While there are dozens of reasons people purchase a firearm, home defense often tops the list. In a home defense scenario, it's important to understand two related, but very different concepts: cover and concealment.
When buying a firearm for defense, either at home or on the go, it's important to get professional training because defense isn't just about shooting. One of the topics that a good defensive instructor will cover is that of cover and concealment. The average home has numerous examples of both, and you need to know how to use each along with their respective advantages and disadvantages. Knowing in advance which items in your work constitute cover or concealment just might make all the difference one day.
On the most basic level, concealment is anything that visually hides you from your attacker. This could be a shower curtain, a bush or even a bean bag chair. Concealment hides. What concealment doesn’t do, is stop bullets – that’s where cover comes in.
Cover is any object that not only hides you but also acts as a shield between you and any projectiles headed their way. While concealment is not necessarily cover, 99% of cover is also concealment. The only example I can think of where cover wouldn't offer concealment would be ballistic glass, but most people don’t have panes of that lying around their homes.
Further muddying the waters, cover can be separated into soft and hard varieties. Soft cover provides some degree of ballistic protection, but after a few shots, it begins to lose its effectiveness. Hard cover will weather all but the most intense bullet storm. As an example, think of an oak desk vs. a concrete wall.
This might seem academic, but it’s actually very applicable to a good proactive home defense plan. Gun owners can walk through their homes and determine if there are any safe spots to hide from attackers until police arrive on scene. While I won’t spitball the effects of various materials on the terminal ballistics of any given round, I can give you some basic guidelines.
In general, anything not made of thick steel (specially designed bullet-resistant materials not included) offers limited ballistic protection from standard ball or full metal jacket ammunition. I mention ball or full metal jacket ammunition because that tends to penetrate barriers more effectively than expensive hollow-point or expanding defensive ammunition. While police and lawful gun owners may carry the expensive defensive loads to minimize penetration and potential risk to bystanders, crooks and home invaders may not care about that as much and use less expensive full metal jacket ammo. As a result, homeowners need to plan for worst case penetration scenarios.
Some objects are safe bets as cover, like gun safes or thick pillars. However, furniture is a totally different story. The common use of particle board and plywood is great for consumers looking for inexpensive furniture, but those materials make for lousy cover in a firefight. For instance, a piece of half-inch plywood won’t stop a standard 115gr 9mm round.
I always assume any "assemble yourself" furniture or furniture weighing less than 50 pounds will be ballistically flimsy. On the other hand, if you have any antique furniture made of hardwood, it stands a much better chance of stopping or slowing incoming rounds.
Lastly, just because a piece of concealment offers no ballistic protection, doesn’t mean it is devoid of value. Your would-be assailant can’t shoot what he can’t see. So don’t just stand in the middle of the hall and wait for him.
While the ideal home defense plan is to barricade in a secure location in the house, call 911, and wait until help arrives, it makes good sense to plan ahead for the use of cover and concealment in various locations. The more you think about which items in your home, like refrigerators, heavy bookshelves, and structural features provide real protection, the less you'll have to improvise in the event of an invasion.
If you have access to an outdoor shooting range, take some samples of various materials like wood, drywall, or old books and do a little experimenting. Visual aids are great at reinforcing memories, and you’ll be certain not to forget how good or bad a certain material is as cover if you personally shoot them.