by Brandon Friede
The saying goes, “God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” Setting aside concerns about gender-specific pronouns in an age of rampaging political correctness, it’s difficult to think of a situation where this applies more than that of the physically disabled. Stand your ground laws may have put an end to the legal duty to retreat (check your jurisdiction), but some of us lack the simple ability to retreat from a threat. While I have always been a firm believer in avoiding trouble, sometimes trouble finds you, and I cannot for the life of me think of a good reason why self defense should be the sole domain of the able-bodied. I hear a lot of talk about disability rights, but without the right to defend ourselves none of it really means anything . . .
Moving beyond the realm of defensive shooting, everybody needs a hobby and depending on the nature of an individual’s disability, marksmanship can be a field on which the able-bodied and the handicapped can compete on equal terms. After all, the ballistics of a given cartridge are the same, regardless of who’s firing it.
So, what is the perfect handgun for someone with a disability? Like so many things in life, the answer is “Well, it depends.” The specifics of someone’s condition are likely to be as unique as the individual. A person with a spinal cord injury in their lower back may not require any special considerations when selecting a handgun. An amputee may not be able to rack the slide on an autoloader. Someone with muscular dystrophy may not have the grip strength for a double action trigger. There are a myriad of options to consider, and you probably won’t get it right the first time. I highly recommend visiting a range with firearms to rent, or going with friends who have a variety of different guns you can borrow for the afternoon. What looks good on paper (or your computer monitor) may not feel so good in your hand. I’ll run down a few of the things I think are important when looking at a handgun.
1.) Can I actually shoot this?
I don’t mean “Can I fire it once?”, I mean “Can I aim and fire this repeatedly, in a controlled fashion, with some semblance of accuracy?” If the weapon itself is too heavy to hold up and aim, or the trigger is too stiff for your grip strength, or the recoil causes you physical pain, then maybe you should look at something else. If you really have to have that 500 Smith & Wesson, then I won’t tell you no, but you were warned…
2.) If I limp-wrist this, is it going to jam?
If your arms and hands are strong, you don’t have to worry about this one, but it is something myself and others have to consider. Revolvers are immune from this concern, and the open-slide Beretta designs don’t seem to have a problem with it either. Remember, if the gun jams, it has to be cleared. If it’s your gun, you should be able to clear it.
3.) Can I load this?
Some people have trouble racking the slide on an automatic, I know, I’m one of them. It doesn’t have to be easy, necessarily, but it does need to be doable, at will. Also, plenty of able-bodied people have bruised and bloodied their thumbs putting rounds into their magazines. Make sure that you can get your handgun loaded yourself, or else it’s just a tactical paperweight. Fortunately, so many people have fought with magazine springs over the years that various magazine loaders have hit the market. I’ve had great luck with the UpLULA made by maglula. Again, revolvers are immune to this concern.
4.) Can I take this down for cleaning and basic maintenance?
It’s your gun, you’re going to need to clean it at some point. With some pistols you have to pull the slide back to a certain point, line up some notches, and then pull a pin out, or drop a lever someplace, push a button, stand on one foot, cross your eyes, check the location of Jupiter, etc. I might be exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea. Just make sure that you have the necessary grip strength and manual dexterity to take your gun down enough to get the dirt, lead, and gunpowder residue off of it, oil it, and put the pieces back together. Revolvers are generally easier in this area.
5.) Do not be afraid of the unconventional choice.
This is probably the most important point I have to make. You have unconventional needs, it follows that the best choice for you may be an unconventional one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sporting a Single Action Army when all your friends like to Glock around the clock. A gun you can shoot accurately is worth infinitely more than one you can barely operate, and it will certainly be more enjoyable at the range.
Well meaning able-bodied people may have some recommendations about cartridges or particular firearms, feel free to consider their advice, but don’t let them pressure you into something that doesn’t work for you. For example, I’ve heard the Smith & Wesson Model 10 mentioned before as a self defense firearm to someone with poor grip strength (an elderly gentleman who couldn’t rack his 1911 anymore). It’s not a terrible suggestion, but an Uberti Horseman in .357 Magnum can fire the same ammunition, and instead of a double action pull of 8-9 lbs (potentially difficult), it has a much more manageable single action trigger pull in the 2-3 lb range. Uberti also makes the Stallion OWD (Old West Defense), a slightly scaled down Colt SAA clone in .38 Special. It is very concealable, and fires the same ammo as the Model 10. The Ruger Vaquero would be good competition here as well. These are unusual choices for a self defense weapon, but they are well suited to the particular condition of the individual in question, and any one of them could stop an assailant with a single well-placed shot.
Frankly, I could talk for hours about the pros and cons of different firearms and cartridge choices, but I’m not the one who’s going to shoot this thing, you are. Make sure that it’s the gun you’re going to shoot well.