Guns for Senior Citizens

Last week, my father asked me to research guns that would be good for senior citizens. He served in the Army when he was younger, and still swears he could take apart and put back together an M1A in a few minutes flat. I asked him if he would ever want to go to the range with me some time, he responded, “Sure! Though I couldn’t hit a target!” I understand what he’s saying. I’m pretty blind without my contact lenses or glasses. Gun ownership is not only for the able-bodied with perfect vision, there are so many different varieties of guns to choose from that a senior citizen with poor vision, arthritis, and limited range of motion will be able to find something they can comfortably shoot. After all, “guns make everyone equal.”

Photo courtesy of Bob Shell
Photo courtesy of Bob Shell

The most important factor is if you can load/unload and shoot the gun comfortably and safely. Consider the following when in the market for a gun:

  • Ease of trigger pull
  • Grip strength
  • Recoil
  • Ease of operation
  • Accuracy

Ease of Trigger Pull

If you have arthritis, pain, or loss of strength in the hands, racking the slide of a semi-automatic handgun can be difficult, or even impossible. Though semi-automatic handguns, especially those configured like a Glock, have the lightest trigger pulls, do not rule out a revolver. Revolvers tend to have harder trigger pulls, but a good gunsmith, or even the gun’s manufacturer can do custom trigger jobs on a revolver to create a lighter trigger pull. An alternative to the revolver, if you want a semi-automatic handgun, is to look at tip-up barrel models, such as the Beretta 86FS Cheetah.

Grip Strength

The gun you chose should not put any strain on you when you raise it. Further, shooting the gun must be comfortable. If you buy a gun and find it uncomfortable to shoot, you will be less likely to practice with it, which is necessary for responsible gun ownership. Be mindful of the gun’s overall weight when loaded. Many polymer-framed handguns are lightweight, such as the Glock 26 or the S&W M&P. A good choice would be guns with different size backstraps, so you can find one comfortable for you. I would suggest rubber grips over wood grips. Rubber grips provide more comfort and a surer grip when shooting a lot of rounds.


Photo courtesy of The Mason Jar Blog
Photo courtesy of The Mason Jar Blog

Smaller, shorter barreled guns have more recoil than guns with a longer barrel. Recoil should be manageable for quick, accurate follow-up shots. 9mm is generally, in my opinion, manageable. A snub-nose .38 is painful. Of course, .22 Long Rifle, .32 ACP, and .25 ACP barely even kick. There are tons of arguments about calibers for self-defense, but Bruce N. Eimer, PH.D in “Arthritis and Choosing a Defensive Handgun” writes about the merits of .380, “accurate shot placement is more important than caliber. A center hit with a small caliber is better than a miss with a larger one.” So pick what caliber you can shoot repeatedly without causing pain. It is suggested for senior citizens to shoot reduced-recoil loads and chose to shoot the non +P if your gun is +P rated. I have a short-barreled S&W in .38 Special +P-rated, but I shoot normal .38 Special ammunition in it. It still offers the same stopping power.

Ease of Operation

As I mentioned above, operating the slide, which loads the first bullet into the chamber and prepares the gun for shooting, may be impossible to operate for some users. A revolver is easy, and pretty fail-safe. Some revolvers that are single-action require you to cock a hammer back for each trigger pull. Other revolvers operate in double-action, which do not require the cocking of a hammer at all. Double-action revolvers are preferable to single-action for a self-defense gun. Some revolvers are hammerless, these types are just point and shoot. Of course, in times of high stress, this might be the best choice. If a semi-automatic handgun is your favored choice, then pick one with simple to use controls. Make sure you can load, unload, change magazines, operate any safeties, and disassemble the gun for cleaning easily. Many modern day polymer-framed pistols have very few controls, and zero complicated safeties.


Photo Courtesy of Oleg Volk
Photo courtesy of Oleg Volk

Using iron sights might cause a problem, if you have degeneration in your eyes, trying to focus on both the front and rear sight and the distant target will be difficult. Many guns, both semi-automatic and revolvers offer laser sight models. If you find a gun you like without a laser, most will accommodate an after-market laser that is easy to install on your chosen gun. Laser sights line up with bullet’s trajectory and help you in quick aim and bullet placement. Some pistols will accommodate a flashlight and a laser, aiding in your vision further. In addition, there are high-visibility sights you can add to any gun that utilize tritium that naturally glows in the dark without needing sunlight to charge.

In my research, I found these recommended guns for senior citizens:

  • Glock 26 in 9mm
  • Kel-Tec P32
  • Kahr Arms PM9 and MK9
  • SIG Sauer P239
  • S&W J-Frame revolvers
  • Full-sized .357 Magnum revolvers

With this little bit of knowledge to get you started, you can go to your local gun range and rent some of the suggested guns above to see what fits best for you. Remember: safety, comfort, and accuracy above all else.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. About 6 years ago, I often went to a shooting range with my Smith & Wesson revolver. My memory has conked at about the model but I bought it @1986. I asked the gun shop if I could handle an ak47 and I was told a nice but resounding “NO”. I sold my revolver to the shop before moving. So, others have said – the recoil needs to be light or tell me a way to mitigate it pls. Tnx.

  2. Given that, the obvious factors would be 1) No slide to rack or other manually difficult tasks to perform prior to actually using the weapon when you need to do so. 2) Reasonable sight radius so you could hit the thing at which you are aiming. 3) Ability to store weapon loaded, for long periods, with no tension on springs when at rest. 4) Low recoil & reasonable effectiveness.

    Given all that, and assuming we are talking a home defense gun, why are we even mentioning semi-auto pistols (must rack slide, spring tension at rest) or mouse guns (tiny sight radius, heavy recoil)? Seriously, unless you plan on carrying it with you at all times (must have a CC permit) there is no advantage to a small gun.

    The obvious choices here would be a good steel-frame revolver with a 4″ or 6″ barrel in a reasonable light caliber (ie a duty-size .357 shooting light 38 specials or even shooting .32 or .22 caliber) or a light rifle shooting a manageable caliber (10/22 or .30 carbine). If you prefer a shotgun a .410 or 20 gauge shotgun with 18″ barrel.

  3. Interesting list – seems to me the firearm you’d want when your old would be similar to what you want when you are young minus the need for grip strength, great eyesight, or frequent practice.

  4. I am in my 70’s just purchased my first hand gun in 50yrs. I looked them all over and decided on the Bersa Thunder CC .380($348) because it’s easy to shoot and fits in my front right pocket. you can say what you want
    about the 380 but the 9 mm and up you can’t and won’t carry all the time. If you have Arthritis like I do you might get the first round off but the pain will be so great that you’ll flinch and miss the rest. I have no trouble shoot the 380 and can get all 9 rounds into the chest area in under 5 sec. including getting the draw. at 15 feet.
    Me, my 870 and my Bersa go to the range once a week. (The range is a open field)

  5. Being on a fixed income as a Senior Citizen, is there a company that I can purchase a small hand gun as a .32 Beretta on payments. I have a rifle and a riot gun, but no small weapon.

  6. I am a 57 year old female with a Charter Arms 38 Special. I found this gun to be easy to clean, but the recoil is almost over powering for me, but I can manage with it. The grip is almost too large for my small hands and the trigger is too tight to shoot the five rounds, so it will have to go to the gunsmith so I can shoot more then one or two rounds at a time. I look forward going back to the range after these things have been fixed…

    1. I have a Charter Arms 38 Special Lavender Lady and have the same issues you have. IMHO this gun isnt worth the money to take to a gunsmith and spend money on the trigger. I just bought a Ruger LCR 38 special and the grip is perfect for my small arthritic hands, the recoil isn’t as much as the CA and the trigger is much easier. See if you can rent one at your range to test fire it. I will keep the CA but DONT feel safe with it. Mine also misfires.

  7. Additional comments to my Dec. 24, 2011 comments,
    Instead of purchasing a 38 special, I bought a Glock 17 (9mm). There are aftermarket products available to aid one in take down and racking the slide. There are no sharp edges on the Glock 17 and the recoil is very manageable for an old timer like myself.
    I also purchased a Ruger SR45 which one needs a bit more strength to rack. This pistol is primarily used for home protection.
    Range time is a must for getting familiar and feeling comfortable with your firearm.
    I am still trying to muster up enough seniors to begin a class for training, (with the aid of an NRA instructor), in the proper use and storage of firearms. Most senior group spokesmen that I have contacted regarding this subject, are either not interested or turned off to firearms due to the bad publicity we get in the press.

  8. If a senior citizen would like a gun, then they definitely need one that they can handle. They need to see if they can handle a firearm that is light and has little recoil. Practicing is the main thing, lots of practice. Going to a gun range is the best way to learn how to shoot as well as taking a firearms course.

  9. One more thing that is very important, the price for 38 special is very reasonable and the anmo is very accessible.

  10. I’m a senior of 67, that suffered a stroke in ’06. I find it best using a 357 mag. By Charter Arms. It also fires 38 +spl. and is very easy to hold in my hand, I really enjoy shooting it. For someone in my age group, this type of firearm should seriously be considered! Very easy to shoot and keep clean. I also have an XD 9, but find the stiff slide a problem at times, I even went so far as to contact the mfr. They informed me they have only the one slide spring and there would not be anyway it should not be changed, it would remove any warranty if it was changed. The 357 has a great frame and allows for easy conceivable placement, although not a pocket pistol, it is a very good weapon! And with a price between $400 to $450 it’s hard to beat!

  11. elderly have small weak hands, went to range and tried out every 9mm they had and found none were even close to the XDM 3.8 in comfort and ease of shooting. have the lulu loader and a viridian laser with light. easy to disassemble clean and put back.

  12. Greetings:
    As a senior citizen, I find the grip height is most important for me in choosing a handgun. The next concern is recoil. I owned a Walther PK380, nice gun but a horror to reassemble after cleaning.
    I am looking to purchase a 38 special special revolver in the near future. The new Ruger Sp101 5771 looks very interesting. It has a 4.20″ barrel with a capacity of five rounds and is calibrated in .357/38 and weighs 29.50 ounces.
    I presently own a Browning Buckmark .22LR pistol and a Taurus .380 Millinnium Pro Stainless pistol. The Buckmark is great for target shooting and the Taurus is great for conceal carry.
    S. Messinger

  13. I would add the Walther PK380 as an option. Slide is easy to rack and while the double action trigger is fairly heavy, the single action trigger is fairly light. Recoil is very managable. Reasonably priced at less than $400 on the street.

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