Some elderly individuals (including senior gun owners) fear crime and personal attacks simply because they have fewer resources for coping with victimization and its consequences. Some are not as physically strong or as mentally astute as they were earlier in life. They have special difficulty recovering from broken bones and other serious injuries and have a limited range of motion. Of course, there are key personal considerations about each senior’s level of cognition, physical health, and mental condition. These are a Northwestern University researcher’s conclusions from federally-funded research studies in several U.S. cities. I personally want to say that I believe advancing age, by itself, should not preclude anyone from enjoying and exercising their rights and privileges of gun ownership and self-defense, nor leading an independent life. We all have the right to keep, bear, and practice using firearms for our self-defense. And many do and more able-bodied seniors should. A 2020 Gallup Poll found that about 44 percent in the U.S. say they live in a gun household, with about one-third of all adults saying they personally own a gun
Seniors Are Twice as Likely to be Seriously Injured and Hospitalized as Victims
Seniors with their gray hair, or big receding hairline or no hair at all, deep wrinkled and sagging skin, age spots, and cane for support might attract the attention of criminals. Seniors are often targeted because of their physical appearance and at first glance tend to be trusting, polite, and relaxed… and might even be driving a modern luxury vehicle and wearing attractive jewelry paid for with their long, hard years of work. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, sadly the elderly are twice as likely as any other age group to be seriously injured and require hospitalizations when victimized. Those over age 65 are distinctively worried about personal assaults and gave themselves a “substantial chance of being attacked.”
Elderly Survey Respondents Rate Police Performance as “Good”
Several studies were funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and supported by the University of Chicago, M.I.T., and Harvard University. A significant percentage of the respondents were aged 65 and older and were interviewed in several studies involving various-sized cities, including the larger cities of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Hartford. Interestingly, surveys in the five largest cities (listed in order above) indicated that the elderly were most likely to rate Police performance as “good”; to think the Police treat people well and understand people’s problems; and most likely to agree that Police “try to do their best.” This seems to be in sharp contrast to what recently was reported in some of the media.
2021 Police Budgets Reduced in Some Large Cities
Bloomberg.com reports that “the 50 largest U.S. cities have reduced their 2021 police budgets by 5.2% in aggregate….” The City Council in Minneapolis even first sought to do away with the police department altogether, but that did not happen. Further, Bloomberg reporting says the biggest cuts to police budgets were in:
- Austin, TX | -33.3%
- New York, NY | -14.8%
- Minneapolis, MN | -14.8%
- Seattle, WA | -11.2%
- Denver, CO | -9.8%
“If you take away resources from the police, that takes away an opportunity for us to get justice,” the father of a 7-year-old slain girl in Michigan said.
The Role of Police and Community Members in a Free Society
To this author, the role of the police in a free society is to promote public safety and uphold the existing rule of law, so that individual liberty and justice may flourish. Trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect are essential to advancing these goals.
I might add that “trust and accountability” are a two-way street and both the police and community members share in the accomplishment of public safety and following existing laws.
Illegal actions and wrongful conduct by an individual or mob do not make up for another’s transgressions or infringement of duty or bad conduct. I learned about logical-reasoning fallacies when making an argument or claim when I was in grade school. That a bad or illegal action you might take is not justified just because the other person has done the same or would do the same if given a chance. Experienced and wise senior citizens need to step up and be compliance examples for these elementary precepts.
Many Adults See Themselves “Owning a Gun in the Future”
According to a Pew Research Center’s 2017 study, many adults who didn’t currently own a gun said they could see themselves owning one at some point. In fact, 52% of all non-gun owners – and 71% of those who have owned a gun in the past – say they could see themselves owning a gun in the future. Given our current Pandemic and the increase in gun sales, NFL Hall of Fame Coach George Allen of the 1970s Washington Redskins was correct when he said “The Future is Now.”
Protection is a major reason for owning a gun. So proper training in not only the mechanics of handling and shooting a gun accurately and effectively, but practical training in the legal considerations about when and when not to shoot a gun in deadly-force encounters is of paramount importance. My book, “Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection,” covers both the shooting mechanics and using a gun in deadly-force situations.
5 Basic and Practical Tips and Suggestions for Senior Gun Owners, Self-Defense and Concealed Carry
1. Select the optimal handgun for yourself at this senior stage of your life and medical condition, get proper training, and practice with the gun often.
Decide on your specific criteria for selecting your personal handgun that match your physical strengths and weaknesses, manual dexterity, and medical limitations. As difficult as it may be, you have to recognize that you have changed between age 40 and your present age 75, for example. Although you often carried and shot a .45 and .357 Magnum for self-defense when younger and in better health, you now have infirmities that limit your physical abilities. So, you use a different handgun and caliber now than when younger. More on this below. Use whatever handgun that now feels comfortable in your hands, that you can easily control, handle the felt recoil and muzzle flip, and smoothly press a lighter trigger for accuracy.
You must be willing to be flexible, adapt to your physical changes, and to your medical conditions. This does not mean that you are in any way inferior, but that there are merely changes that you must recognize and adapt to by selecting the “right” gun to use for self-defense and carry for yourself. If there is weakness in the grip and hands, consider having a gunsmith smooth the trigger for a lighter press or change to a single action only pistol. The benefit of a single-action firearm is that the trigger pull is both light and short. This allows you to press the round off without having to exert much force and movement through your hands which could affect your accuracy. It is very important to get refresher training for your aging handgun skills and to frequently practice them.
2. Use the best technique for racking the slide to overcome weak hand and joint strength.
Because I have observed many of my new students over many years improperly racking their pistol slides, I devote an entire chapter in my book to the proper technique for racking a slide. Often I hear complaints from frustrated senior students that the slide is just too difficult to rack for their swollen and tender arthritic hands and age limitations. They say their joint stiffness is to blame, so they must find another pistol. While it may be due to their arthritis and aging, often I find it is more the fault of their poor racking technique. While hand strength is important to be able to rack a slide effectively, the technique is very important and perhaps even more important than brute strength.
After they complain about their aging effects, I ask them to demonstrate their approach while I observe. Several shooters hold the gun away from their body and at about neck or chest level when they try to pull the slide back to chamber a round. Others try to only pull the slide back half-heartedly, then say they cannot do it, and give up. The optimal technique involves positioning the gun at waist level and, generally, pushing rather than pulling the slide. My book has details. Focus, technique, perseverance, and practice are important to the slide-racking task. So don’t give up and keep practicing racking that slide… but know the proper technique.
3. Overcome unclear, fuzzy sight alignment, and sight picture problems.
Natural weakening eyesight from aging, unclear front-sight focus, frustrating sight alignment, and trouble with the sight picture are frequent problems for the senior shooter.
The natural aging and eye-deterioration process can affect either or both short-range and/or long-range aiming and sighting and our other shooting activities. “Presbyopia” is when the elasticity of eye focus is greatly hampered. I first started noticing the close-up blurriness at age 40 or so and did not want to accept it. Of course, now it has worsened over the years.
For quite a few, prescription glasses of some sort might be an answer. Some use bifocals for close-up shooting and others use distant vision prescriptions. I know that my top priority is to focus clearly on the front sight and that involves close-up vision. I also know that I have to be able to see at a distance to get the general view of my target, even if it is blurry. So, I went to my local shooter-friendly optometrist to discuss my close and long-range shooting problems. He suggested that I have a corner of my prescription glasses ground so that I could see my front sight clearly through that top portion of my bifocal lenses. I just have to slightly dip my head. Of course, I don’t always wear those particular pricey glasses and if I happen to be in a street confrontation with an attacker, I could be in danger. And wouldn’t you know it. I had this done a few years ago and now my eyesight has worsened and I must have the lens ground again for an additional cost. A friend of mine who shoots precision bullseye events uses progressive lenses that work for him. But this may not be best for self-defense or short-range pistol shooting for you. A shooter has to ask him/herself do you really need sharp distant vision for the type of shooting you do and the equipment you use? If you use red dot sights and must find the dot and place it on the target, you are more concerned with longer distance shooting, beyond 7 yards or so. Up close, do you need to see the very sharp details of a target at a distance of 25 yards or so? At what distance do you mostly need to have a very sharp focus? This is difficult to predict and what a challenge to meet all possible threat distances.
4. Use the handgun with the highest caliber that you can shoot accurately, comfortably, and rapidly.
As I have aged, I have reluctantly realized that I cannot shoot the .357 Magnum, 10 mm, and .45 ACP as easily and without noticing more felt recoil than when I was younger. Perhaps, switching to a 9mm or .380 from a .45 and .357 might work for me and for you.
I keep telling myself that I cannot feel more recoil now that I am older and that I am both physically and mentally able and prepared to accept the stout felt recoil and control muzzle flip. While I do not have the mental fear of the gun, I am lying to myself about the physical part. I know that my hand and arm strength are weakening, that I have the stiffness of osteoarthritis, that my joints ache sometimes, that it is difficult for me to shoot while kneeling, and I have occasional joint swelling. Yes, Bette Davis was correct when she said “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Or was that 118-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan? In any event, I decided to downsize to a smaller caliber 9mm handgun and practice often with 9mm ammo that I can shoot accurately, comfortably, and quickly.
Tips for Getting Over a Gun’s Felt Recoil
Here are some basic tips for novice, first-time, or aging shooters to get over the felt recoil of a gun
- Use a heavier gun (see note below);
- Use a gun with a longer sight radius;
- Use a gun with a longer barrel;
- Use a solid, two-handed grip;
- Use a stable and proper stance, with your weight forward;
- Extend your shooting arm straight; and
- Switch to a lower caliber gun and ammo to accomplish your objective.
NOTE: A very light and small 9mm handgun will have a higher level of felt recoil than a heavier gun of the same caliber.
5. Consider carrying your concealed handgun primarily using appendix or pocket holster positions.
For several years, I have primarily concealed carry my personal-protection handgun in the four o’clock position on my strongside hip using a sport shirt as a cover garment, i.e. Outside-the-Waistband (OWB.) Occasionally, I use Inside-the-Waistband (IWB.) The OWB has proven to be more comfortable for me than carrying anywhere else. But, using an OWB holster is harder to conceal because you are only using a shirt to hide it, more of the gun is exposed because the muzzle part of the gun is outside of your pants, and it actually sits further away from the body. But now as I have aged and have rotator cup problems in moving my dominant arm, I have changed my main carry position.
Possible Carry Positions for the Aging Shooter
Because of the inability to sometimes move my arm back past the middle of my body to draw from the four o’clock OWB position, I now primarily use the Appendix carry position and also the OWB three o’clock position, which is more to the front. Appendix carry allows me to position my gun in front of my hip, so I don’t have to move my arm and hand rearward.
However, recognize that Appendix holsters often suffer from rollout with the handgun butt rolling forward and printing on some garments or becoming uncomfortable. And think where the muzzle is pointed. Crossdraw is another consideration for the aging shooter (especially when driving), but safety has proven to be a significant problem with this position. So, SAFETY FIRST when using Crossdraw and Appendix carry.
Recognize your specific limitations, aging considerations, and carefully evaluate your carry options. Trial-and-error of various holster and carry positions and their advantages will help you make the best decision for yourself. Success!
Senior gun owners have unique challenges, given age limitations for some, physical and mental health problems, level of cognition, recovery time from injuries, and fewer resources for coping with victimization. Seniors are twice as likely to be seriously injured and hospitalized as other victims. Interestingly, elderly survey respondents rate police performance as “good” in light of the 2021 reductions in some cities’ police budgets. And seniors are getting involved in the relationship between the role of police and communities. Protection is a major reason seniors own guns and proper training is a necessity. Seniors, and everyone, need training in not only the mechanics of handling and shooting a gun accurately and effectively but in the legal considerations about when and when not to shoot a gun in deadly-force encounters. My Handgun Essentials book covers both the shooting mechanics and legal guidelines for using a gun in deadly-force situations. This brief article presents some of the practical tips and suggestions for senior gun owners in self-defense and concealed carry, like getting over a gun’s felt recoil. Seniors need to recognize their specific limitations, aging considerations, and carefully evaluate their carry options and the handgun and holster they select.
Photo by author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2021 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.