Coping with a sudden injury can throw a monkey wrench into most folks’ personal security plans.  How would you cope, safety-wise, if you had an injury that lasted for weeks or even months and required you to use assistance to get around?

I got a first-hand view of these problems last winter when I slipped on the black ice that is so often a part of New England winters.  (By the time you read this, I will be back to normal.  I’m not looking for sympathy or anything else, but I do want to share some important lessons learned.)  Your health status can change in the blink of an eye.  The habits you have developed for your protection may not work any more, and may actually further injure you or endanger you.  Are you prepared for that to happen?  Do you have a plan ready to be put into place?

Let me tell you, I was very pleased that, long before my accident, I had training and practice in one-handed shooting.  Not just shooting, but one-handed drawing, shooting, reloading, reholstering, and even malfunction clearance.  Brushing up on these things is much easier than learning them for the first time while you are injured.

My instructors motivated the one-handed drills by saying that one arm or the other might be injured in a gunfight.  True, but it is much more likely that you will break, sprain or otherwise greatly injure one or more parts of your body in some other way, and while you are healing, you may need to use a variety of assistive devices that can get in the way of using a gun defensively.  Let’s look at a few.

Wheelchair.  If you are using one of these, temporarily or permanently, you have many choices for your defensive tools.  A cross-draw holster won’t be obvious, and can provide rapid access to your gun from your seated position.  A belly-band holster is another good choice, especially if you can’t always wear clothes that permit a belt. A shoulder holster or fanny pack might suit your purpose, too.  Purse carry is another good choice, particularly if you keep the purse on your lap and are carrying a revolver that can be fired repeatedly right though the bag without completely drawing the gun (semi-autos jam after one shot when fired while still inside a purse).  If you are going to carry any defensive tool such as a knife or pepper spray on a chain around your neck, make sure the “chain” is a string or other substance that will break easily, so that nobody can grab it and choke you with it.

At home in a wheelchair, don’t assume that you can use a shotgun as easily as when you could stand.  You can’t achieve a wide stance from the chair, and the balance and handling of the gun change considerably.  The long gun’s recoil will, at the least, try to roll your chair back; at worst, it could topple you.  You will either need lots of practice this way, or switch to a smaller, more manageable house gun.

Crutches.  This is tough, particularly if you have to depend on two crutches to get around.  They keep your hands completely busy, so you must be able to drop one (without falling) in order to draw a gun from wherever you have it concealed.  A purse with a strap can also get in the way of using crutches safely, which is why many crutched folk use backpacks for carrying stuff.  That’s fine for most stuff, but a gun in the backpack of a person with crutches is very time-consuming to access.  A fanny pack may seem like a good place to stash a gun, but many people with hip or leg problems can’t stand the weight of a pack on their hips or lower back.  Perhaps a pocket holster with a small caliber gun would be a better choice than a big blaster you can’t get to in a hurry.  The smaller caliber very well may be the wiser choice, as you will l likely be shooting one-handed.

If you need only one crutch, you can use your other hand to draw and fire.  If you are right-handed and must use the crutch in your right hand, you will have to get a left-handed holster and learn to draw and fire with your non-dominant hand.  This takes time and a lot of practice.

If you need only one crutch and are using it with your non-dominant hand, you are lucky indeed, as you can draw and fire with the hand you normally use.  Can you reholster reliably with only one hand, while looking around you, not at the holster?  Can you do all the manipulations you might have to do, such as clearing a malfunction, with just one hand?

Canes.  A cane, in and of itself, makes a pretty good self-defense tool, if you have the right training.  Look around for a cane defense class so you can learn and practice in a safe environment the skills that might be useful someday. In such a class I took once, the instructor said that people who really need a cane to walk should try to lean against something like a wall or a parked car when using the cane for defense, to try to avoid falling.  You should judge your own stability realistically, not wishfully.

Again, if your cane is in your non-dominant hand, consider yourself lucky when it comes to using a gun, but you still need to practice drawing, firing, and reholstering one handed.  If you must keep the cane in your dominant hand, you will need even more practice in order to be confident that you would be able to access and use your gun in an emergency.

If you are going to be using a cane or wheelchair for a long time, look around for a self-defense class that is specifically geared to your situation.  A cane makes an awesome weapon when you know how to use it, and some martial arts folks have worked hard to develop techniques that work well for folks in wheelchairs.  Also, the NRA has a shooting program specifically for physically challenged individuals.  Participate!

Double Whammy.  Sometimes trouble comes in twos.  At one point I was using a wheelchair and my left arm was in a sling, the shoulder not to be used, but my hand available for light tasks.  If I had fired a normal defensive caliber weapon (.38, .357, .45) consciously limiting my gun use to my right hand only, all would have been fine.  But if I unconsciously reverted to a two-handed grip, the recoil from even one shot could have done additional serious damage to my shoulder.  For that time period, I gave up my usual gun and depended on a mouse gun that couldn’t hurt me while I was using it.

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, don’t assume that your old self-defense practices will just need a little tweaking.  Take a realistic look at yourself and ask how bad it would be for you to fall from your crutches or whatever the worst thing that could happen might be.  Then plan around that.

In the meantime, before you have your accident, practice one handed with your dominant hand.  Practice one handed with your non-dominant hand.  Neither one will be fun because you won’t be as fast or as accurate as you are with both hands.  But that doesn’t matter.  Every minute of one-handed training you do now will pay big dividends when you eventually encounter that patch of black ice, or that crazy driver who cuts you off, or the storm damage that blows your house down around you.  Someday, something like that may well happen.  Will you be prepared?

This article first appeared in the May-Jun 2008 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2008 Lyn Bates