Age and the Snubnose

Age and the Snubnose
Art by the incomparable Oleg Volk

By Syd

This is not a totally fun topic, but I think its important. For older folks, compact revolvers may be a better choice for a personal defense handgun than autoloaders. There, I said it. At this writing, I am 54 years old, not exactly a dinosaur, but Im not a kid anymore either. My favorite shooting irons are all big autoloaders. They’re fast, accurate, and fun for matches and target shooting, and they and their extra magazines weigh a ton.

The watershed event for me that opened my eyes to the value of lightweight compact revolvers was a painful back injury I received in 2005 while unloading building materials from a truck. My son and I unloaded the truck and then took our German Shepherds to the park for a walk. As I was driving home from the park, I was hit with a pain that was about as bad as any I have ever felt. My son had to drive the rest of the way home. For the next three months I struggled with crippling pain in my back and numbness in my hands and legs. This was not fun. I was prescribed powerful pain killers and muscle relaxers to cope with the situation. Fortunately, Im much better now, but the episode got me thinking.

Many things cascaded out of this condition. I was in too much pain to carry a full-sized service auto on my belt. My hands were numb and I was not sure that I could feel the trigger or successfully manipulate the controls on my autoloaders. The muscle relaxers I was prescribed left me with a fuzzy feeling in my head. My memory and concentration were impaired. Suddenly, I didn’t feel comfortable with my service autos, and I was hurting too bad to carry them anyway. At the same time, self-defense concerns aren’t automatically suspended just because our backs are royally screwed up. I remembered the almost forgotten Airweight snubby. I could carry the Airweight without too much pain. It isn’t the gun that a Government Model .45 is, but it is endurable, doesn’t have controls that my numb fingers couldn’t operate, and it wouldn’t put me in bed after firing a few rounds.

Because I couldn’t stay at my computer for very long, I quit doing my newsletter for a time. Friends would write me wondering where the newsletter was, and I would explain my situation. This would often initiate an exchange on guns, carry, injuries and related topics. A lot of my subscribers are WWII, Korea, and Nam veterans. Some of them are quite elderly and more than a few are shot up. It was enlightening to me to learn how many actually carried some form of revolver for self-defense because of old injuries, arthritis, or related conditions. Even though they were fans of the M1911 and preferred it for target and match shooting, the revolver was more practical for self-defense.

So what are the issues? Autoloaders generally require a certain amount of upper body strength and fine motor skills to operate successfully. You need to have enough strength in your hands and arms to rack the slide and support the gun during the firing cycle, otherwise the autoloader will jam (and yes, you can even jam a Glock if you hold it loosely enough). Many elderly people and those with serious injuries may not be able to grip and rack the slide of an auto with sufficient force to operate it. They may not be able to support the gun firmly for firing. People who have suffered strokes and those who have undergone coronary surgery often suffer a loss of fine motor skills which can be permanent or at least last a long time. Operation of a thumb safety can become an issue for these folks. Arthritis affects many of us. If it strikes the hands or shoulders, most administrative functions with an auto, such as loading, unloading, operating the thumb safety, and malfunction clearances can become all but impossible.

Pain and medications is another serious issue that is delicate, but needs to be addressed. When I was hurt, I was in such pain that I could not stand to even wear a leather belt around my waist. I couldn’t drive a car or bend over to tie my own shoes. I was prescribed serious pain killers and muscle relaxers right up to the point that if I took any more I would begin to see things. During this time I didn’t carry a gun at all, but I enjoyed the luxury of having other members of the household who could do guard duty while I was down. Not everyone has that option. Even after the level of medication was reduced as I improved, the meds still affected my memory and coordination. The pain meds also contributed to the loss of feeling in my fingers. The net result of this was a general loss of confidence in myself that I could safely and effectively handle my autoloaders in an emergency. And beyond that, I couldn’t stand to carry them due to their weight. Having a service auto on my belt with a spare mag was sheer agony, and even a shoulder rig with a lightweight M1911 in it would have my arms tingling with numbness after a few minutes of wear. The autos just weren’t working for me. I found that I could carry my Airweight snubby in a shoulder rig without too much discomfort. I could also carry it in a pocket with the right pants. The snubby was simple: no safeties, no slides and magazines, no recoil springs to fight, and a heavy enough trigger that I didn’t worry about setting it off by accident because I couldn’t feel my finger tips.

Age and the Snubnose
Art by the incomparable Oleg Volk

Strong medications may force tough decisions. There is an element of social responsibility about being armed. We have an obligation to those around us to be safe and competent with our firearms. This requires some self awareness and honesty from us. No one likes to think about our powers declining, but it does happen. Powerful medications can affect our judgment and moods. Pain meds may give us comfort but they also may put an unexpected edge in our temper. Anti-depressants may alleviate the symptoms of depression, but they have also been known to cause suicidal thinking in some folks. Also, depending on the jurisdiction where you live, you may be in violation of the law if taking certain medications while carrying a firearm. Other medical conditions such as Alzheimers and arterial sclerosis may begin to diminish our capabilities. We need to be honest with ourselves about this stuff. A point may be reached where we have to make hard decisions about our guns. There can come a time in which being a man may mean putting the guns away and letting others take care of us.

Most of the time, were operating in more moderate conditions: some aches and pains, non-narcotic pain relief, and the normal annoyances of age and time. Stroke victims may recover almost completely in terms of their mental faculties, but still may not have the strength to operate an autoloader. After my fathers quadruple by-pass surgery, his fine motor skills were dramatically reduced, and stayed that way for years. In these types of situations, the revolver becomes the best solution for a personal defense handgun. (His choice was a Charter Arms Undercover .38 snubby.)

The revolver is easy to load, simple to operate, and reliable. Compact revolvers are generally more comfortable to carry and more flexible in their modes of carry than autoloaders. For those facing physical challenges, it is clearly the best option.

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