I thought this was worth a re-post since getting a lot of requests about which gun to buy.
Those of us that are aging need to pay attention to what guns we buy and use. Some will be able to handle a full sized 1911 until the day they die but for others, each year takes its toll and we must adjust accordingly. Let’s examine some of the main areas of special importance to seniors, or as one forum owner called us, seasoned citizens. Often I am asked which is the best gun for senior citizens. There is no pat answer. Some are not as ravaged by old age as others. What works for me may not work for you. These are my personal observations and concerns. Yours may be different but perhaps some of these observations may prove to be useful to you. Each topic is deserving of a lot more ink (pixels?) but for now I will briefly touch on each. Let’s get started. 1. Recoil. There is a difference between being able to withstand it without flinching or pain and its effects on your hands over time. I was shooting .357 magnums out of an 11 ounce snub nose and enjoying it but it was effecting my muscles and nerves so that after 25 rounds my muscles would spasm and I would have to stop and rest my hands before shooting again. I tried exercising but that did not help the nerve damage. I accepted my condition and sold off all my .44 magnums/.45′s and now carry .38 +P in my snub noses and 9mm in my semi’s. I also bought a pair of .380 guns and a .22 magnum. To lessen recoil I simply switched from +P to non +P ammo that passed the FBI protocol tests. If ammo passes their test there is not much reason to shoot harsher recoiling ammo to gain a another inch or two of penetration when it already penetrates more than enough for civilian needs. So recoil management is important if you want to keep shooting and carry a gun that is still very capable of defending your life. 2. Size. Size does matter, as least as far as guns go. I am a big boy at 6′ and 240 lbs. and yet I was limp wristing some of my subcompact guns. After some experimenting I narrowed my problem down to two things. The first is that after shooting for a while the recoil was making my hands weaker due to the nerve problem so my grip was getting looser unless I concentrated on it. I verified this. The second issue was that if I can only get a two fingered grip on the gun I was not able to hold it steady while the short slide cycled. So I sold off my LCP as being two light even though I put a pinkie extension on it and bought guns that worked for me. 3. Weight. This is a two edged sword for me. More weight means less felt recoil. More weight means that I have to hold up a gun that feels very heavy to me and my muscles grow tired after a half hour or so and prevent me from holding the gun as still as I would like. Once again, through experimentation that was very costly in new guns purchased, I found the ideal weight range that absorbed recoil while not being difficult to hold. I should mention here that I practice a lot of one handed shooting since I know from my personal experience and observations of others, that most of us tend to want to get our guns out and start shooting at the person trying to kill us as soon as we can. We also sometimes do not have the use of two hands due to fending off a blow, holding something, pushing away others, having a big gun laying on top of you punching your face in, a bullet in your left arm which turns it into a wet and useless noodle, etc.. So practicing and being able to shoot with one hand is an essential skill often overlooked by many gun owners. For me the ideal weight was from 14 oz. to about 20 oz. for carry guns and about 30 oz. for full sized home defense guns. Larger guns distribute the weight over a greater surface area so they often feel more comfortable and do less damage to my hands. 4. Round capacity. What does that have to do with old age you may ask? The answer is in the above two points. My FNX-9 is very light until I add its 17 round magazine. So more ammo equals more weight and requires a bigger gun. It also means that you have to carry more weight on you with a spare magazine. 5. Gun features. Now I admit that this can be subjective based upon individual needs so I will simply talk about what works for me.
- manual safeties. The first handgun I even shot was issued to me by the Army. It was a surplus 1911 and had a manual safety. Been shooting guns with manual safeties all my life and I will even swipe imaginary ones on guns without them. Not a problem for me and you would be hard press to find more than one or two documented cases where a manual safety caused the death of anyone. In fact, you will find a lot more documented case of manual safeties saving lives. At any age I have always believed that a safety is not a safety unless it does the most important thing that can be done to make a gun safe. That is to prevent you from pressing the trigger until you deliberately want to. Drop safeties and those found on triggers are there to protect the gun manufacturer, not you and they have cleverly convinced the public that it is a good thing that makes their guns easier to shoot while saving on design and manufacturing costs. Some say it can get you killed and yet even Massad Ayoob could only find one documented case where this was true but many case where a manual safety saved lives when guns were snatched away from their trained owners. I know, it can never happen to me because I train by reading the Internet.
- Slides? Yes, slides. On days when my fingers are in pain and are weak, it is very difficult to rack a slide. All slides are not created equal. Some slides are easier to rack (less force needed) then others. Sig slides are easy to rack, especially after extended use. HK and FNH slides are also easier than most. Kahr slides are very difficult. Choose a gun that has an easy slide. They can be found in popular models and even some not so popular.
- Revolvers vs semi autos. The S&W 642 snub nose continuous to be Smith’s biggest seller despite the popularity of semi autos. If you need more than 5 rounds and are untrained you are not likely to prevail. It takes 3 seconds for a person 7 yards from you to get to you and plunge a knife into your heart. The point is that even if you have 15 rounds odds are that you will only be able to get off a handful at best. A revolver is less prone to jamming which has been my personal experience with a few hundred guns over 4 decades. As far as the trigger goes, by using the first distal joint of your finger trigger and applying it low on the trigger where the trigger pull is lighter for pivoting triggers (even on Glocks) you will be applying the greatest amount of force with your finger on the area of the trigger requiring less force to move it. If that does not work you can try a trigger job as I sometime do or try out the wonderful LCR snub nose revolvers which are very popular in my retirement community due to their cam action trigger. Best of all, if you cannot rack a slide or load a mag, a revolver does not require hand strength to load or unload it. It is safer for aging minds in that you can easily see if it is loaded, does not require that you pull the trigger to disassemble it and its heavier trigger makes it less prone to unintentional discharges. I have never seen a UD with a revolver but many with semi autos. Just my experience again as a range and safety officer.
I carry semi autos more than revolvers. But most are single stack 6-7 round guns. By choosing the right guns I can manage a semi most days. There is no denying the lighter triggers and faster reloads of a semi are attractive. Semi’s have a lot going for them. Thin and small which makes them more concealable and easier to carry. However when my hands are troubling me I carry my revolver and a revolver should be in everyone’s carry gun collection. 6. Sights. Let’s face it, many of use cannot focus on the rear and front sights very well. Especially if you are like me and have progressive lenses. I have found that the following work best for me. Maybe for you too.
- Fiber optic sights. These little suckers glow brightly with just a little light. Hard not to see them. Some do not like them as they tend to fall out and break. I have not had that problem but the fact that the last gun I bought with fiber optic sights came with extras makes me believe that it is true. You can get these in various colors too.
- Night sights. These contain little vials of tritium which is a low level radioactive material that glows in the dark. Not so great during the day though but you can get sights that have both fiber optic and tritium in them for the best of both worlds.
- Red dot sight. Just put the dot where you want the bullet to go. Problem is that they are pricey and difficult to put on many guns as they require either a mount or a gunsmith to install. There does seem to be a trend towards using them for carry guns and some gun wags predict that the future will see them as standard on many guns; that is if we are not carrying laser guns by then. S&W has come out with the C.O.R.E. line which will accept some of the most popular red dot scopes and provides mounts for them for a price. These red dot ready guns are just hitting the market and I may get me one.
- XS sights. These are big round balls with or without tritium. They are very noticeable and great for aging eyes. Not as accurate as regular sights at distance due to the big front dot covering most of the target. They may also snag in your holster when you draw unless you have a holster with a sight channel built in.
- Laser sights. This could use a whole article but I will just say that with proper training laser sights can be useful in certain situations and very useful for training purposes. The danger is that some use them as a crutch rather than learn to point shoot and aim properly. I will discuss these in more detail in the future but include them her for completeness.
- For me, the best sights are all black rear Novak style with a fiber optic front site. I mostly point shoot so all I need to do is get that front sight on target and squeeze the trigger. In a life and death situation there is no time for a proper sight picture most times. The all black rear sights make it easier to pick up the front sight when I have time to use it.
7. Ammo. First let me say that all handguns are poor stoppers so we are talking about the best of the worst when we discuss handgun calibers. :) While the idea of a .45 may sound manly, a smaller and lighter recoiling caliber is usually a better choice for us. I like a non +P 9mm although I can still shoot +P’s. If my 9mm passes the FBI protocol tests I do not need to use the +P version. If I have a short barrel I still will not go to +P but rather buy ammo made for short barrels and problem solved. So for me a 9mm semi auto is a perfect gun due to my ammo choices. A .357 magnum is even better. You can shoot mild .357′s like Golden Sabers, heavy .38 Spl +P, lighter .38 spl +P, regular 125 gr. .38 spl, 110 gr. .38 spl and now thanks to Hornady’s Critical Defense Lite, 90 gr. .38 spl for recoil so light you swear you are shooting a .32. As I have often read by those who study ballistics and shooting results, since 2003 the differences between 9mm, .40 and .45 acp are not much. With the right ammo choice you pretty much have the same chances of stopping someone if bullet placement is the same no matter what you use from the big 3. They all can penetrate barriers and go deep enough to reach vital areas. If truth be told, most people do not like being shot with anything. At best it means a trip to the hospital and a police interview, even if you survive. I read a few studies, one by the NRA, and was surprised to find that 98% of civilian gun encounters end in no shots being fired. 1 percent of the time a shot was fired and missed (some were warning shots) and only one percent of the time was a shot fired that hit the bad guy. Apparently the caliber used was not considered important enough to include in the study and that should tell you something. Remember two things. The studies that show the stopping power of various calibers have either long been discredited or are based on police shootings. The police face a very different kind of person than we are likely to. They actively pursue people who know if they get caught they will go to jail. A trapped rat will be more vicious than one who can run away. It is not the same thing as a civilian encounter. The other thing to remember is that you can find support for any caliber you choose on the Internet, even sharp sticks so take it all with a grain of salt despite all the tests against watermelons, sheet rock, wood and even ballistic gel which has not bones in it. From everything I have seen and read, it appears that just having a gun ends the great majority of civilian encounters (as it did for me twice) Do not get your impressions from reading about a few hundred civilian self defense cases in gun forums. We are a population of over 100 million gun owners and a few hundred or thousand is an insignificant statistical sample to base opinions on. All this just means to shoot what you can shoot best and do not agonize over it as any gun is leaps and bounds over no gun.
- .22 LR This deserves a section all of its own since it is kills the most people than any other caliber in the U.S.. That does not mean stop them or kill them instantly but rather because of the very large number of people who use them for defense, the .22 is the most used handgun so it results in more deaths as a result. If you read gun forums you get the impression that most use 9mm or .45s or .40′s based on all the polls and arguments but that is far from reality. Last year or the year before the BATF said that the .380 was the most bought caliber gun. So as many advise, carry or use the largest caliber you can as any gun is much better than no gun despite what those who never fired a shot in anger say about not being better than a pointed stick.
Before I forget, banish all thoughts that because the .22 is easy to shoot with little recoil, you will be able to put 5 shots in someones eye. First off most times you will only be able to get off 1 to 3 shots before the bad guy is on top of you or has shot you dead. Try doing that while someone is attempting to kill you as he is moving around to cover. Heck, just try it in a training class and you will soon learn how foolish that thought is. 8. Carrying a gun. For young bucks this is not as much an issue but for those of us with bad hips, backs or other problems it is a big issue. We want to carry a gun but not be in pain because of it. My hips are sensitive to pressure so I mostly pocket carry. I will carry on my belt if I am going to be sitting a lot because it is difficult at best to draw from a pocket while seated. This is something that those who pocket carry must realize although I know at least one person who pocket carried that did not know this because he never practiced drawing other than while standing up, a position you sometimes do not find yourself in during a fight. However, for those of us who are carry challenged it is the most comfortable way to carry. Next is OWB carry. For me, due to my hip problem I get holsters that hold my gun high off my hip and more against my side. That seems to work fairly well for me for a few hours. Around my retirement community the top 2 guns are LCP and NAA Mini Revolver. Despite studies and talk and everything else we discuss, people are still buying small mouse guns. Seniors need to find a comfortable way to carry and most of us use pocket carry. I even have a very small fanny pack that I can barely fit a small .380 into when I ride my bicycle. I have various shoulder bags,vests, jackets and coats with built in holsters. Hey, here is retirement land I fit in with all that stuff and do not look out of place. There are many ways to carry, even neck holsters, day planners, etc. so find what works for you. The new hybrid holsters like Crossbreed work well in cushioning my hip but they have so much leather on them that I sweat too much in summer. I now prefer the MTAC. Same idea, in fact the original, but less leather and more refined. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to use the same holster by buying different kydex shells molded for different guns. To sum this up, experiment to find what is most comfortable for you without sacrificing your ability to put your gun quickly in action. If you can not draw and get off at least one shot in 3 seconds you may be in for a surprise some day. 9. Guns. I estimate that I bought a few hundred guns over the last 4 decades. I buy them, shoot most once and then trade it in on a new gun. I think of buying a new gun as a rental fee. There are guns I want and guns that are best for me and I have to struggle to balance the two. I love recoil, the heavier the better. I like the feeling of power in my hand and we all know how that feels. However, my body has been rebelling lately. Cannot carry those heavy 1911 guns anymore or shoot a snub-nose .44 mag. I have modified my gun collection several times in the last 3 years to find what works best for me. For seniors I feel that a gun must not be too heavy or too light. You have to be like Goldilocks and find out what is just right for you. I am partial to “mouse guns” and single stack compacts. They carry well in my pocket and on my belt for those times I am driving a lot or sitting down in a restaurant. Here are a few guns I own feel are good for the senior citizen unless contra indicated. Sig P238 – a great small .380 all metal gun that weighs in at about 14 oz.. It has good sights and is accurate at distances that most of the small .380′s are not. Night sights, SA trigger with a manuals safety and fits great in your pocket or on your belt. Never a reason not to carry this one. I use FTX bullets in them solely based on seeing them perform in ballistic gel. The .380 lacks FBI required penetration but 10″ is enough to reach vital areas most times. Just be prepared to shoot more rounds than you would with a larger caliber but who knows, a shot to the spine or head will stop anyone even from a .22. Sig P938 – only a quarter of an inch longer than the P238 above and about an ounce heavier. Has all of the same qualities of the P238 but chambered for what is considered a good stopper,
if that term can be applied to any handgun, the 9mm. I use DPX 95 gr. ammo in mine. I like high velocity when using guns with short barrels. Not too crazy about the 8 lb. SA trigger, nonetheless the gun is easy to carry and conceal and I shoot it well. I also like the manual safety to prevent those senior moments from happening. Both of these Sigs have easy to rack slides and easy to see night sights which is a big plus. Ruger LCR in both .357 and .22 mag. – the best snub nose trigger out of the box I ever used. Better than my beloved S&W snub noses that I now no longer own. The trigger uses a cam action that spreads the weight of the trigger so that it feels lighter than it really is. The beauty of a snub nose for seniors is that we can adjust the ammo to fit our needs. Super light .38 spl or mild .357 magnums. Take your pick of these or anything in-between. I suggest putting a Crimson Trace laser grip on this as if your eyes are like mine, picking up those metal sights is not going to be easy. Plus the CT grips are thinner than the Hogues that come standard and that makes pocket carry easier. The .22 mag with the new ammo like the Gold Dots, penetrate deeply and expand. You can get close to .380 performance out of them. My .22 mag is not often carried but rather used as a New York reload or BUG. When my hands are very bad I will carry it as my primary. It is all about having the right gun for the right circumstances. One size does not fit all usually when it comes to guns although some come close. My home defense guns are:
- “Baby” Desert Eagle aka Jerico 941 made and used in Israel. A CZ75 clone and one of the better ones. What I like is that the grip is narrower than most and very ergonomic so it feels really good in my hand. The slide is buttery smooth and my polymer version weighs just right in at about 30 oz., my sweet spot for full sized guns. Guns shoots anything I feed it and has a Weaver rail for my tactical light. Good gun for an old man. Has a manual safety that you do not have to use since it is a DA/SA but handy for when you are storing it in a gun safe that you cannot see into when you need to grab the gun in a hurry. Many will say that it is difficult to transition from DA to SA but most never tried or practiced enough. I competed and won using a CZ 75BD which is a DA/SA variant. Due to its easy to use slide and grips that even arthritic hands could grab, it was my choice.
- FNX-9. The FNH guns are on par with with HK guns for the most part. I feel that the HK feels a little more substantial in my hand. The FNX feels toy-like until you insert the 17 round mag after which it has the proper heft of a gun. What I love about this gun is that you can use it as a DA/SA with or without a safety and as a cocked and locked SA gun. You get your choice. It is a soft shooter and eats any kind of ammo. It also has a rail for mounting a light or laser. You may notice that I choose some guns that are not as popular or well known as others. That is true because there are some great guns out there that are just as reliable as others but they are not marketed as heavily, not sold to law enforcement or military agencies and otherwise does not appear in front of the public much. However, we shootist know who they are. As with the BDE above, the easy slide, good trigger, manual safety option and light weight make this a gun for new shooters,seniors or experts alike. I sound like an ad.
- Ruger Wiley Clapp edition of the GP100 w/3″ barrel. This gun was designed for one thing; fighting. Everything about it is for getting it on target quickly, easy drawing and holstering and quick reloading. I wanted a revolver for home defense for the same reasons I keep one for carry. I also wanted one with a hammer in case even the trigger is too heavy for me to operate someday so I can shoot it single action if necessary. When I am asked which gun to buy for home defense by one of the residents of my retirement community, I recommend a .38 spl revolver with a hammer for the same reason I have one. Wide choice of ammo from mild to heavy and DA or SA trigger. Plus they are heavy enough to absorb whatever recoil is there. I prefer 3 or 4 inch barrels as 6 inch are too top heavy for me and I cannot support their weight for long.
Special purpose guns: My favorite sub compact is the HK P2000SK although it is sized between a Glock 26 and 19. More of a compact gun in my way of thinking. Flawless, looks good, feels great and with a 13 round extended mag with mag grip extension provides a solid full fingered grip. Add a light to its rail and it easily becomes a good home defense gun. I would not recommend this for a senior due to price and weight but if it works for you it is a great gun to shoot. I do not carry it much. It is my going to the big city or long distance driving gun. Something that I do not have to carry a long time. It is also the gun I will put in a shoulder bag when I am using one. These days it does duty as my desk gun.
- Micro Desert Eagle. This is a licensed copy of the ZVI Kevin gun made by the Czechs. An old and proven personal defense or back up gun. This is the gun I slip into a small fanny pack when I ride my bicycle. Due to its heavy trigger and very small grip, I would not recommend this gun to most seniors unless they are experienced shooters and have the hand strength.
- Springfield XDs – I love a .45 and this one is so small an cute that I could not resist. I cannot get through a box of practice ammo before my hands feel beat up and start shaking but I can shoot it straight enough for at least 25 rounds and that is good enough for defensive use. I carry this in my pocket when I want a pocket gun that has a little more oomph to it. Again, not a good choice for most seniors but doable for some.
I have owned a lot of handguns can can recommend Glocks if they fit your hand. Easy to use, take apart and plenty of accessories. The new M&P line from S&W is also making inroads into the LE market and are fine shooters with a more ergonomic grip than a Glock. Springfield XDm line is a good economical choice. Has a grip safety which some find soothing. Although the LCP is very popular here, a common complaint is that the owner cannot shoot it well. They are just too light and small for many to control properly but they still sell well because they are convenient to carry and most want to feel safe rather than be safe. I hope that I provided some useful info for senior citizens and shooters in general. I am not an expert so nothing I wrote is to be taken as gospel. I am just writing based on my personal experiences which may be different than yours.