Disabled, but not an easy target.
Not only are the disabled more likely to be the victims of criminal attacks, they are also more likely to be the victims of domestic violence and abuse. This includes sexual abuse by hired caretakers and family and friends serving as caretakers.2
In a horrifying example of abuse toward a person with a disability, The Guardian newspaper of Manchester, England reported in October 2007 that a drunken former soldier urinated on a disabled neighbor who lay dying on the street after a fall. Encouraged by his friends, the soldier first kicked the woman, who had collapsed and hit her head upon falling, in an attempt to get her to awaken.
A disabled person is more distracted than a non-disabled person. This may be as a result of pain, spasms, medication, financial worries, or other reasons, depending on the disability.
When that action failed to arouse her, he threw a bowl of water on her. Next, he covered her with shaving cream. After none of his actions roused the unconscious woman, the soldier urinated on her. His friends used a mobile phone to record the entire scene which later appeared on YouTube.3
According to Randy LaHaie, owner of Protective Strategies, a company that provides personal safety training and consulting services, “Success in self-defense is not winning a fight, but avoiding it.” He says, “The ultimate success in self-defense is when nothing happens.” LaHaie has a philosophy about self-defense: “If you can’t prevent it [violent crime], avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, defuse it. If you can’t defuse it, escape. If you can’t escape, you may have to fight your way out of the situation. If you have to fight, it will be as a last resort, not a first.”
You need to be able to read people and situations, says LaHaie. You need to know what to pay attention to, understand how to pay attention to safety-related details, and be able to match the degree of your awareness to your circumstances. He continues by saying you must accept full responsibility for your safety.
You must identify situations in your own life that require a higher level of vigilance, build and refine your self-defense maps by continuous learning and analyze the news to familiarize yourself with criminal patterns and factors. You need to practice your observation skills and establish self-defense habits.4
So how does all this come into play for a disabled person? One of the best ways to avoid becoming the victim of a crime is to be aware of your surroundings at any given time, even in your own home. Situational awareness is even more important for a disabled person because they may not be able to flee. Many of the factors to be considered in protecting yourself from personal harm or from harm to property are different for the disabled.
As Dr. Eimer has bought up many times, having a disability brings with it problems a non-disabled person does not have. This affects a person’s ability to accept full responsibility for his or her own safety. A disabled person is more distracted than a non-disabled person. This may be as a result of pain, spasms, medication, financial worries, or other reasons, depending on the disability. A disabled person may not be able to assess a situation and avoid it in the same way a non-disabled person can.
As is more common in the southern states, in Arkansas I have a duty to retreat under the law unless I am in my own home.
Now to my own situation. I have a spinal cord injury in my neck. I am an incomplete quadriplegic. This means the injury affects my entire body. While I do have some feeling and some mobility below the level of the injury, I have very limited range of motion in my neck. I get around using either forearm crutches or a walker. I want to discuss my decision to obtain a concealed carry permit and some of the factors a disabled person needs to consider in selecting a firearm.
I live in Arkansas, which is a shall-issue state rather than a may-issue state. A shall-issue state is one where the issuing authority processing the application is required to approve it unless the applicant is disqualified based on the law.5 If I lived in a may-issue state, I would be worried about being denied a concealed carry permit because I am disabled, especially if the issuing authority had decided it did not want disabled individuals to have concealed carry permits.
Given my disability, I realized I had few alternatives to self-defense. I did not want to become a victim. I knew I was at higher risk to be victimized. I knew that crimes in my area were increasing, as a result of meth use and production. I also knew there was insufficient jail space to house all the criminals and that as a result jail was becoming a revolving door for many criminals.
So I decided to go through the training and the range time and get my concealed carry permit.
Let’s assume I have my concealed carry permit and a firearm I am capable of using. What kind of duty to retreat does a person have in relation to the use of deadly force? This will vary by state. Some states have no duty to retreat. You may need to check with an attorney in your own state to discover the applicable law.
A person’s ability to retreat will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person’s physical and mental capabilities. As is more common in the southern states, in Arkansas I have a duty to retreat under the law unless I am in my own home. However, my own ability to retreat is very limited because of my physical disability and so my duty to retreat would be evaluated based on that disability.
Boyles keeps her skills sharp at the range.
What choices of weapons are available to me as a disabled person? Typically, a chemical spray (containing tear gas, a combination of tear gas and pepper spray, or pepper spray alone), a Taser (with a clean background check), a stun gun, or a firearm. The legality of each of the items listed varies by state and locality. Massad Ayoob, an expert in the use of firearms for law enforcement and self-defense, sums up the choices this way: “Guns are the only weapons that put a physically small or weak person at parity with a powerful, very possibly armed, criminal.”6
That leaves a firearm as the most practical choice for a person with a disability. As with any of the above self-defense choices, hopefully, a person (especially a disabled person) can discharge the weapon accurately and effectively to avoid either being disarmed or attacked by the assailant. Fortunately, I have never had to find out.
A disabled person will have more problems choosing a firearm than a non-disabled person. For example, in my situation, it would be impossible for me to use a shotgun to defend myself inside my own home. I have four fused discs in my neck. I would not be able to tolerate the recoil from a shotgun, so I must use a handgun instead. The questions I had to ask myself in selecting a handgun were:
1) Do I have sufficient grip strength to be able to hold the gun?
2) Can I hold the weight of the gun?
3) Do I have sufficient finger strength to pull the trigger?
4) Can I remember to disengage the safety when I need to?
5) Can I physically disengage the safety?
6) Do I have sufficient hand strength and control to load a magazine, put it into the gun, and remove it from the gun?
7) Do I have sufficient hand strength and control to pull the slide back?
8 ) Can I physically engage the safety?
The answers to the above questions lead directly to the choice between an automatic pistol or a revolver. When I first purchased a handgun, I bought an autoloader. I was able to perform the critical tasks listed above. As time has passed, my ability to control my arms, hands, and fingers has decreased. I am reaching the point where an automatic is no longer a practical choice for me. Before too much longer, I will need to test and purchase a revolver.
I cannot emphasize enough if you have a disability that affects the control and strength of your arms, forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers, make sure you go to a gunshop which will actually allow you to try the pistol before you buy it. On paper, any pistol will look like it will work, but don’t risk several hundred dollars on it.
If you are disabled, you need to practice shooting with your pistol more than a non-disabled person would. It may be more difficult for you to learn the proper procedures for loading and unloading your pistol because of the pain, medication, or other distractions you have. I am guilty as charged on this. I don’t practice as much as I should.
When choosing a handgun, you must find one you can physically operate.
If you live in a state where concealed carry is allowed, one question you need to ask yourself is, “Where am I going to conceal the pistol?” If you use a wheelchair, a fanny pack designed for that purpose may be your best bet.7 If you use crutches or a walker, then where to conceal the pistol and be able to access it becomes a problem. A woman may be able to conceal the pistol in a purse specially designed for concealed carry.
Otherwise, the options are the same as they would be for a person in a wheelchair: a concealed carry fanny pack, a belt holster positioned either on the hip or behind-the-back, or an ankle holster.8 A behind-the-back holster may not be a good idea because of the possibility of pressure sores if you have a spinal cord injury.
The locations where a person can legally carry a concealed weapon vary state by state. State and federal office buildings typically ban carrying weapons on their property. Private businesses may also prohibit carrying concealed weapons. Disabled individuals who wish to carry concealed have a problem when hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices ban carrying concealed weapons. Disabled individuals spend more time than nondisabled people getting medical treatment.
Just who exactly is this sign protecting?
At any medical facility with a large parking lot, depending upon the level of security, a person may be at risk to be the victim of a crime. I am not advocating violating a medical facility’s rules about carrying a weapon. I do recommend that each person evaluate the safety risk of the situation and decide whether to carry a concealed weapon accordingly.
As I stated in my book, “Spinal cord injury and being the victim of a crime have one thing in common. In both situations, most people think it will never happen to them. We’ve already been wrong once. Let’s not be wrong again.”9
In my opinion, it is better to be a live defendant than a dead victim.
The author would like to thank Doug Wood of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Arkansas Insurance Department for his help in researching this article.
[ Carolyn Boyles is a freelance writer. She discusses self-defense in her book, A Complete Plain-English Guide to Living with a Spinal Cord Injury: Valuable Information From A Survivor. Boyles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her websites are www.carolynboyles.com and www.livingwithspinalcordinjury.com ]
- Bruce N. Eimer. “Coping with Physical Disability in Concealed Carry and Defensive Handgun Training” Concealed Carry Magazine 4 (February/March 2007): 38-42.
- Gregor Wolbring. “Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities” International Centre for Bioethics, Culture, and Disability (1994): 1-5 www.bioethicsandsiability.org/violence.html (Accessed November 9, 2007).
- Martin Wainwright. “Jail for ex-soldier who urinated on dying disabled woman” The Guardian (October 27, 2007): 1-3 www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,,2200320,00.html (Accessed November 9, 2007).
- Randy LaHaie. “The Nuts & Bolts of Awareness: Learning To Detect Trouble” Self-Defense Articles (2002): 1-8 www.protectivestrategies.com/awareness.html (Accessed November 9, 2007).
- “Concealed Carry” Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association (February 25, 2007): 1 www.pafoa.org/concealed-carry/ (Accessed November 12, 2007).
- Massad F. Ayoob. In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection. (Concord, New Hampshire: Police Bookshelf, 1980): 38.
- Bruce N. Eimer. “Bear Arms In A Wheelchair” Concealed Carry Magazine 2 no. (November/December 2005): 28.
- Bruce N. Eimer. “Bear Arms In A Wheelchair” Concealed Carry Magazine 2 no. (November/December 2005): 28-9.
- 9. Carolyn Boyles. A Complete Plain-English Guide to Living with a Spinal Cord Injury: Valuable Information From A Survivor (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2007): 305.