By: Greg Chabot
At any time in our lives, disease or accident can strike and result in our strength and/or mobility being compromised. Aging, too, of course, is inevitable for all of us, and the wear and tear we put our bodies through will catch up to us, like it or not. Such circumstances affect how we shoot or train.
The focus of this article is how to train using handguns when you have a disability. I did quite a bit of research and found there is a lack of information on this subject. Disclaimer: this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone is unique, and disabilities do not impact everyone in the same way. The goal is to be able to train around these conditions so you can still defend yourself. As a disabled Veteran, this subject is very important to me, so let’s get started.
Be Willing to Change
Willingness to change can be one of the biggest hurdles we face in life. For shooters, change can come in many forms. You might have to change your preferred caliber or weapon system. How you grip your weapon or adapt to a new stance. I freely admit it can be difficult, but sometimes we have to swallow our pride and drive on.
A quick search on the internet will show page after page of shooters debating which caliber is better. For a disabled shooter, for that matter, the best advice I can give is find what works for you. The important part is finding a caliber you can control and place the bullets accurately with. Never mind what the online “experts” have to say on certain calibers. With disabilities, it’s a moot point; if a .22 works for you, use it. Trust me, getting shot hurts with any caliber! It is shot placement that counts in deadly encounters. If you can’t hit the threat with caliber X, what good is it?
Be willing to change calibers if you have to. I had to stop shooting magnum revolvers due to arthritis and hand injuries. Believe me, I wasn’t happy about it. I found other weapons systems and calibers that worked for me. My shooting improved from the plateau I had hit with magnums. Also consider loading your own. Shooters who roll their own have the advantage of finding a loading that might work for them before they consider a caliber change.
Weapon selection is a subject that also causes a lot of debate. My intent is not to promote one system over another. My goal is to give the reader options, so they can make an informed purchase. What works for me, might not work for you, keep that in mind. The following is simply some food for thought.
With the loss of strength and motor skills as we age, ergonomics become more important. Many modern designs now give shooters options for configuring a handgun to fit them. The aftermarket also has many options to improve grip and comfort on weapon systems. My best advice is to try different grips and find what works for you. I prefer the HK VP-9, as it has many ways to configure the grip and factory charging supports on the slide. For those who prefer other brands, the aftermarket does offer attachments to make racking the slide easier. Shop around and do your research to see what is made for your choice of weapon.
Weapon size is also a factor for disabled shooters. There is a misconception that sub-compact handguns are easier to shoot. Depending on a person’s disability, they may be more difficult to use than a larger sized weapon. Try different sized weapons to find what works best for you.
Don’t let misconceptions about hand size fool you, either. I have small hands and shoot full-size handguns better than a compact or sub-compact. I know shooters with big hands who shoot better with a compact. It really is a personal preference.
Semiauto or Revolver? This is also up to shooters to decide what will work for them. For the disabled especially, be sure to factor-in felt recoil. In semi-autos, recoil is more of a “push” straight back. Revolvers have more of a sharp “snap” upwards. In talking with disabled shooters, most preferred a semi-auto. Many felt they could get back on target faster after their first shot with a semi. The majority also felt the higher capacity of a semi over a revolver was an advantage in a self-defense situation.
Semi-autos have the advantage of the shooter being able to “tune” their weapon by swapping out recoil springs to make racking the slide easier or reducing felt recoil. Again, I encourage shooters to experiment and put the range time in to make sure weapons work for them.
Get a Good Grip
The most important part of shooting a handgun is how we grip it. Some use the crush grip, while others use thumbs forward. With a single action, some ride the safety, while others choose not to. With a disability, our preferred way might not be feasible anymore. Shooters will have to keep an open mind to trying out different ways to grip their weapon. When changing grip, remember to practice and be patient. Most of us have been using the same grip for years. It will take time and repetition to build the muscle memory to master a new grip. Shooting one-handed should be part of your training also, as a two-handed grip is not always feasible or possible.
Another option that is often overlooked for handguns are stability braces. Most applications are made for rifle caliber pistols. The CAA brand offers a non-NFA version of their Micro-Roni for handguns. Ridiculed by many in the shooting community as a gimmick, it has features that might be beneficial to a disabled shooter. The small size makes it easy to maneuver in close quarters. The brace, either shouldered or on the forearm, cuts recoil down to almost nothing, increasing first hit probability.
For a shooter in a motorized wheelchair that has-to move from a threat, the brace, while shouldered, makes shooting one-handed very controllable and accurate. Don’t listen to the naysayers: if you think this device might work for you, don’t be afraid to try one out. There are also other brace-type devices on the market. A little research will help you find the one that works for you.
Awkward shooting positions should be part of your training, whether you’re disabled or not. With a disability shooting from your knees or leaning up against a wall for support might be the only option for you to shoot effectively. Do not let this discourage you. Get out there and train around your disability.
For instructors who are reading this, don’t be afraid to modify your class or methods if you have a disabled student. Do your best to accommodate them and work with them. As previously stated, there is no one-size-fits-all with the disabled. Tailor what you teach to the student’s physical abilities. Doing so just might benefit you as much as it does the student.
For disabled students, let your instructor know you are disabled before the class. This allows the instructor to make changes as needed or have extra staff on site to work with you.
At any moment, we could find our lives changed by disability. I hope some of what I wrote here empowers and helps you. Be strong and never quit. Change is part of life. Take it head-on and persevere. Navy SEAL Adam Brown lost his dominant eye in a training accident. He had to completely re-learn how to shoot with his weak hand. He persevered and continued to serve in DEVGRU (SEAL Team Six).
I would also encourage readers to check out Eric Blehm’s book Fearless. It inspired me to explore this topic and write this article with the goal of helping others.
Greg Chabot is an Iraq Combat Veteran freelancer, writing from New Hampshire.