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Departments : The Winning Edge

Carrying After Retirement

Middle-aged and senior officers may need to adjust their handgun preferences and shooting techniques as they age.

March 31, 2015  |  by Chuck Klein

More than 40 years ago, one of my fellow classmates at the police academy asked the OIC if we should carry a gun while off-duty. The lieutenant's answer became one of the pieces of wisdom that I carried with me through my career and my life. I have not only lived it, but written about it and taught it. He said: "One either never carries or one always carries, but one never sometimes carries."

I'm now considerably older than I was in those academy days and retired, but for me, the rule still applies. You either carry or you don't. And that's true for every officer whether he or she is active duty, off duty, pursuing another career, or retired.

Thanks to LEOSA, I and many other retired officers still carry. But carrying a firearm at any age is a responsibility, one that requires us to not only know the law but to maintain our shooting skills. And unfortunately it gets harder to maintain shooting proficiency as we age.

From middle age through our senior years, most of us start to experience some physical problems that can make shooting a handgun accurately much more difficult. These include loss of visual acuity and pain in our joints, including our hands and shoulders, from arthritis and past injury.

The performance of shooters experiencing these conditions can be affected by comfort-recoil-arthritis-vision-yips (CRAVY). Most shooters are affected by one or more of these age-related issues, if they are lucky enough to pile on the years.

There is no cure for aging other than death. So older shooters have no choice but to accept and deal with CRAVY symptoms. Let's look at how you can address each of them.

Comfort:

First, choose the right gun. When it comes to concealed carry, owning the latest and most powerful assault stopper is insignificant if the gun is too big or too heavy for all day, every day carry.

The other part of the comfort equation of course is the carrying system. A huge selection of carry rigs are available, including fanny packs, purses, and a wide variety of holsters. Finding a comfortable carry mode and firearm that fits you and your lifestyle is a significant task and should be addressed with great importance.

Recoil:

Many of us as we age become less tolerant I know that a lot of you are thinking that regardless of how much it hurts your hands to do so that you will always be able to shoot a few rounds of powerful handgun ammunition at an attacker. You may be right. But would you be willing to hit the range and practice with that ammo if it to noise and physical punishment, especially stress on our joints. Modern lightweight self-defense handguns, even in .380 ACP, can be uncomfortable to shoot when your hands are already sore from arthritis. So the old saying of "a .22 caliber pistol beats an empty fist" applies here. The .22 is not known as a man-stopper, but a well-placed shot or two will go a long way toward bringing an end to most life-threatening attacks.

I know that a lot of you are thinking that regardless of how much it hurts your hands to do so that you will always be able to shoot a few rounds of powerful handgun ammunition at an attacker. You may be right. But would you be willing to hit the range and practice with that ammo if it caused you great pain? Probably not. And if you're going to carry, you have to keep your skills sharp on the range.

I think a great solution for retired and senior officers who dread shooting snappy self-defense rounds on the range is to consider using a .22 conversion pistol for practice and carrying a heavier caliber for actual defense. The rimfire cartridge will obviously not have the same recoil as the centerfire self-defense calibers, but you can use it to keep your shooting eye sharp and practice your trigger control. Without regular practice your ability to stave off a deadly attack will not only be negated, but you are more likely to fire and miss. And a missed shot can result in collateral damage and liability.

Arthritis:

Joint pain not only can make you want to stop shooting, it can also make it difficult to work your pistol.

Being unable to operate a double-action trigger, grip the handgun with adequate strength, or rack a slide is common among persons with arthritis. There are some medications that help, but the severity of the ailment usually comes and goes during the week or the day. If you've noticed it is difficult to make a tight fist or experience discomfort in other joints, now might be a good time to begin looking for a handgun you can operate with ease.

Vision:

This is the easiest of the five factors to correct. Prescription lenses, of course, will improve visual acuity, if you wear them. However, glasses and contacts will not solve issues related to cataracts, night blindness, or inability to focus on specific distances such as being unable to see the front sight, the rear sight, and the target all at the same time.

Shooters experiencing the vision problems of aging may need to learn instinct shooting, shooting by focusing on the target only. Under close-quarter-combat conditions, if you can't see the sights but can still see the target, the point shooting technique should be sufficient.

Another remedy that you may want to consider is to fit your carry weapon with a laser sight. A laser sight eliminates your need to acquire the target through your sights, but shooting with a laser does have the drawback of requiring you to expend an instant looking for that red or green dot.

The Yips:

This is a term golfers and other athletes use to describe involuntary, unexpected twitches. The yips usually happen to aging golfers and veteran ballplayers. They also happen to shooters. And that's bad because squeezing a trigger and holding a pistol on target require steady hands with no involuntary twitches. If you suddenly have an, albeit, miniscule muscle spasm when stroking a trigger, you will miss your target.

There is no known cure for the yips and they tend to happen with no warning, but a firm, two-hand, well-practiced grip will help to hinder twitch possibilities.

Barring early death, we all age and experience the physical problems associated with aging. Those physical problems can make life difficult for officers and retired officers who carry. But there are some things you can do to ensure that you remain a capable and responsible law enforcement professional who still carries a handgun into and through your senior years.

First, if you're older than 50, own up to the fact that you are aging. Test yourself with honest appraisals every time you handle your carry weapon.

Second, only carry a firearm you shoot well and one that is comfortable for you to carry. Many modern firing ranges rent handguns for the purpose of allowing their customers to try out different guns. Take advantage of this. It's an inexpensive way to learn what's a good fit for you.

Finally, keep practicing self-defense tactical shooting, including instinct combat shooting.

Chuck Klein is a former LEO and retired licensed private investigator. He is an active member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and the author of "Instinct Combat Shooting: Defensive Handgunning for Police;" "Lines of Defense: Police Ideology and the Constitutions," and other books. He may be reached through his Website, www.ChuckKlein.com.


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Federali @ 3/31/2015 5:31 PM

Not quite there yet, but an excellent read indeed. While I agree with "a .22 caliber pistol beats an empty fist", I would not want a rim fire round as my “primary, sub-caliber, everyday carry gun”, as I’ve seen more failures-to-fire with the .22 than I care to have in a primary gun. I would rather have the centerfire .25 acp or .32 acp in that position. As far as arthritis affecting ones ability to work a slide, I personally like Beretta’s tip-up barrels. I have the model 21A in .25 acp, and the model 3032 Tomcat in .32 acp, just for fun shooting guns now, but who knows for later. They’re very easy to manipulate and you get 9 and 8 rounds respectively in each. And no, I don’t work for Beretta. Better to go to the grave never needing your gun than going there wishing that you had only had it that day.

Reggie Wlaker @ 3/31/2015 6:29 PM

Excellent Article. My wife did not like to shoot but I bought her a .22 LR revolver. Snub nose with 9 shots. I have taken her out to the range and she found she was quite proficient at shooting it. We have scenarios and she does well... actually... better than "well". I explained that if someone entered the home, she could shoot 2 shots into the wall and the intruders would most likely leave and if not.... then she still has 7 rounds to finish it. She understands it and she can and will act if necessary. I would rather have a .22 than to have nothing. Carry whatever will make it easier for to carry. Be part of the solution and stay safe.

Tom Ret @ 4/1/2015 8:05 AM

Generally, I would not suggest firing warning shots. Those 2 shots taken into the wall may have unintended consequences by striking someone on the other side. It is also less rounds that may be needed to counter a suspect or multiple suspects especially with a small caliber handgun. If you are not justifiably in fear of your life or love one, don't shoot.
If it is determined that using lethal force was not justified by a court, after you have fired those warning shots, you may be on the defensive trying to prove that you only fired warning shots. It sounds good that you were only intending on scaring someone away but that action can be twisted by lawyers to your peril. A 22 revolver is an option for those who are recoil sensitive and allows practice on the cheap. Suspects will not be asking is that only a 22 you have
pointed at me.

Jon Retired LEO @ 4/1/2015 3:48 PM

Shortly after retiring I investigated the Glock Gen 4 Model 23 which is in 40 Caliber. The new recoil spring and the adjustable change out grips made it a very viable choice for me. I do have some mild Arthritis in my hands but this gun has made it possible for me to shoot with accuracy and almost no pain.
I am not as quick on loading mags as I used to be but not a problem for concealed carry. All in all great gun!

Tom Ret @ 4/1/2015 5:02 PM

I personally prefer to carry something larger than a 22 as long as I can comfortably conceal it. Different revolvers and/or pistols can have different degrees of recoil while being the same caliber. For example, my wife can no longer shoot her P230 Sig in 380 comfortably but isn't bothered by the Kahr in 380. The Kahr is a smaller pistol as well.

Kojack58 @ 4/2/2015 3:27 AM

Old age what is that. Oh yeah those dang birthdays. As a firearms instructor I know how it goes. that is why once a month I spend the funds to ensure accuracy and reading is done all the time. As I still work for my department as a dispatcher I still carry the 9MM Ruger SR5

Jeff M @ 4/8/2015 4:04 PM

I had a Docter III red dot sight installed on my Glock 26. The red dot is clear, easy to pick up and faster than iron sights. The problem lies in the time and expense of finding the right gunsmith to install the red dot and back-up iron sights. Other red dot models include the Trijicon RMR, Leupold Delta Point, ad JP Enterprises JPoint. I love my Docter III.

Ima Leprechaun @ 4/15/2015 7:28 PM

I never carried after I retired mainly because you tend to think differently while armed. I carry the best piece of protective gear now, a cell phone. Let the proper authorities deal with whatever I see and be a good witness. Many LEO retirees forget that they no longer have any arrest authority, they have no back up or radio and they have no legal protection that a departmental position offers. Also getting involved in anything where you have no information on the situation could lead to shooting a LEO by mistake since you would not know who the good and bad guys are. Call whatever it is in and stay under cover and be a good live witness.

Jay @ 5/22/2015 11:30 AM

Though it was a great article on changing as you're body. Does.

TW @ 10/13/2015 5:07 AM

If you're retired and you elect not to carry...then you should also leave the retired badge and ID at home as well. The last thing you want is to be in a situation where you are now a victim of a robbery and the perp sees the badge and will most likely shoot you. Retired or not---all they see is the badge! This type of incident happens more often than it should.

B-safe!
2guns

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