it has a fundamental difference. It is planned, organized, and targeted; and it’s usually ongoing. No one wants to live in an area where gang violence is common, but gangs don’t always keep the violence on their home turf.
If gang violence begins to occur in the vicinity of your home, it’s time to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family. Or move.
Level 4: Violent Civil Unrest
It could never happen here. But it seems to be starting and it’s heating up. So far, the civil unrest in the U.S. is isolated to some cities and neighborhoods within those cities, but if it continues and spreads, it may be time to think about some basic preparations to keep your family safe.
Hopefully things will calm down, but if the violence continues in your neighborhood, it may be time to consider defensive possibilities. Or bug out to a safer location.
Level 5: Civil War
This is a worst-case scenario for any country or society. Every day presents a clear and present danger. The simplest tasks away from home are a dangerous foray and even at home, violence can erupt in the streets at any time. This is when the most extreme and immediate precautions need to be taken, both improvised and purchased.
Most civil wars are long-term events, and it may be too late or too dangerous to bug out let alone move. As a general rule, in times of war (or a pandemic) hunkering down tends to be a good idea.
Factors Affecting Gunfire Damage
The potential damage from gunfire striking a house is proportional to some key factors affecting its velocity, size, and penetrating power.
The larger the caliber, the higher the velocity, inertia, distance, and penetrating power of the round. Typically, gunfire from a rifle has greater velocity and distance than a handgun, depending on the range or distance. As a result, protection from rifle gunfire would require more extreme measures than most handguns.
An errant bullet from a hunter a half-mile away from your home may in fact have less velocity and inertia than a round from a handgun fired across the street. This is another factor to keep in mind based on what you anticipate as the probable cause of any gunfire.
Collateral gunfire from an isolated incident is indiscriminate and usually an accident, regardless of the motivation for the shot. The damage is often minimal and one or very few rounds are fired.
When gunfire is intentionally aimed and directed at a target, the damage is more focused, severe, and typically more frequent, resulting in greater damage and harm.
The key is to assess potential situations and try to understand how any gunfire might affect your home and take the necessary steps depending on the type of home you live in and the overall level of threat.
Home Safety from Gunfire Rated by Construction Type
1. Log Homes
A true log home constructed from tree trunks may offer the best natural protection from gunfire, errant or otherwise. The windows and doors and the roof are still vulnerable, and any chinks between logs could also present less resistance, but the logs themselves are a formidable defense from gunfire.
2. Underground Homes
Few people live in underground homes, but it’s a growing trend. The defense potential is obvious as an underground home presents a very low if no profile to gunfire, with the exception of the entrance. They also tend to be located in out-of-the-way, remote locations where a smaller population decreases the odds of frequent incidents.
3. Brick Construction
Homes with a brick construction also provide a good level of natural defense against gunfire. Here again, windows and doors are vulnerable in addition to the roof, but the brick and mortar construction should stand up to most gunfire.
In many situations, brick homes have three sides with a brick exterior, and the back is often a wood frame construction. If you have a brick home and are concerned about gunfire, you’ll need to consider the level of threat from the backyard if it is wood frame construction with three bricked sides.
4. Frame Construction
Homes built with a frame construction are highly vulnerable to gunfire. The walls and roof do a good job of resisting exterior precipitation and maintaining a consistent interior temperature, but the actual construction consists of relatively thin layers of exterior siding; insulated construction siding like Tyvek or thin plywood, and plaster sheetrock on the interior. A high-velocity round could easily enter any exterior wall and continue to travel through other walls in the house.
5. Trailer Homes and Double-Wides
Here again, they provide comfortable resistance to precipitation and are insulated to maintain a comfortable interior temperature, but the walls and overall structure of a trailer are the thinnest and most vulnerable structure to gunfire.
In addition, their foundation supports are designed to hold the weight of the trailer and its contents and, unless seated on the ground on a firm foundation, may succumb to the weight of some materials added as protection from gunfire.
Bulletproof Materials 101
Bulletproof materials are commonly referred to as ballistic material. The types of materials vary and are usually designed for specific applications. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Metals depend on the type, density, and thickness. It takes around 1/4” to a 1/2” of steel or upwards to 3/4” of aluminum to stop a 9mm round, depending on the angle and trajectory of the bullet.
Bulletproof fabrics rely on the microscopic construction of each fiber relative to the thickness of the material. Kevlar has bulletproof properties because of the way its parallel and organized molecules are arranged. They’re also made with very tightly knit fibers with high tensile strength.
Bulletproof glass is made from layers of alternating hard and soft glass. It varies in thickness, depending on its use. Bulletproof glass rated to stop a 9mm round is usually about 1.25” thick.
To stop a .44 Magnum round, the glass is around 2” but varies depending on the type of glass laminate plus the angle and trajectory of the round. Glass for bulletproof windows is expensive. Expect to pay at least $45 per square foot and more for shipping and installation.
Ballistic Fiberglass Laminates
Fiberglass panels usually have layered sheets of Kevlar held together with a synthetic resin. Fiberglass laminates have the additional benefit of reducing ricochet and, as you would expect, are expensive.
Brick, Poured Concrete, And Cinderblock
To be clear, brick, poured concrete, and cinderblock aren’t truly bulletproof, but they offer a measurable amount of bullet resistance, particularly against smaller caliber rounds.
Plus, these materials tend to be quite affordable, which is why people often use them to externally reinforce the structure of their home. Depending on the level of threat, they are the most viable option for most people.
Sandbags work well to stop a bullet because their density absorbs energy. Even though sandbags are quite effective at stopping bullets, they are bulky, unsightly and their combined weight can overwhelm wood-reinforced floors.
They’re best used on the ground or a concrete foundation. Think about the amount of weight and the ability of any floor to support it before stacking sandbags to the ceiling.
Bulletproof Fiberglass Panels
Bulletproof fiberglass panels are made from Kevlar woven and layered into a mat using a synthetic resin. A benefit is that they can be covered with paneling or drywall and finished without compromising the look of your home.
The downside is the cost. Bulletproof fiberglass panels are very expensive.
Ballistic Concrete (BallistiCrete)
Ballistic concrete, also known as BallistiCrete, is a protective coating that can be sprayed onto existing walls. It can be applied at a variety of thicknesses. The advantage is that it can be applied to any surface except metal. It can be easily painted as well.
The downside again is the cost. It starts at about $12 per square foot, depending on the thickness.
Ballistic steel armor plates are expensive, heavy, and difficult to install. They also can’t be trimmed on-site. A better option is to mount stainless steel sheets to wall studs, but they’re not specifically designed to stop a bullet. Given the cost, you may be better off investing in fiberglass panels or Ballisticrete.
A cost-effective alternative is to fill the inner walls of a house with sand, gravel, or stone. It will not be as effective as specifically designed bulletproof shielding, and the weight on the interior walls can be a challenge, but it’s better than nothing.
Home Defense Zones
After a few break-ins to our summer cabin, a Michigan State Police officer gave me some great advice. He told me to put up a locked chain across the entrance to the driveway. He said just keeping people away from close proximity to the property would go a long way to protecting the place. He was right.
If there are any kinds of threats in your neighborhood, restricting easy access to close proximity to your home is a good idea and that starts with a gate, cable, or chain at the entrance to your driveway. If your driveway is short and your home is close to the street, it probably is a meaningless step. But if you are any distance from the road, strive to keep people at a distance.
Some people don’t like fences around their homes, but if there’s trouble in town, it’s another good way to keep people at a distance. Yes, fences and walls can be climbed, but a panicked mob or group will most likely skip your yard and garden to move on to a location that’s easier to cross or occupy. In a dire situation, razor wire is an extreme option.
Windows are not only highly vulnerable to gunfire but are often a target for directed fire. There are bulletproof panes that you can install, or metal shutters. Both options are expensive and unsightly, but if the situation is serious, so are the solutions.
One thing to consider is to be selective about which windows you might bulletproof. Rather than incur the cost of having custom-made windows for every window in the house, think about windows that are high-risk such as windows facing the street or high-value spaces like bedrooms.
Another option is a transparent sheet of bulletproof film that can be applied to a window. Do some research on the products to see if it meets the standards you expect.
Standard wooden doors look nice but are no match for a bullet, and most metal doors are hollow and made from aluminum. There are reinforced steel doors and even doors lined with materials that are bulletproof and paneled with a wood finish.
As you would expect, they are expensive and usually require professional installation, but doors are another weak spot and often another target. Figure $3,000 a door and up.
Front and back doors are a priority while doors from a garage to a house tend to be inside attached garages and less exposed. There are also bulletproof garage doors but they are extremely expensive especially for a multiple car garage.
It’s easy to get tunnel-vision worrying about windows and doors because they seem like the obvious weak points. In actual fact, the exterior walls of a frame house are surprisingly thin and vulnerable when it comes to the impact from a bullet.
There are ways to add bulletproof sheathing, but the materials are once again expensive, and the look can be alarming unless covered with wallpaper or paneling. Most wall bulletproofing is intended to be installed under any plaster or sheetrock.
It may be cheaper to have an exterior fascia of brick and mortar constructed on the exterior of your home, but that’s up to you.
Unless your family is living in an attic space under a roof, you can probably forgo any extreme defensive measures on the roof. If someone is actually sleeping in the attic, it may be time to tell them to hit the couch in the basement until things calm down.
If you must, sheathing similar to what you apply to walls can be applied to your roof, but the project will be expensive. The good news is that the angle of most roofs will cause any gunfire to glance off, up, and away, even with a thin ballistic sheathing.
Whether attached or detached, it may seem like a garage is not a priority for bulletproofing. Unless of course you need to bug out in a vehicle parked in the garage.
Simple defensive steps could include stacking sandbags around the tires, engine, and gas tank. Most garages have concrete floors that will hold the combined weight of sandbags, and the car can act to support them as you stack.
It may seem like an over-reaction, but if there are active gunfire incidents happening in your neighborhood and homes are being struck by gunfire–there’s no reason a garage won’t take more than a few rounds. Your home should be your first priority, but it’s worth thinking about what you might do with the garage.
And by the way, if you store gas cans, propane tanks, or other flammable liquids in the garage, you might want to bury them in a specially lined pit in the backyard under a pile of sandbags. Gas and guns don’t mix.
To Bulletproof or Not to Bulletproof
It’s all a question of your neighborhood; the conditions in society now or in the near future and your personal level of concern. Proactively bulletproofing your home is an extreme step. But if you’ve ever heard gunfire in your neighborhood or actually had a bullet strike your home, it may not be so extreme after all.
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