Guns for People with Physical Challenges

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Criminals are predators in the worst sense of the word. I’m not talking about noble majestic predators like lions or leopards, but cowardly and nasty predators like hyenas. They attack the weak, the innocent, and the unaware in our society. In other words, they go for the softest targets they can find. 

There have been multiple research studies and numerous articles written about how criminals choose their victims. I’ve even written some of them myself. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that criminals go for people they feel are unable to defend themselves. Along with people who just aren’t paying attention, criminals target the elderly, the infirm, people with physical challenges, and people who don’t look capable of defending themselves. 

It follows that these are the people who benefit the most from being armed and capable of protecting themselves. However, the factors that make them attractive as prey to criminals can also adversely impact their ability to operate a handgun. Fortunately, the incredible growth in the number of Americans choosing to legally carry a concealed firearm for self-defense has motivated the firearms industry to develop and offer guns that are tailored toward people with physical limitations. 

Types of Physical Challenges

Not all physical challenges are the same. Having arthritis in your elbows presents a different set of challenges than poor eyesight. Some issues are obvious, like the inability to work the slide. Others, like malfunctions caused by limp wristing, might take a bit of detective work to figure out. Some people will suffer from more than one issue at a time.

Those are all problems for the person themself, along with family, friends, and perhaps an instructor, to figure out. The good news is that once the problem is identified, there are guns available that offer solutions.

Weak Hands

Weakness in the hands can be the result of numerous conditions. Carpal tunnel, cysts, and the aftermath of a stroke can all result in weak hands. Simple old age is another cause. The practical effects can include difficulty or inability to work a pistol slide, difficulty controlling recoil, and even difficulty pulling a double-action trigger.

Arthritis

Arthritis and other conditions can make gripping painful. They also result in intense discomfort from recoil. Not only can it affect someone during a life-and-death encounter, but arthritis can make training and shooting at the range painful and unpleasant. If you don’t practice with your gun, you won’t have the confidence or skill to use it when you need it the most.

Recoil-Averse

Being recoil-averse is usually the result of a physical problem. It could be a chronic condition like arthritis or the lasting effects of an injury. Recoil that you or I might not consider heavy can be very painful. But recoil aversion can also be psychological. Some people have a mild temperament and are just frightened or at least bothered by recoil. This can sometimes be trained out of them, but some individuals will just never react well to heavy recoil.

Poor Eyesight

Some people are born with poor eyesight or have conditions like astigmatism that make using iron sights difficult. This can be ameliorated to an extent through training and practice, but the problem itself will never go away completely. Beyond that, virtually everybody’s eyesight dims with age. Glasses, contacts, and surgery can help, but it is uncommon for anyone’s eyesight to return to 20/20 once they get older.

Limp Wristing

Limp wristing results from a shooter not having a strong enough grip or when the wrist does not remain straight while shooting. This causes the slide to cycle inefficiently because it’s not being maintained in a straight position. That results in the slide not cycling all the way, which causes failures to eject or feed. In many cases, a shooter’s tendency to shoot with a limp wrist can be trained out of them. However, if the cause is a physical challenge, it is unlikely that training alone will solve the problem.

I once trained a woman who was frail and had weak wrists. We tried multiple different techniques and guns ranging from a KelTec P32 to full-size handguns, and the result was the same. She could only get a shot or two off before she would have a malfunction. We eventually switched her over to a revolver that did not rely on recoil to operate properly.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Firearm

Before discussing some examples of guns that are suitable for persons with weak hands or other physical challenges, it’s important to understand just what characteristics are beneficial. Considerations go beyond how easy it is to manipulate the slide or even how heavy the perceived recoil is. Just as with anyone else choosing a gun, certain factors influence how suitable it is for someone with physical challenges.

Size Does Matter

We often see people recommending small guns for the elderly or people with disabilities. They reason that a small light gun will be easier for the shooter to manipulate and hold. But this is not necessarily the case. Small, light guns deliver a lot more recoil to the hands and arms than heavier guns do. That means they are a lot snappier and, therefore, more painful and difficult to shoot, even in tamer calibers like .380. 

The concept that it is best to choose the largest EDC gun you can realistically conceal and carry holds true for people with physical challenges just as much as it does for everyone else. Good capacity is also important. Along with the physical size of the gun, the caliber is important. Don’t decide ahead of time that the best they can handle is a .22LR or .32ACP. Go to the range and shoot. If the person can handle a 9mm, then that’s what they should carry.

Features Can Make Life Easier or Harder

Controls are an important consideration. Size and ease of operation for something like a magazine release can make a big difference to someone with weak hands. A manual safety is an even greater concern. How well can the shooter use their thumb to flip the safety off as they draw? In some cases, it might be better if the gun they choose does not have a manual safety. The only way to determine all this is to try a gun out before purchasing it.

Practice is Important

I once read an article about guns for the elderly that said recoil isn’t that big a concern. The writer believed that recoil only matters on the range where the shooter is firing lots of rounds and that it would matter much less in a defensive shooting situation. I suppose that is true. Anyone who has ever shot a 12-gauge while pheasant hunting will tell you they don’t even notice the recoil when they are taking their shot at a flying bird.

The problem with that theory is that you absolutely must practice with your carry gun if you expect to be able to use it effectively in a life-and-death situation. Otherwise, you will lack the confidence and competence to successfully shoot it under pressure. That means it must be easy and enjoyable to shoot when practicing at the range as well as in a real-life situation.

Sights

Many small EDC guns have very rudimentary sights. These can be difficult to use for someone with perfect vision and utterly worthless for someone with less-than-perfect eyesight. Iron sights must be large enough to see easily and might even benefit from additional enhancements like fiber optics or night sights. 

Point shooting is fine when you are within bad breath range, but at any kind of distance, getting a sight picture quickly is critical. An optic is one solution. A laser is another option that may work for some people. 

Special Needs Gun Checklist

  1. Size: Is it large enough to be easy to shoot and manage but small enough to grip easily?
  2. Slide: How difficult is the slide to grip and manipulate?
  3. Controls: Are the controls easy to reach and easy to operate?
  4. Caliber: An EDC gun should be the most powerful gun the shooter can realistically handle and shoot well. Don’t go with a .22LR if they can handle a .380.
  5. Recoil: Is the recoil manageable for the person intending to carry it? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; only the shooter himself or herself.
  6. Sights: Are the sights easy to see? Should they use an optic? Is a laser a practical addition?

Options

Many handguns on the market are suitable for someone with special needs. So many that it would take a lot more room than I have here to cover them all, so I am just going to cover a few of the most representative models.

Smith & Wesson M&P .380 Shield EZ

The M&P Shield EZ is a micro-compact polymer pistol with an 8+1 capacity. To the eye, it is a standard small pistol, but it has been engineered so that the slide is very easy to work. This makes it a good option for people who have poor hand strength or who suffer from arthritis or other conditions. It uses an internal hammer, so once you work the slide, it’s ready to shoot. It can be purchased with or without a manual thumb safety, so you have your choice.

On the other hand, it has a grip safety, which might not be a feature everyone wants. It improves the safety of the gun if you choose not to use a manual thumb safety, but someone with weak hands may find compressing the grip safety troublesome. It weighs just over 18 ounces, so it is not very heavy. This makes it easy to carry but doesn’t do much to reduce recoil.

SEE ALL Smith & Wesson M&P .380 Shield EZ DEALS

EAA Girsan MC 14T TIP-UP .380 Pistol

EAA Girsan MC 14T TIP-UP .380 Pistol

The Girsan Tip-Up is a handgun designed specifically for people who have difficulty working a slide. It’s based on the Beretta Model 85 Cheetah but has been upgraded to a 13+1 capacity double-stack handgun. The biggest innovation is the tip-up barrel that allows you to load a cartridge directly into the chamber. That way you never have to work the slide at all, either to load or unload the gun. The gun’s solid 1.4-pound weight helps reduce the recoil from the tame .380 cartridge even further. 

It has an ambidextrous safety, but if you don’t want to use a safety, the DA/SA action allows you to load a round in the chamber but leave the hammer down. That does make the first shot double-action, so if pulling a double-action trigger is difficult, just cock the hammer back manually and set the manual safety to safe.

SEE ALL EAA Girsan MC 14T TIP-UP .380 DEALS

Beretta Bobcat and Tomcat Pistols

Beretta Bobcat and Tomcat PistolsBeretta began offering pistols with tip-up barrels for easy loading long before Girsan. They currently offer them in two calibers: the Bobcat in 22LR. or if you want something a little bigger, the Tomcat in .32ACP. They are both tiny pistols with barrels under 3″ long. But they offer the convenience of tip-up loading so you never have to work the slide. 

Neither the .22LR Bobcat nor the .32ACP Tomcat use a powerhouse cartridge. However, they both offer people who are recoil-averse or have painful hand conditions an option that allows them to be armed and practice with their guns. This is especially true of the Bobcat. I am a firm proponent of carrying a powerful cartridge in my EDC, but if you can’t do that because of a physical condition, then a .22LR handgun is better than being unarmed.

SEE ALL Beretta Bobcat DEALS

SEE ALL BERETTA TOMCAT DEALS

Revolvers

Smith & Wesson Model 351C .22 Magnum

A revolver is a legitimate option if you simply cannot use a pistol, either because of the slide or because of wrist issues that make you prone to limp wristing a semiautomatic. There are lots of models to choose from. The Ruger LCR is a small double-action revolver that is available with either an external or internal hammer. It is available in .38 Special, but if that is too much recoil, you can also get it in .22LR or .22 Magnum.

Another nice revolver option is the Smith & Wesson Model 351C .22 Magnum. It is a double-action internal hammer revolver that holds seven rounds of .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) ammunition. The .22 Magnum gives it more punch than a .22LR, but the recoil is still very mild.

SEE ALL Smith & Wesson Model 351C DEALS

Conclusion

Getting older or having a physical challenge doesn’t mean you have to be a helpless victim. If you are in that situation, there are realistic options for you to be armed and capable. If you have a loved one in that situation, step up and help them be prepared to defend themselves and those they love. With the choices available in firearms today, it’s easier than ever to be legally armed and prepared for whatever the world throws at you.

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