Guns for disabled shooters: it’s a real problem these days


As regular readers will know, I trained disabled and handicapped shooters for many years.  They have unique problems to deal with, and issues of limited mobility that make “regular” firearms and their handling a real challenge.  For example, due to limited upper body and/or arm and/or hand strength, many can’t handle anything in the way of serious recoil, limiting them to minor calibers.  More than a few also have dexterity issues, making revolvers a simpler solution than semi-auto pistols (although reloading either can be a problem for them).

I’d given up my training activities due to advancing age and my own partial disability (the result of a workplace injury back in 2004) slowly getting worse.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic, urban unrest, and their effects on the availability of guns and ammo have dragged me back into doing what I can to help disabled shooters.  Many are faced with a real dilemma.  On a (usually very small) disability income, they can’t afford new guns, and are forced to look for economically priced used models.  However, with the panic buying of guns and ammo now under way, there are almost no “economically priced” guns to be had!

As an example, I used to recommend older-model Taurus medium-frame revolvers (the Model 66 and its variations – current models hold 7 rounds, but earlier ones held only 6) as a lower-priced but decent-quality carry gun to my students.  One used to be able to find them for $250-$350, where a comparable Smith & Wesson or Ruger model might be twice that price.  Nowadays, though . . . there’s just no way.  New models are anywhere from $600 to $800, depending on location and sales tax, while used models are rare as hen’s teeth.  On one of the major firearms auction sites, only three used guns are currently listed for sale, with their starting prices respectively $549.99, $600, and $649.99.  On top of that, of course, the buyer has to pay for shipping to a local dealer, plus the latter’s processing fees on the transaction.  So much for economy!

There are a few (a very few) halfway decent deals to be had, but they’re hard to find.  This week I came across a 6″-barrel Model 669 variant (solid rib and full underlug) similar to the one shown below, for $480.

That’s still too expensive for most disabled shooters, but it’s the reality of the market these days.  A 6″ barreled gun is too big to easily carry concealed, but it’ll do for home and/or vehicle defense.

A big part of the problem is that gun shops and well-meaning gun owners often recommend entirely the wrong firearms to disabled shooters.  “Oh, buy this small, lightweight snubnose revolver.  It’s so easy to carry, you’ll forget it’s there!”  Sure – but the recoil of that small, lightweight revolver will be almost unmanageable for someone with limited hand and arm strength and mobility, and its smaller size and controls make it harder to manipulate.  The same goes for many small to medium-size semi-auto pistols.  A heavier medium-frame revolver is simpler and easier to operate;  it can’t be “limp-wristed” to cause malfunctions;  its springs and trigger can be worked on for lighter, easier function;  it can usually be equipped with a laser sight, making precise aim using the iron sights less important;  it can be rested on a knee in a wheelchair if necessary;  and its weight absorbs a lot more of the recoil than something lighter.  Using lower-powered ammo (for example, .38 Special rounds in a .357 Magnum revolver) also helps.  Only when you’ve had to actually train and work with disabled shooters do such realities become clear.

There’s also the factor that the criminal element often picks on disabled people to a much greater extent than “abled” folks, because they regard them as easy prey.  If they dump a wheelchair on its side, the person in it typically can’t get up very easily (if at all), and will be helpless as they assault them or steal their belongings.  On the other hand, a firearm in that person’s lap, or conveniently attached to their wheelchair in an easily accessible holster, can stop such attackers in their tracks.

At least five of my students (so far, that I know of) have had to use weapons to defend themselves under such circumstances.  All have come through their encounters with flying colors and only minor injuries.  Without their guns, the ending might have been a whole lot less happy.  I know of at least four disabled persons in wheelchairs who ended up on the ground, and were kicked and beaten so badly that they either died, or were further (permanently) crippled by their attackers, who regarded it as a fine amusement.  Scum like that are no better than animals – in fact, it’s an insult to the animal kingdom to regard them as such.  They have to be stopped . . . and if there’s no-one else on the scene except their victim, then it falls to them to do the stopping.

I’d like to appeal to those of my readers who have more firearms than they need, and are feeling generous.  If you have older revolvers like that, please consider donating them, or selling them at a well-below-market price, to disabled shooters in your area.  You’ll find them by talking to local shooting ranges and/or instructors, and to other shooters you know.  If you don’t have a spare gun, perhaps you’d consider helping such shooters financially.  Right now, guns suitable for disabled shooters are either unavailable, or almost completely priced out of the market for those on a limited income.  If you can help in any way, I know they’ll appreciate it very much.



  1. Peter, would a .25 Raven be useful? It was my wife's purse pistol, but she has passed on from this vale of tears.

    1. No, .25 us marginal – and I am being generous.

      Ravens are the opposite of quality. It is rare to see one go through a magazine without a stoppage.

      It is slightly better than harsh language.

  2. There really isn't a good solution to this problem. Many oldsters have arthritis or other problems that preclude pulling the trigger on a DA revolver. On the other hand, people who advocate autos like to tout the lighter trigger pulls and ease of reloading, but tend to overlook the problem of racking the slide and of loading the magazine with cartridges. In theory, the S&W E-Z series, which is made in both 9mm and .380, may be the way to go. I say "in theory" because I've never seen, much less handled, one, but the loading button on the magazine (similar to .22 magazines) and the grip safety that allegedly makes it easier to rack the slide, make these guns worth a look.

  3. @tweell: It might well suit a disabled shooter who can handle the diminutive controls and rack the slide. I suggest you ask around locally. If you can't find anyone locally who needs it, I can probably find someone out this way who could use it. Let me know.

    @Old 1811: The S&W EZ series are a good step in the right direction, but still rely on sufficient strength and dexterity to master the controls, and don't overcome the "limp-wristing" problem. As for arthritis, etc.: one has to tailor the gun to the shooter when dealing with disabilities, much more so than for regularly-abled folk.

  4. Hi, I'm 47 years old, and three year ago I had a massive stroke. I went from being fully functional to being paralyzed on my right side on my body. I can tell you first-hand how hard it's been. It's also difficult because I would have to load and shoot one-handed, and my left side is not predominate. My wife and I Have been looking for a handgun to Purchase but have found nothing. This is the first time you've mentioned this; if you can hook me up with something, I'd appreciate it.

  5. Peter, I am relatively fortunate. Due to a herniated lumbar disc, I can't stand for long or walk very far, therefore I use an electric wheel chair for mobility. I can, however, carry and use a compact semi-auto 9 mm. I have arthritis in both hands and can foresee a time when operating my semi auto pistol may be an issue. I have a .38 J-frame and a medium frame .357 Mag that I should be able to use for some time if needed. One issue with disabled shooters, is that everyone has different needs. What works for me may not work for the next person. Each individual needs to evaluate their needs, resources and capabilities and decide what works for them, there is no "one size fits all" solution. I think I will volunteer my time as an "advisor" (not instructor) for other disabled folks at the local range, if they'll have me.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with your objections to the EZ series; the problems you raised are real and serious, and that's why I said the guns are "worth a look," and not that they're the solution to the problem. I'm an ORC (Old Revolver Cop) and I like the revolver for its simplicity, but the heavy trigger pull creates problems. (Another problem with revolvers is weight; I wish Ruger or Smith would upgrade their polymer-frame revolvers to K-frame size.) I think that the only way to decide which gun is the best for a given person is to have that person shoot (not just handle) a bunch of different guns, and let them decide for themselves. Some people will prefer revolvers, and some will like autos, but the recoil problem may necessitate going to a less than optimum caliber (.380, .32, or .22).
    Good luck on your quest.
    I hope I don't sound too pedantic; this is a serious problem that I've given some thought to, and my thoughts pretty much parallel yours.

  7. It looks like the CP33 from Kel-tec (I know, I know) might be interesting. 33 rounds, lightweight. True, it's a .22LR, but— 33 rounds.

  8. I suggest considering some older midrange calibers – for example, revolvers in .38 S&W and 32 S&W Long and reasonable if you look around, and ammo is still available for less than $20 a box.
    These guns are easy to shoot and handle while offering more power than .22 or .25.

  9. @Peter B: I agree, 33 rounds of .22LR would offer serious defensive utility; but the CP33 is a large pistol, so much so that carrying it runs into the same problems as a 6"-barreled revolver. The Kel-Tec P17 is considerably smaller, and holds 17 rounds of .22LR, and is therefore a better bet for disabled concealed carry – but it's impossible to find at the moment. (I reviewed it on this blog a few months ago, if you recall.)

  10. @JackL: Yes, better than nothing: but remember the dexterity, strength and manipulation issues we discussed. A single action revolver is somewhat more difficult to manipulate than a double action, given the need to cock the hammer between shots. Physical limitations may make that difficult.

    1. Cocling the hammer one handed isn't a big deal – you let the weight of the gun to much if the work. It us designed to be run that way on horse back. It will take some practice but us is doable. Reloading, however, is a two handed affair.

      I can run a Colt or Ruger left and one handed. It us sub-optimal, but I can do it. S&Ws can be done but you need to put a gas pedal latch on it. Either way running it in SA might be the way to go.

      I wouldn't have said this years ago, but a 9mm 1911 in a LW Commander format, and squared off (ie not Novak) rear sight seems to work really well for a lot if people I have help over the years. The recoil and recoil springbare relatively ligh, the trigger is good, and the grip safety is not as big an issue as you might think.

  11. True, a single action revolver presents issues with reloading, but also gives the shooter a very crisp and light trigger pull. Depending on their disability that might be a major benefit.
    Same goes for most double action revolvers. Must stress the most because some DA wheel guns have been modified either at the factory or afterwards with the designation DA only, a silly term in my opinion, either by dehorning the hammer, shrounding it, or removing the single action sear. Some version of this was common with a few law enforcement departments to prevent their marginally trained officers from cocking their firearms in a high stress situation leading to far too many accidental discharges and resulting lawsuits.

  12. The main problem with a using a revolver in single-action isn't cocking it. In the vast majority of self-defense encounters, no shots are fired, so the revolver may have to be uncocked (decocked?). That introduces a whole new set of problems for a person with hand strength and dexterity problems: How do you safely return a hammer to its uncocked position? First of all, you need two hands, and secondly, you have to remember to get off the trigger while the hammer is being eased down.
    There is no panacea for this problem. Every individual has to decide what's best for him or her.

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