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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.

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  1. If your hand strength is so weak that you can’t handle a model 10 properly I don’t know if you’re going to be able to manipulate the single action hogleg any better. You have to thumb c0ck it, loading and reloading is more difficult and the grip shape is designed to allow the gun to roll in your grip. All things that may not be possible to do safely with compromised hands.

    At 1 point Beretta was making semi autos with “tip open” barrels that eliminated the need to rack the slide. Double action revolvers in lighter calibers are also a doable thing.

    • A couple of months ago, the Beretta men came by the local gunshop with their touring display. The guy said the company was pushing the Nano but was still putting out the Tomcat .32 from time to time. For what that’s worth. The Nano still has the same racking problem that most autos have, though, for people with weak grips.

      The Tomcat 3032 has a safety, but it’s easy to load and fun to shoot. Double or single action.

  2. Sig P516 with SB15 stabilizing brace. I’ve seen one armed vets do everything necessary on their own….including stoppages.

  3. As a disabled person an M9 can be racked one handed on a pants leg. Also my 38 special is a great 1 handed firearm. However any firearm will that they choose to use is a good one. 🙂

  4. If someone is really debilitated, they may not be able to use a firearm at all. While I normally scoff at people who claim a criminal will take a gun away from you and use it against you, my scoffing assumes an average person. If you have trouble gripping or squeezing the trigger, you may be better off with pepper spray or even a knife.

    And don’t forget to consider using blanks in your self defense handgun. Remember, most criminals tuck tail and run at the mere sight of your defensive firearm. If seeing it isn’t enough, seeing and hearing the blast when you pull the trigger will convince almost all of the rest of the bad guys to get out of Dodge. The fact that you are shooting blanks will not matter because they will assume that you are shooting normal ammunition and simply missed. And if they do take it away from you for some reason and try to shoot you, it will not injure you seriously unless they hold the handgun a few inches from your body when they pull the trigger.

    • And don’t forget to consider using blanks in your self defense handgun.

      Or, better still, blow up a paper bag and pop it. Geez, man.

    • You know, this actually isn’t a bad idea, so much so that I think we may have a solution for everyone who says the blind shouldn’t carry. A standard blank is considered lethal within about 10 feet, but completely harmless outside of that. A blind person certainly wouldn’t be attempting a shot beyond 10 feet anyway, so that makes it ideal. It would certainly give the appearance of a live round, which would scare off at least some perps, and if the shooter misses… well, so what? Its a freaking blank!

    • Leaving aside several important considerations, starting with what if the sight of the gun or the sound of the shot DOESN”T scare them off? And why are you brandishing a gun if your are not in fear for your life? And what if he is armed and just decides to shot back?

      The purpose of the firearms is to defend your life, not scare people and hope for the best. When my mother was still able to handle a firearm safely I bought her a Charter Arms Undercover in .38 Spcl. (I have since taken her pistol away not because she can’t shoot, but because she has had some issues regarding suicidal thoughts.)

      At any rate, when she had the 5-shot pistol I always loaded the first round up with snake shot. The other four rounds were full-power 125 gr JHP. My reasoning was that if she needed the gun and if the sight of the pistol didn’t scare off the BG she should fire that first round center mass. The BG would then know she was armed and SERIOUS and not only got the benefit of the BANG! but probably felt like maybe he’s been shot. He might retreat at that point, not dead, and everyone goes about their business.

      The kicker was this: if the brandishing, Banging and being hit with snake-shot didn’t do the trick, empty the last four rounds into the SOB cause he’s got a serious issue with you. Also, the last four full power rounds would hopefully turn away comments of the “you weren’t really in fear for your life” based on either blanks or all non-lethal (to humans) snake-shot. Seemed reasonable to me at the time. YMMV

      • I am completely serious in my suggestion that blanks may be the best choice for people with severe physical disabilities, be it blindness or a weak grip. At some point such a person cannot be responsible with a firearm with normal loads. Using blanks gives them almost all of the advantages of a firearm with what is effectively zero risk to bystanders.

        And no, I am not advocating that a severely disabled person present their firearm willy-nilly to scare someone. I am advocating that a severely disabled person use their firearm to its fullest capability when lethal force is legally justified. Remember, the point of a firearm is to stop an attacker. If the victim can brandish their firearm and stop the attacker without firing a shot, that is an excellent outcome. Similarly, if the victim can brandish and then fire their firearm (loaded with blanks) and stop the attacker, that is also an excellent result.

        I am confident that all sane people will agree that we must use firearms responsibly. For example almost everyone uses hollowpoint bullets to minimize the possibility of over penetration and harm to bystanders. Think of a severely disabled person using blanks as equivalent to an “average” person using hollowpoints. The disabled person who uses blanks is using their firearm to its maximum potential while also being responsible. And they are greatly improving their chances if a criminal indeed takes away their handgun to use against them.

        I see absolutely no down side here.

        • I guess I can sort of see what you’re going for, in the something is better than nothing sense. On the other hand, I’m firmly in the “a bluff is just as good as its promise” camp. Don’t say it if you can’t back it up.

          A .22 LR is more dangerous than the wadding in big blanks, and more reliable. Easier to load and shoot, too. I think it’s more important to be able to back up a threat than to make it in the first place. Not to downplay intimidation, but inference should not be a first resort.

          This is an issue I think about often. Even if I lost partial use of one hand, I’d probably have a problem racking the slide on my Glock 29. That’s a stiff spring, and even though I don’t find it an issue now, it doesn’t mean I never will.

          Though here, I have to agree with, well I guess one other comment so far: the Model 10 is the easiest gun I have ever fired. My experience is with an older model ten, but the double action trigger is just so close to the single that it’s barely noticeable. Not to mention, if you have the strength and wherewithal to cock the hammer every shot, go with a double/single anyway, you don’t know what will happen in the heat of the moment. Adrenaline does funny things to people.

          Finally, I do realize, and agree, not every disability is equal. To resort to the narcissistic route again, I’d have little problem operating my current firearms if I lost the use of my legs. But losing even partial use of either arm, I don’t have adequate planning for. I guess a break action revolver is about the most ambidextrous, single-hand firearm you could find. Again, personal experience such that I’ve not looked too far outside current circumstances, but I remember a .32 H&R being pretty easy to operate with one hand.

    • I see where you’re going with this.
      Some points:
      If it’s lethal at ten feet, then I personally wouldn’t want to pick a blank. It’s probably only technically lethal, but within ten feet means I’m at risk if the bad guy gets the gun and other people are still at risk if I fire it, blank or not.
      I’d only be shooting at contact distances, so in any situation where I wanted to pull a gun, I’d want a truly lethal option—still not a blank.
      If this is the root someone wants to go, then I’d recommend a judge, governor, bond arms derringer, or double tap option loaded with 410 shells with rock salt or better yet a stun gun/bear spray of some flavor.
      I figure if you’re to the point where you’re drawing down, then you want to stop the bad guy. It’d be nice if he’s scared off, but in most cases you draw because of a legitimate imminent threat—in which case “Boo” wouldn’t be good enough for me. You’re basically advocating for the Papa Joe method of self defense here. It has some appeal, but if you’re defaulting to a less lethal option as an intimidation factor, I’d avoid a gun altogether.

      • MD Matt,

        I believe the “maximum effective range” of a blank would be about 10 inches, not 10 feet. So a severely disabled person is not going to injure anyone but the attacker who is in their face. And when pressed against the body, a blank fired from a revolver will do significant damage to an attacker.

        Therefore, if:
        (a) I were a severely disabled person, and
        (b) relying on a revolver with blanks, and
        (c) lethal force is legally justified, then
        I would pull the revolver and shoot twice at my attacker when they were still several feet away. Hopefully that drives them off. If that fails to dissuade the attacker (hard to imagine although certainly possible in a tiny number of attacks) and the attacker continues to advance, I am going to discharge the other three (assuming a five-shot revolver) blanks into the body of the attacker at contact distance.

        That sounds like a pretty solid strategy to me all things considered.

        • 10 feet, 10 inches? Ah, reading comprehention fale there.
          I still think you’re better off with bear spray or the like, but I don’t know much about blanks.
          What is the “lethal” part of the blank round?

  5. I recall a writer from Lew Rockwell a few years ago, who I believe had Cerebral Palsy. He wrote about 2A issues from a libertarian perspective and carried a 1911.

    I’m paraplegic myself and have no issue with arm strength, I really only shoot handguns though because long guns are just not practical when you have to propel yourself with your arms.

    I’ve considered a bullpup carbine or the kit for the 870, but it leaves me pretty stationary and exposed. You can stow a long gun in a satchel under your chair or try to sling it, I thought about trying one of those Mission Spec IAS slings, but I don’t actually own an AR. It does look like it could work pretty well, but it would take time to transition.

    One thing to consider with handguns if you use a wheelchair is whether to mount a holster or holsters on the frame. I prefer on body carry, but a chair mounted holster is reasonable if you won’t be taking it apart to get in your car like I do or if you are in a situation that demands such measures. I’ve been looking for a way to improvise MOLLE under the seat of my chair and try it out.

    When I first bought a gun in my wheelchair the salesperson hard sold me on a Smith & Wesson 642 and I would say that general style of revolver is probably the best all around, basic self defense gun. It is more practical than a semi in many ways even if you’re not disabled.

    For someone with poor manual dexterity, speed loaders are a good idea and the DAO trigger is about as safe as it gets without anything to fiddle with. Anyone who you might need to pass it to when the shit hits the fan will be able to use it intuitively. I love semis and my next acquisition will be a CZ or a SIG but you really can’t go wrong with a DAO .38 when you are dealing with someone who has dexterity issues.

    I really wouldn’t say the trigger is all that heavy, but if that is the main issue you could just get a Vaquero or something. I would say you are much better off with double action as long as you can pull the trigger.

    • Point of interest regarding wheel guns: the vast majority, unless they are small snubbies with a severely bobbed or hidden hammer, can be efficiently fired single action and this SIGNIFICANTLY decreases the strength needed for trigger pull.

    • Frack, Fug and Cliff H In my comment up top I completely forgot to bring up that the model 10 could be fired single action. Complete brain fart on my part.

  6. A full-sized 1911 in 9mm with a competition trigger and ambidextrous controls. Master use of the safety. This is a gun heavy enough to shoot well one-handed.

    Isn’t this the entire point behind the lovely blankets the wheelchair-bound gentleman have for their evening outings along the ocean-side boardwalks? The blankets are the Hawaiian Shirt of the wheelchair set in Miami.

  7. After major (big, scary) surgery last year, I discovered that I could no longer work the DAO trigger on my newly purchased S&W 640. Heavy triggers seem to be the new normal on even the finest revolvers. I took it to the local gun guru (if you’re in St. Louis, you’ll know who Otto is) and had him install an Apex spring kit and do an internal polish job. All was right with the world! As a side benefit, now that I have my grip strength back, I now have the easiest handling, most controllable J-frame I’ve ever fired.

  8. I am a C6 quad. I have limited hand and finger function. I cannot control my trunk muscles and have some problem with balance. My current gun is a Rossi Circuit Judge 410/45 Colt. I am able to use this gun in single action as long as I have the spur on the hammer. I do have to hold my breath when I fire so I can stay sitting upright in my wheelchair. I have the ability to clean and load the gun myself. I have picked up and looked at some lever action rifles at gun shows. I am planning on getting at least one. They are also easy for me ti use and clean. The perfect gun would be a short barreled light weight revolver rifle. I am also considering a short barreled lever action like the Rossi Ranch Hand, but with a slightly longer stock. I would like to have a couple guns at home because reloading is far from quick for me. I do not have the capability to clean semi-auto rifle or hand gun. I also cannot fire a hand gun straight. Firing my Circuit Judge works for 1 or 2 shots, but then my hand gets to tired to fire again and I am way not accurate in double action. I would like to carry a handgun on a daily basis, but I have not found one that works for me. I would like to try the Rossi Matched Pair handgun some time.

    One other thing to consider is the safety on most guns are hard to work with finger dexterity problems. I can’t even use a lighter for my grill without modifying it.

  9. “I hear a lot of talk about disability rights, but without the right to defend ourselves none of it really means anything . . .”

    Bingo. “Shall not be infringed” applies to all equally.

  10. My wife carries her mother .25 Raven. Not much stopping power, but my wife can shoot with it better than I can with full size guns. She has problems with strength in her hands and arms (especially the left). She is also rt handed but left eye dominant. She isn’t comfortable with even the lightest long gun. Her hand gun stance is about the most awkward I have ever seen. But I have witnessed her shooting eggs at 40 yds, and hitting on avg 5 out of 6 shots.
    I have fibromyalgia. Currently can use and carry anything I can afford, but as I decline, this is a question which will become more important for me. I am already noticing the extra weight of my MAK-90 and NHM-91 (great rifles btw). I am thinking of a pistol caliber carbine. Wouldn’t mine a Sub-2000 that’ll share my G-17 mags. I guess when the prices become normalized.
    Lack of ammo for training is a definite issue. Dry fire drills have a limited use. I do have a nice wooden cane, that has nice self defense uses.

  11. The Colt SAA would definitely be a good choice for the one armed man. They were designed for cavalry soldiers to shoot one handed. I don’t think they’d be too difficult to load or take down either. Personally though, I’d recommend the Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 magnum with a 7.5″ barrel. But then I live in Iowa. We let blind people carry here.

  12. With Americans experiencing increasing lifespans, a larger share of the population lives in conditions of mental acuity, but oftentimes with significant physical limitations. It’s the difference between lifespan and “healthspan”, or the years of life lived in relative good health. This is in addition to those suffering from similar conditions from whatever causes much earlier in life.

    Selection of a suitable self-defense firearm for disabled individuals is a topic discussed as infrequently as the very need for self-defense firearms by the disabled in the first place. I don’t recall ever having seen an ADA compliant, let alone ADA friendly, gun range, for example. This is an important topic for all of us, directly or indirectly, immediately or eventually, and I thank the writer for broaching it.

  13. Love shooting pistols, especially Ruger SR .22. But recently have added quality wheel guns. A ruger GP 100 .357/38, 6 rounds Wiley Clapp version SA 5 lbs. DA 12lb. trigger weight and a Smith & Wesson model 63 8 round .22lr SA 5lb. DA 11 lb Both have smooth trigger pulls. Consider them to be guns I will be able to shoot up to my early 80’s I do believe a point & shoot revolver is the best choice for disabled, seniors and for just about anyone as defensive weapon under the KISS Principle. Just need to practice, pratice, practice, with less rounds, no fudge factor.

  14. You’ve seen a Uberti Horeseman? I’ve seen the ads, but they are unknown in my neck of the woods, and I have yet to see one on Guns America or Gun Broker. Certainly not an “authentic” SAA, but by following the Ruger patterning of transfer bar and spring system, is probably a better and safer firearm.) Even Cattlemen are in short supply; my local gun store, which is a Uberti dealer, has a single SAA in stock, a .357 with a 4 3/4 barrel. It has a VERY slick action, and feels well balanced in the hand. The 5 1/2 inch that I picked up at another gun store seemed awkward by comparison. I’d have bought it, but I have my heart set on one in .45 LC.

  15. I am dealing with a type of cancer that attacks the plasma cells in the bone marrow and has the very bad habit of eating away at the bone structure. All points brought up are great and I just want to say thank you to you all for your insight and willingness to share.

    The one situation that I have to deal with and accept eventually is the fact that very soon I won’t be able to carry. If I do I have to answer one question, am I putting other folks in danger by carrying a gun that I can’t employ effectively because of my limitations?

    This is something that I have to deal with due to my limitations.
    For now my Sig 2340 is still usable. My old Colt Trooper gives me additional time but……..

  16. As a person with cerebral palsy, my first gun was a single action revolver because I found it impossible to lock back the slide on the semi-auto I was looking at. The Ruger Vaquero fit my hand very well.

    But the think is, the FFL was not very helpful. He made no attempt to instruct me, a newbie, how (even with two hands) rack a slide. He simply said, not for you and threw out a single action revolver. While I love the gun, it took me exactly 15 minutes of teaching myself (a few years later) to figure how I could safely rack a slide. I still need practice on ways to do it in “live” situations. They way I do it is simple move the grip to my handicapped hand (using my strong hand to place the fingers of the weak hand out of the trigger guard!) and then hold my arm straight and do all the work with my strong hand. You learn to be dexterous with your fingers when you have to be (working a slide stop on the same hand that is racking the gun? No harder than buttoning a wrist button with the hand on the same side, or typing 60 wpm with one hand)

    Same with loading mags. I can hold the gun well enough to allow my strong hand to get the mag and put it in.

    Recently I have been practicing (with empty mags and unloaded gun) using my week hand to retrieve a magazine and put it in the well. Found that the guides that some competition shooters use actually help a bit. Important thing is just to position the mag on your body so that your gimp hand picks it up facing the right direction. Once I master this, then I am going to try and learn true one handed racking (since in a defense scenario, not going to be able to move the gun between hands)

    The real difficulty is just that any beginner’s class, or even many instructors, are poor on one handed shooting. I do very well self taught with Single Action revolvers. But hey, light trigger pull. I now do decently with most semi-autos, but need to practice in stances that I am likely to take in a defensive scenario. Not sure the “duelist” stance is realistic.

    But the thing is, it is a leaning process. I started buying a gun. Then I expanded to different types, experimented. Discovered I could shoot a 10/22 one handed, but not a Marlin 330C. I could brace a shotgun on my wrist (unable to turn over weak hand), but not pump a pump action shotgun without difficulty. So I learn to improvise. I still shoot a Marlin…through experiments using a three point sling I can get a couple shots on in close group at 100 yards while standing. Just set a goal and do it. And have funning even at failing to do it, until boom you have done it.

    That is what I am doing. As I learn, I figure out what fits into my “philosophy of use” (hunting, defense, etc), and set goals and adapt. And I can hold my own against the vast majority at the range because of it (though once you get out the competition shooters I learn I have a way to go)

    To the guy who suggested blanks…no. Don’t. Sure there are some limitations that, e.g., my handicap imposes that I cannot overcome. Cannot fire a pump action quickly. Cannot handle very long and heavy rifles without some stand. But I have learned that you can overcome or bypass most problems. Even someone with a weak grip. If he can hold the firearm and point it and pull the trigger, which he must be to use a blanks, he can do it with real loads too. Maybe not hot loads. But that is where experimentation comes in.

    And don’t forget that blanks are a terrible idea for auto-loaders. Not enough recoil to cycle the action usually (hence they have to be tinkered with)

  17. Lots of great .22LR’s out there, I would say get a rifle if you can handle it (any rifle is usually better than any handgun.)

    Don’t let people discourage your choice to defend yourself due to the inability to wield a larger caliber.

    There isn’t an HSLD, Internet warrior out there volunteering to take multiple round of .22LR to the face, or high center chest, so it must be effective enough.

  18. This is my new nomination for the FNS-40. Good article and great discussion. It makes a powerful point that is often overlooked.


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