Whether you carry a firearm for self-defense, or even if you just go through your life being aware, alert and trying to avoid problems, you may at some point (either through injury or other circumstances) lose some of your abilities to protect yourself, or get yourself out of, or away from, potentially dangerous situations. It recently happened to me, and I want to share what I did, and how I compensated to try and overcome the challenges I was faced with.
This past summer, I broke my wrist. I wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous, and not even in the middle of doing something really fun. I don’t even have a cool story I can share with you about how it happened. I stepped wrong, fell backwards, and in trying to catch my fall landed wrong. For the next ten weeks, I wore a cast on my left arm that extended from my fingers to three quarters up my forearm.
I was lucky. Being right handed, my primary hand was still completely functional. On the other hand (sorry), many of the techniques and movements I have trained to perform and most comfortable in using when manipulating a firearm – or even when using less lethal tactics – require the use of both hands to be effective.
I needed to determine the pros and cons of my situation. While I didn’t have full use of my secondary hand, I did have enough function to accomplish some standard motions – albeit not very well. Instead of only one hand, for many purposes I had the equivalent of one-and-a-half hands. A part of my firearms training since first beginning in law enforcement, has been operating my firearm with my secondary (non-primary) hand.
I have also trained using techniques to employ my firearm with only one hand. My training allows me to be able to load, unload, reload, and clear malfunctions while holding the gun with either hand, or using only one hand. To substitute these methods for two-handed techniques takes longer, and doesn’t look as pretty as when I use the procedures I am most comfortable with, but they were the best option I had for the next several months.
It was now time to go through my options, determine what equipment I was to carry and where, and to decide how I could best utilize that equipment to protect myself or others. The question: which firearm, and what accessories to carry to give me the best opportunity for success with my limited abilities.
Revolver – I have several revolvers that are chambered in semi-auto pistol calibers. The cartridges are held in metal clips, allowing all five or six rounds to be ejected or reloaded as a single unit – no messing with clumsy manipulation of speed loaders. One issue was these pistols had an ammunition capacity much smaller than that of even my compact single stack 9mm pistols, and as much difficulty as I have with reloading a semi-auto with one-and-a-half hands, manipulating the cylinder and the clips holding the cartridges would be even more difficult. This wasn’t the answer.
Single Stack Compact – when I need to dress to reduce the chance I am seen as being armed, I sometimes carry a single stack 9mm pistol. That wasn’t going to be the best option during my period of reduced capability. The reduced size of the pistol and magazines would not be as easy to hold or manipulate – either with one, or one-and-a-half hands. The reduced ammunition capacity could require me to reload sooner or more often, and that would add a challenge and opportunity for failure I would rather avoid.
Double Stack Full Size – ultimately, this was my choice, and for several reasons. The full capacity magazines allowed the carry of more rounds, and would reduce the need to reload. A longer sight radius and a full-size frame would be available so I could make the best of my one-and-a-half-hand-cast-supported gripping technique. When your physically capabilities are somewhat reduced, you need to utilize any advantage you may have to make up the difference.
Additional Magazines – Whether you have full capacity double stack magazines, or smaller single row magazines, you should always carry at least one, and with lower capacity handguns, probably two magazines. It’s partially about the potential need to have extra rounds available (you never know when a bad guy has a friend with him and you may need to engage both threats), but often even more important is the ability to replace a magazine that may be damaged or malfunction with another that is fully loaded and ready to go.
That would never happen you might say – well, yes it can, and I’ve seen it during training. Get in a stressful situation where bullets are flying, I’ve seen highly skilled professionals move quickly to get behind something bulletproof, and smack the crap out of the bottom of their pistol against the corner of a metal doorframe or a concrete wall. It’s no fun to watch as the base plate of your magazine gets broken or knocked off – and with it no longer holding the contents in place, the spring, follower, and all those bullets get expelled out of the magazine tube, and fall out on the ground….
I typically carry two magazines, but the location where I had been carrying them was very, very hard to access and get them out with only the fingertips on my partially cast covered hand. to make them easier to access, I had to change from a Kydex double pouch in my pocket to a single magazine carried in a leather pouch on my belt.
My training had always emphasized keeping my primary gun had free – so there was nothing being held in my hand that could interfere or slow down the drawing of my pistol if I suddenly needed to use my pistol to defend myself. With my secondary hand having its function and range of motion seriously impaired, I had no choice but to shift to using my primary hand for most daily tasks, and to access the items I carry every day in my pockets.
It wasn’t just the placement of my firearm. I needed to move my cell phone and carry it where my primary hand could easily reach it. I needed to change my wardrobe – wearing only those shirts that had two pockets, allowing me to carry items in the shirt pockets that I used to carry on my off-side pants pockets. My choice in pants shifted to those that had cargo pockets – giving me additional places where my daily carry items could be accessed by my primary hand.
Setting up my carrying options was only the first step. I had to do some practice with my unloaded gun to make sure I would be able to operate it effectively without a fully functioning second hand. While this wasn’t completely optimal, it did help reinforce what I needed to do, until I was able to get to the range and do some live fire practice. Although it took me a week or two before I could get to the range, once there I was able to get some confidence that I would be able to make my pistol function as needed, but certainly not as easily as I wanted.
I did some searching and seeking solutions to make manipulation easier. I had two reasons – one to make it easier for me, and two, to have answers for those students who may have issues with hand strength, or otherwise have difficulty in operating their pistols. As a result, I now I have several products, and some tips for my students that offer better grip or leverage when manipulating the slide of a semi-auto pistol – each of these being personally tested during my period of one-handed limitations.
When the first cast was removed, I was now a bit more aware and knowledgeable about what limitations I had, and what I needed to be more effective when working my pistol. The second cast was wrapped just a bit higher up on my hand, and as a result, I got some increased amount of movement through holding my fingers differently as the cast hardened. This gave me quite a bit more range of motion, and with that, a lot more confidence in being able to keep my pistol working when needed.
When the last in a series of casts was finally removed, and the healing the casts were needed to facilitate completed, I was told that a return to 100% would probably require a year from the date of the injury. My wrist had now been immobilized and not required to function for almost three months. While I now had two hands, my abilities, while somewhat improved without a cast, were still very limited.
As I write this, additional time has passed and more healing has happened. I have been to the range several times and have even done some shooting with my secondary hand only. While still not 100%, it is getting better each time I go to the range, and it won’t be long before my capabilities are back to where they were before the injury.
As we get older, we lose some of the abilities we had in our youth. At the same time – as we start to look to be more vulnerable – we have an increasing need to be able to protect ourselves. Knowing I was at some disadvantage with my injury, I was a lot more cautious – in where I went, what I did, and the level on awareness I had as I was out and about. It’s often easy to become lax and have a false sense of security as you go about your daily activities – this reminded me that staying aware and alert is your best weapon. And, avoiding problems is always preferable to needing to win a confrontation.
However, if you can’t avoid problems, and they come to you, this experience has taught me a lot about selecting the right equipment, and making sure you can still do what you need to do to make it function. Don’t wait until something like this happens to you. Start thinking about how you might need to alter your planning, and how you can be better prepared should you lose some element of your protection plan.