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.

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