Modified Carry: Adapting Self-Defense with a Handgun As We Age
Maybe you have noticed this at the range: a friend or family member trying to load and fire a weapon while holding a cane or “cheater” glasses. We have all seen the frustrated shooter who inadvertently ends up “sweeping” the entire firing line while they try to insert a magazine or cycle a handgun. Usually, careful and competent people tend to lose concentration and focus when they are frustrated. To be honest, we all have days when we are “one of those people.” What is going on here?
Without a doubt the demographic most in need for special consideration is the shooter facing some new physical challenges, either through aging or illness. Perhaps you know an older shooter who has not been to the range in a while because of a new illness. Or maybe somebody older than me who decides to learn to shoot for safety reasons because their physical limitations makes them feel vulnerable.* Acquiring or reacquainting oneself with a handgun could help them feel less vulnerable. Just imagine the uphill battle they face to gain proficiency with their handgun and manage some physical changes!
Is needing help using a handgun too much to consider? How about this: what would you do to help somebody continue to drive after an injury or illness? Modify the vehicle? Add some mirrors? Add a GPS? Cushion the back rest better? If you think those are reasonable considerations for helping someone be more competent behind the wheel, then helping someone you know feel more comfortable behind the firearm makes a great deal of sense.
Modified Carry: Common Issues
So why might someone you know maybe need some help to modify their shooting skills? Let’s consider some common problems:
- Reduced Hand Strength
- Reduced Visual Acuity
- The need to handle a Gun while managing a Cane or Walker. Balance issues are crucial, especially when surprised or needing to move quickly.
- Numbness in Fingers and Lack of Dexterity
First of all, let me say that no limitation can be addressed simply by thinking about the problem. Each situation needs some doing, some rehearsal, and some trial and error. There is no need for embarrassment or ribbing when problems arise, it happens to all of us at some point. There is need for a calm and confident friend or family member to help them approach and master these problems in short order. By the way, unwanted advice will be received as criticism so wait for the right time to offer your insight.
Modified Carry: Losing Manipulating Strength
Let’s get started: Just about everyone loses some strength as they age, often this shows up in the hands, wrists and arms. Have you tried to open a pickle jar lately – not so easy is it? Simply loading a magazine or manipulating any kind of action can become either a struggle or simply unsafe. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen someone pull the gun, with a full magazine with possibly one in the chamber, into their abdomen as they try to get the leverage needed to cycle the action. Muzzle control often disappears when shooters get frustrated while trying to rack the slide! Plus, focusing on the gun action means they have lost situational awareness; that is an even bigger problem.
One option trainers will offer those with reduced hand strength is to either consider a revolver that will allow them to shoot in single action status. Or you could let your friend or family member try a gun with a weaker action (think the new S&W Shield EZ or the Bersa Thunder). Finally, you could suggest the individual keep dropping down in caliber until they find something they can manage comfortably. Many older women I train really like the Ruger SR22 for its size and ease of manipulation. Is it a great caliber for self-defense, of course not; but it beats carrying nothing at all. It might be possible, as a last resort, to find a local gunsmith who can modify a favorite handgun to make it easier to manipulate with a weak hand, but why do that when there are so many good options coming into the market right now?
Modified Carry: Losing Visual Acuity
Those with vision issues face some interesting choices. Now, before you get to feeling smug eventually every adult will lose the ability to rapidly accommodate (the act of changing the curvature of the eye’s lens) among focal points. There is a reason many of us have bifocals! Some of us even have trifocals. If you see someone at the range tilting his or her head at different angles while pointing a handgun they are not trying to strike a pose, they are likely just trying to use the right part of their lens to find the sights.
Seeing the target for close quarter self-defense may not be as crucial, but it is always better to aim. The addition of a laser to guide targeting is often useful for those with failing vision. Simply enhancing contrast in the end of the barrel sight will solve the problem. I even had a modern 1911 that performed much better when the front sight was enhanced by the addition of some fluorescent jig paint. Making sure there is adequate light is an obvious solution, but then there is the issue of holding a flashlight and managing a gun. Should you suggest adding a light to the accessory rail? Maybe. Finally, I almost ways have a gun with a red-dot mounted on it for my students to try out. The red-dot sight takes some getting used to, but once mastered the students quickly overcome many visual issues. The older person wearing “cheaters” on the range might benefit from a red dot atop their favorite pistol.
Modified Carry: Accounting for Assistance Devices (Canes and Walkers)
Operating a handgun while bracing oneself with a crutch or cane is a motor skill that needs practice. What this likely means is that the person may need to concentrate on shooting from a seated position or shooting with just one hand. Or perhaps working on gaining some upper body and arm strength so they can shoot with one hand, and steady themselves with the other holding a cane, chair or walker.
I have seen many older shooters shy away from practice because they cannot plant two feet on the ground and square up to the target like they used to. So here is a newsflash: have the person practice what they can do until they can do what they can do well. If they are going to defend themselves from a seated position they need to practice that cross-draw carry or the ankle rig retrieval. If they are going to need to shoot one handed they had better practice shooting one handed. Anyone who says to you: “here hold my cane while I shoot” might be ready for some conversations about alternatives. Recoil and unsteady feet are a combination that is best addressed and not ignored.
There are a lot of reasons for loss of dexterity or numbness in hands. I have had carpel tunnel surgery on both wrists and some days the fingers do not move like I would like. My range sessions are more intense, but limited in time because of pain. I know that I am more recoil sensitive than I used to be. Some writers brag about being able to shoot heavy calibers “all day long.” I intersperse lighter recoiling calibers with the heavy stuff in most of my range sessions. Why beat my hands up?
Clearly the first step is to get a medical examination if this is a new problem. If the numbness or lack of dexterity is here to stay then an honest discussion about alternative carry makes sense. Lose the .44 Magnum and go with a 9mm that has an extended magazine that matches their hand strength. Then again, I have coached more than one young or delicate shooter where my small 9mm carry gun literally jumped out of their hands when they tried it out! Most trainers would agree that a modern .380 round is enough for self-defense and that round in a solid gun can be managed even with balky digits.
Other good investments for those of us losing dexterity are shooting gloves, or a good speed loader such as the Maglula Uplula. Maybe as a friend you will pre-load multiple magazines to make range time less frustrating. If the fingers do not stretch like they used to (think they may not be able to easily reach the slide release anymore) it might be time to acquire a gun that fits the new hand strength or length. From my perspective, a good DA/SA revolver can do wonders to help a person with dexterity issues feel comfortable at the range and in their home.
Finally, I would urge you to help the person adjusting to some limitations to get in some practice time. Yes, it is fun to throw some lead downrange. In fact, you may have more fun helping your friend or family member regain their shooting skills then you do sharpening your own.
*On the opposite end of the spectrum is the senior citizen who I saw shopping for a trail gun. She was about to hike the Superior National Forest Trail by herself, and wanted something to scare the predators off! She ended up buying a small .22 caliber revolver due to big noise and ease of carry factors. Nonetheless, this wonderful woman might one day find this small revolver more than she can safely handle.