I plead guilty. Yes, I have not paid enough attention to a very important group of gun enthusiasts and self defense pistol shooters. In a past article, Where to Begin When Choosing Your Firearm for Concealed Carry, I provided some help to those purchasing a gun for personal defense. I look back and with regret, realize that I left out information that could have helped a large group of shooters. I am speaking about some women shooters, the elderly, and those with less hand strength due to arthritis, a physical injury or disability. For that reason, I wanted to address this important group of people who often get overlooked.
The facts from the above mentioned article still apply, and will help even if you have reduced hand strength, a disability or something similar. But, the additional points below may help you choose a firearm that will work best for you.
Let’s talk about the size of the firearm. It is a huge consideration, mainly because you are trying to match it to your needs and the size of your hands. Typically, I see women (or elderly), handed a small pistol as a ‘great fit’ for them because the pistol is small and may be a smaller caliber. This is actually the wrong firearm for a new shooter, especially one who is part of the group this article is focusing on. Size of the firearm plays probably the largest role in recoil and in difficulty of operating the slide (on a semi-automatic firearm). Remember this: the smaller and lighter the firearm, regardless of caliber, the more the shooter will feel the recoil. If recoil is a major turnoff for you, purchasing a pocket pistol or smaller sub-compact will be something you want to avoid.
As mentioned above, a smaller pistol’s recoil is felt more, and is usually slightly more difficult to grip because of less grip space, and its sights are usually not as refined as a full-sized or even medium-sized firearm. Because recoil is a factor in smaller and lighter firearms, manufacturers have to put stiffer recoil springs in them, in order to absorb some of that recoil. This in turn can make it more difficult to operate the slide, i.e. locking the slide open or chambering a round. This can be a huge issue for those with less hand strength. In these situations, you may want to look for a slightly larger gun that has a little more weight to it. This allows the recoil spring to be a little less stiff. Also, the added size provides a little more surface area for you to grip. All of this will make it easier to operate the slide. Note: I do not want to recreate the wheel. There are many quality articles and videos explaining techniques on how to manually operate a slide. Some of them are specifically geared toward women, elderly and disabled, and should help you with understanding those specifics. Yes, proper technique helps in operating a slide on a semi-automatic handgun, but sometimes even the proper technique can’t overcome a disability or weak hands, so proper pistol selection is important.
What about revolvers? Revolvers can be a great option for elderly or those with weaker hands but they do have some drawbacks. Remember that revolvers do not have a recoil management system, so all of the recoil is transferred to the shooter’s hands. This may only be an issue if you’re repeatedly firing your revolver for an extended period of time on a range, and less important if you are using it in a self-defense situation. Revolvers can be a good choice because most do not have an external safety. Rather, they have a heavy double action trigger pull. Sometimes the location or stiffness of the external safety can be an issue. Having a heavy initial trigger pull, combined with properly following the safety rules and carrying in a proper holster will eliminate the chance of a negligent discharge. If this heavy pull is uncomfortable, look for a revolver that can also be manually cocked and fired in single action mode. As long as it is not impossible for you to physically fire the revolver in double action mode (hammer forward) during a stressful situation, this could be a viable option.
The last point to consider is the firearm’s sights, especially because our eyesight diminishes as we get older. Obviously if you can’t see, you probably shouldn’t be shooting a gun out in public. But, anything that makes it easier to see your front sight will help, and this applies to all shooters. If you are color blind or have difficulty seeing a specific color, try looking for a firearm that has sights that can be changed without major custom work needing to be done. This way, you can change color, size and the actual sighting method for your firearm.
I hope that this article, along with the past article, Where to Begin When Choosing Your Firearm for Concealed Carry, provides you with a wealth of information for selecting your firearm, regardless of your physical attributes and circumstance. As always, stay safe.