Everyone should have the ability to defend themselves as needed regardless of ability. However, disabilities by definition present additional daily challenges, including self-defense. Although there are many definitions of disabilities, I will use the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition. Within the United States, disabilities were legally defined by the ADA “as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Disabilities covered by the ADA include hearing impairment, sight impairment, major diseases, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, loss of limb, mobility impairments, autism, HIV, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia to name a few. Most other psychological disorders that may also be related to socially unacceptable behaviors (pyromania, gambling, pedophilia, etc.) are specifically
The current estimate of the number of Americans that have a disability is 54 million or roughly 1 in 6. Additionally, people that have a disability are at twice the risk of criminal victimization compared to those without a disability. Looking at specific crimes, those with disabilities are three times as likely to be targeted with violent attacks or home burglaries. Finally, sexual assaults against those with disabilities are half as likely to be reported compared to those without a disability. Again, these statistics are across all types of disabilities and vary depending on the type and severity of the disability. Those impacted most are women, those with mental disabilities, and those with multiple disabilities. Based on these figures alone, considering self-defense options seems to be reasonable.
Although there are organizations to help people with disabilities with sports shooting and hunting, there is less in the way of support for defensive applications. The challenge is how to address training and carrying firearms with a disability when disabilities are widely varied. Specific articles could easily be written focusing on the unique challenges of each disability, and the associated levels of severity within that disability. This article will focus on general thoughts on addressing self-defense in the face of a disability, what to look for in training, and considerations as an instructor.
The overall advice for making the decision to carry a firearm in self-defense does not really change, but depending on the severity of the impairment the importance may shift. Recognize that others may have empathy for your situation, but only you truly understand what you physically can and can’t do. The firearms world is full of people willing to give well-intentioned advice, but the need to tailor that advice
to your own situation is paramount. Based on that, here are a series of considerations (checklist) to go through as you explore self-defense relative to a disability.
Assess Your Specific Needs
Be honest with yourself about how your disability interacts with having a defensive firearm. Anyone that carries needs to be comfortable with their method of carrying and their own ability to safely deploy (draw), operate (successful hits), and manipulate (loading, unloading, conduct safety checks) their gun. Some disabilities may have little to no impact on these factors; some may require greater adaptation in
gear and guns.
Once you have determined what you can and can’t do, the next phase is making sure you are comfortable with your choices. Do not let anyone pressure you into carrying if you are not ready. And if you determine a firearm is a poor choice for you, there are many alternatives including knives, tasers, and pepper spray, that may fit your unique situation better.
Choose Gear That Works for You
Again there are many well-meaning people who will tell you what is the ‘right’ gun for you. If you have determined that a firearm will work with your disability, be open to making the choice that works for you. The advantages and disadvantages of capacity, function, reliability, caliber, and concealability are all open for personal debate. Make sure you are choosing the gun that is right for you and the gear that works for your situation. For example, I often make a generalized statement against shoulder holsters but I worked with a student who required a wheelchair that found that using a shoulder rig was one of the few options that worked for them.
Train With Your Gear
Remember, the goal is to find the right firearm and carry gear that works for you and that you are comfortable and confident in using. Part of the process of choosing the gear that works best for you is finding a safe space to try out options and then training with those options. As such, finding a range that supports your self-defense journey and an instructor that you feel comfortable with is key. Unfortunately, this can be the hardest challenge to overcome. I honestly do not think most ranges and instructors are trying to discriminate, but due to a lack of regular exposure, they often are at a loss when trying to assist someone with a disability.
The most important thing here is finding an instructor that will work with you and is at least open to adaptations that may be needed based on your needs and unique situation. My best advice is to be open and honest about your concerns, situation, and goals. Though you may encounter instructors unwilling to work with you, they may also be genuinely concerned that they may not have the skills to help you. Try not to internalize if an instructor is unwilling to accommodate your needs, as they may honestly be worried that they would not be willing to help.
I have been working with a group of 6-10 instructors for over five years teaching classes almost daily. From those experiences, most people with disabilities fall into one of two groups.
The first group is hard to quantify as they generally are dealing with less obvious disabilities and attend classes as scheduled without asking for any accommodations. Sometimes their disability (limited hearing, some sight loss, mobility issues) becomes known to the instructor and we make adjustments as possible within a larger class.
The second group contacts us regarding their disability prior to a class. In these cases, we generally set up a short phone conversation to determine what their goals, limitations, and experiences have been. These calls often result in recommending they take an open class knowing the instructor now has a solid idea of any accommodations needed. However, in some cases dependent on the severity of the disability or person’s goals and challenges we suggest private instruction. In these cases that instruction is usually handled by one of our most experienced instructors with a proven track record of adapting self-defense to differing needs.
Instructing Those With a Disability
As an instructor, you need to know your own limitations. I have worked with many individuals with mobility, manipulation, and hearing disabilities. By talking to the person I can get a good idea of how their disability impacts their abilities, the challenges they may have to carrying a firearm, their personal goals, and their level of risk. Then, it is generally easy for me to make one of three determinations.
- Simply inform the instructor of the class that best fits their needs and encourage them to proceed in their training.
- Encourage them to set up a one-on-one private session with me to work on finding what works for them to meet their goals.
- The third option is never easy but involves either recommending another instructor or informing the individual that you have personal reservations about assisting them. In the case of recommendations, I often do this with individuals that have sight-based disabilities, as one of the other instructors has had great success working with the visually impaired.
There have been a few cases where the disability does not align well with the person’s goals. An example would be a person who, when unmedicated, suffered from extreme depression. I asked if they were consistent in their medication and they responded, “Mostly.” I then asked if they were ever suicidal when experiencing depression, and they responded, “Yes.” I carefully explained that I did not feel a firearm was their best choice of defensive tools and declined to train them, but I did recommend they take our TASER and pepper spray class. I did inquire if they wanted me to refer them to other possible instructors, but they thanked me for my candor and declined.
I am a strong believer that anyone who can safely and confidently use a firearm for self-defense has the right to instruction and support. However, the person needs to be honest with themselves and their potential instructor(s). Also, the instructor needs to be honest about their abilities to adapt their training to ensure they are offering the best instruction possible. Also, each instructor needs to be comfortable with offering the training. This can be done with sensitivity and often may lead to conversations that may end up saving a life.
General Resources: https://adaptiveshooting.nra.org/
For Primarily Hunting Equipment: https://beadaptive.com/