Physically Challenged: Defensive Weapon Options

physically-challenged-weaponsPhysical limitations – whether it is due to age, injury or birth – should not limit your ability to defend yourself.  The key is determining the defensive weapon that will best fit your limitations.

In all of my personal protection classes – be it a pepper spray/stun gun or a firearms class – I talk about choosing the right defensive weapon.  Students have two things that need to be considered:  The physical abilities of the person and their commitment to practicing with the tool.

I’m going to touch on matching the physical abilities of the person with the right defensive weapon.  All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses in their effectiveness in stopping an attacker.  This article is only going to address the physical requirements needed to successfully use each type of tool.

In a later article, we’ll discuss some options for making standard weapons easier to use when strength or dexterity are issues.

Pepper Sprays, Stun Guns and Tasers

With pepper sprays, the key is your ability to easily depress the plunger button to release the spray.  Spray canisters with a sliding lock plunger can sometimes be difficult to depress by people with ailments such as arthritis or low finger/thumb strength.

There can also be problems for women with long fingernails.  The nail can sometimes get in the way of being able to fully depress the plunger.  This is not something you want to become aware of during a self-defense situation!

Pepper spray canisters with flip-top designs can many times accommodate these issues, as the plunger is generally larger and somewhat easier to depress.

Stun guns – with two or more fixed probes which are thrust into an attacker – are generally easier to grip and depress the trigger, but once again, you need to have sufficient hand strength to retain the stun gun while pushing it into your attacker – up to 4 seconds for incapacitation.

Tasers – (brand name) fire two barbs which are connected by wires in the device, into the attacker – are the easiest to use in this category of defensive tool.  By depressing the activation button, the wired barbs are fired at the attacker, requiring very little strength on the part of the user.

They also allow you to then set down the Taser, and it will continue applying the electrical charge to the attacker for 30 seconds – plenty of time to escape the danger in most situations.


If the gun is going to be used for self-defense, the big focus is again on hand strength.  You will generally need a semi-automatic handgun in 9mm or larger, or a revolver in .38 Special or larger.

Let me be clear, though:  Any caliber handgun is better than no handgun.  There’s not a tough-guy on this planet that won’t at least slow down or back off even if you’re firing .22LR bullets at them.

If you own or are considering buying a semi-automatic handgun, you need to be sure you are able to consistently and safely rack (pull) and lock open the slide.  This is required so that you are able to verify that a handgun is empty, and so that you are able to safely clear any jammed ammunition.

For a Glock pistol, for instance, the factory spring in the slide requires 16 to 18 pounds of tension.  You also need a good bit of dexterity to simultaneously hold the gun, rack the slide and engage the slide lock.

With a revolver handgun, you need to be able to cock the hammer prior to firing (this gives you greater accuracy), or be able to pull the trigger of an un-cocked pistol (shooting in double-action – this action simultaneously cocks the hammer and fires the weapon).

None of these actions require Herculean feats of strength, but they must be do-able to safely use a gun.

Knives, Batons, Clubs

While generally less-than-desirable options – similar to stun guns that also require physical contact with the assailant – these may be the only options allowed by law or agreement.  Be warned, though, that in many states and municipalities, all of these defensive weapons are lumped under the “dangerous weapons” statutes and may have similar restrictions (or prohibitions) to guns, pepper spray and stun guns.

Hand strength is a key with all of these weapons – the ability to grip.

As these are striking weapons, the ability to jab, slash and strike are important.  This means the dexterity of the wrist, elbow and upper arm/shoulder area is paramount.  Weakness in any of these areas could result in ineffective self-defense.

Shotguns and Rifles

Great options for home defense, both shotguns and rifles have their difficulties to be considered.

The primary concern is the significantly greater recoil.  Even though both shotguns and rifles have more mass (weight) than a handgun, the ammunition used will typically have much more power, thus recoil.  Technique and practice are perhaps most important with these options.

One consideration is to use rifles that use handgun cartridges, such as the .38 special and .357 Magnum.  These are very commonly used with lever action rifles.

Another concern is over-penetration.  Because of the increased power and velocity of these cartridges, at close range, it is likely that the bullet hitting the bad guy will pass right through them and into areas behind them.  Consider the layout of your home and identify safer areas of fire (with a kitchen or fireplace as a back stop) for self-defense.

Also, shotguns – with their multi-pellet shells – offer a good alternative to rifles.  The pellets will generally lose their velocity much more quickly than a similar-sized bullet, while still stopping the bad guy because of the short distances encountered in a home.


Regardless of the defensive weapon you choose, accurate aim is critically important.  You may have poor eyesight, and your glasses or contact lenses may not be available.  Also, the defensive tool may be required to be used in low-light conditions.

Most popular handguns can be purchased or retro-fitted with laser sights.  These project a (normally) red beam of light on to your attacker, indicating where the bullet will strike.

Taser also makes some models that come with an integrated laser sight as well.

Regardless of what defensive weapon you choose, make sure you are able to use it properly and safely.  Pepper spray is fairly inexpensive, so you can purchase a number of different styles to test them out before you need them.

Most gun ranges have programs where you can rent a gun to try out various models before you make a purchase.

Do your research on which defensive weapon best fits your self-defense needs and physical abilities before you find yourself in a difficult situation.

See:  Top 6 Pistol Shooter Errors

See:  Using Stun Guns and Tasers

See:  Pepper Spray Selection and Use

See:  The Right Self-Defense Tool For You

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