Concealed Carry

Self-Defense: From a Wheelchair

David Freeman in a wheelchair wearing a concealed handgun in a leather belt holster

Life has a way of dealing unexpected challenges. Whether it be due to age, disease, or a serious accident, you (or someone you love) may wind up in a wheelchair. For me, a hard fall caused serious damage to both knees that became aggravated by a combination of arthritis and neuropathy.

First, I used a walker, then a four-wheel electric scooter, followed by an electric wheelchair. The corresponding lack of muscle exercise, without a change in dietary habits, resulted in a significant overweight condition. I’m not telling you all of this for sympathy, but to let you know what I’m about to share with you comes from personal experience.

Six 9mm pistols used for concealed carry in a wheelchair
These are some of the guns the author has successfully used for wheelchair carry. Top Row: M&P Shield Plus (.30 Super Carry), Ruger Max-9, SIG Sauer P365 Bottom Row: Mossberg MC2C, Taurus G3, Springfield Hellcat Pro. All except the Shield are 9mm.

I may be a mobility-impaired sheepdog, but I’m still a sheepdog. I was a firearms instructor before the injury, and I’m still a firearms instructor. I carried a concealed handgun for personal protection for several years before the injury. I believe in it, and for as long as I can, I plan to continue to carry and remain trained and ready.

The “trained” part of that little “trained and ready” phrase is all different now. The first thing I noticed while learning to cope with the wheelchair-bound lifestyle was a deficiency in training. Most of the well-known firearms trainers include and practice some form of physical training, including martial arts, with their firearms training.

Forget that! It’s a physical challenge for me just to get in and out of the chair. Forget pushups, pullups, running, squat thrusts, and weight training. It just ain’t gonna happen, no matter how much I wish I could. Let me break down the reality of the software and hardware issues we folks in a wheelchair need to learn to deal with.

Software Issues

First up is mental attitude. If you can put aside all the negativity and keep your “want to” going, you can be an effective self-defense practitioner. You will remain dedicated and able to keep you and your family safe from the evil monsters out there.

Some of those evil monsters will look at a wheelchair-bound person as an easy target. You want to ensure they’re wrong. Remain consistent about going to the range to practice your shooting. Don’t let those skills deteriorate. Remain vigilant and armed every time you leave your house. Perhaps even in your house — especially if you spend time alone. Continue being an active member of the armed-and-ready crowd. Read the good stuff, watch the videos, and be a regular at your favorite gun range.

Stiff leather belt for concealed carry
Having a belt built for carrying a gun on your waist is foundational. You need a real gun belt that is 1.25 or 1.5 inches wide and made from thick leather specifically designed for carrying a gun.

Practice awareness as a way of life. As a mobility-impaired individual, you are vulnerable when out and about, especially when loading or unloading your wheelchair into or out of your vehicle and when carrying packages. Keep your head on a swivel, expecting to be accosted and ready to do something about it. Practicing awareness alone is often all that’s needed to discourage attackers and send them elsewhere.

While you may not be able to exercise to stay in shape, there are some things you can do. Get plenty of rest. Be careful and know how medications may affect you. If you find yourself battling drowsiness or depression, visit with your doctor and try to get a change in medication.

Hardware Issues

Whatever put you in that chair is likely to have associated pain and muscle weakness. At least it’s that way with me. Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with the limitations life has thrown at me. First, let’s talk about the guns.

Bianchi Model 101 leather holster with a SCCY CPX-1 9mm handgun
A Bianchi Model 101, Foldaway Belt Slide Gun Holster, size 16 will work with any of the small- or medium-sized 9mm double-stacks or popular single-stack pistols. It will work with most red dot or laser sight-equipped handguns. It can be worn at any location around the waist.

I’m very fortunate in that I own a nice collection of guns as a result of being in the business. I began carrying a .45 caliber 1911 Commander a few years ago. I supplemented the 1911 with double-stack nines, such as the SIG P229, S&W M&P, and Springfield XDm. More recently, I’ve found simple guns in 9mm more to my liking and several stand out.

I stubbornly cling to the idea of having more ammo on hand than single-stack nines such as the M&P Shield, Springfield XDs, and Glock 43 offer, but any one of those is a fine gun. My favorites in the double-stack arena are still relatively small, and include the Mossberg MC2C and Taurus G3.

More recently, I’ve been experimenting with the Springfield Hellcat Pro, SIG Sauer P365XL, Ruger Max-9, and M&P Shield Plus in .30 Super Carry. Any of these guns will work fine for wheelchair carry. My favorite of these is the Mossberg. It has night sights, a great grip, and nothing complicated. You just draw, line up the sights, and pull the trigger.

David Freeman Shooting a revolver from a wheelchair
Shooting from the wheelchair is different from any of the standard positions taught by most instructors. It is important to practice shooting from the chair with your arms unsupported, instead of always shooting from a bench.

How you’re going to carry the gun is critical. If you have never purchased a real gun belt such as the thick, 1.25 or 1.5-inch wide belts offered by Crossbreed and other leather companies, stop right now and order one. I can wait. I’m serious about this. Having a belt built for carrying a gun on your waist is foundational. If you’ll promise me that you have the belt situation taken care of, we can move on to holsters.

Dozens of companies make a holster to fit your gun. If you can wear a polo or Hawaiian shirt with the shirttail out, I’ll save you a ton of aggravation about what holster to wear. Get a Bianchi Model 101, Foldaway Belt Slide Gun Holster, size 16. This holster will work with any of the 9mm double-stacks I mentioned above, plus any of the popular single-stack pistols. It will work with most red dot or laser sights. It works with revolvers, too.

I wear my gun at the three o’clock position. To keep that option viable, I lowered the righthand arm rest on my wheelchair so drawing from my holster is not restricted. The beauty of the belt slide foldaway holster is I can move it around for appendix carry or cross-draw. I can also position it behind my back.

With the carry method settled, what about shooting? There’s no Weaver stance or isosceles stance when shooting from a wheelchair. You will likely have an armrest suitable to use for support. If you don’t, perhaps you can make some adjustments to your wheelchair so that you do.

When going to the range, if you pull up to the shooting bench and use the bench for support, you’re not really duplicating what you will be experiencing in the field. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever shoot from the bench, however, spend at least part of your range time using the available support in your wheelchair. If your chair does not have any support structure, shoot with your arms stretched in front of you in a modified isosceles position.

Personal Issues

There are three things that affect my shooting these days: pain, eyesight, and shaky hands. Perhaps you’re dealing with some of the same issues. I manage the pain through a combination of medications that limit my range time. I also shoot a lot of .22s.

The eyesight issue required a visit to an optometrist with whom I was open about my need to focus on the front sight of a handgun at a particular distance. And although I didn’t take a handgun to the appointment (which was in a VA clinic — a very “no gun” environment), I was able to demonstrate the distance and the size of the object I need to focus on.

Fortunately, my eye doctor seemed to be well-versed in firearms. She even asked how I compensated for being left-eye dominant even though I am right-handed. I showed her how I line up handgun sights and explained that I shoot long guns from my left shoulder.

co-witnessed red dot sight covering the front post sight
If you’re wheelchair bound because of age, you’re likely experiencing other aging issues such as eyesight. If you’ve not transitioned to using a red dot sight or laser, it may be time to do so. Some red dot-equipped pistols are very reasonable in price, such as this SCCY CPX-1 with a Crimson Trace red dot sight.

Strangest thing about the eyesight… I had been wearing progressive trifocals for years. With my new prescription in hand and making careful choices at the Optometrist, I spent about $500 on a pair of glasses that gave me fits when trying to read. I bought some reading glasses online — three pairs for $17. I used the middle value on my most recent prescription. It was 3.00.

Reading was a bit blurry, so I spent another $17.00 and got three pairs of 3.75 diopter glasses. Now, I wear the 3.00 for driving, shooting, and everything except reading. I put on a pair of the 3.75s for reading. If I’d known how well this would work, I would have saved the $500 I spent on the trifocals. Maybe my relating this will help somebody.

Also related to eyesight, I’m warming up to the use of red dot and laser sights. When I was teaching shooting classes, almost every laser sight I encountered was being used incorrectly by someone who didn’t know how to properly line up fixed sights. Painfully watching an elderly shooter turn on their laser, then watch it move around all over the target and never settle properly on the bullseye convinced me that was not the type of sight you wanted to depend upon for self-defense.

David Freeman wearing a Sheep Dog cap
If you can put aside all the negativity and keep your “want to” going, you can be an effective self-defense practitioner, dedicated and able to keep you and your family safe from the evil out there. Sometimes, the author wears his Sheep Dog cap to remind him.

Today, I’ve changed my mind. It’s all about training and practice. I have a couple of red dot sights and two guns with lasers mounted. I’m able to shoot well with these guns using the optics. What’s different? I know how to line up the existing sights and hold them steady. Having adjusted the red dots and lasers so they are superimposed over the front sight at ranges up to 15 yards makes using them easy.

Bracing myself with elbows on a table or leaning against a post or tree helps with the pain and shakiness. However, as we discussed earlier, in a defensive situation I may not have anything to brace on, so I also practice without a support. This is where the fundamentals of grip, sight alignment, breathing, trigger pull, and follow-through are so important. You’ve been taught these, right? If not, spend the money for at least an hour of instruction with a qualified handgun instructor.

Final Thoughts

I hope sharing my experiences has helped any of you who are dealing with mobility or other aging issues. It’s important to your safety to keep shooting as long as you can. Most of the men in my family were active into their late 80s. That gives me at least 10 more years to keep enjoying this wonderful sport and providing protection for my family and myself. However, it won’t happen if I don’t invest the time and energy to stay current. I have an understanding with my wife and sons. They’ll tell me when I’m no longer safe to carry a gun. At that time, I’ll accept that knowing they are each able to assume the defender role, if it becomes necessary.

Have you ever considered your self-defense options should you become disabled? Do you have to adapt your self-defense needs due to a disability? Let us know in the comments.

  • co-witnessed red dot sight covering the front post sight
  • David Freeman wearing a Sheep Dog cap
  • David Freeman Shooting a revolver from a wheelchair
  • David Freeman in a wheelchair wearing a concealed handgun in a leather belt holster
  • Stiff leather belt for concealed carry
  • Six 9mm pistols used for concealed carry in a wheelchair
  • Bianchi Model 101 leather holster with a SCCY CPX-1 9mm handgun

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
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 (14)

  1. @David Freeman, I totally understand. I was in a pretty bad motorcycle accident years ago and shattered my right ankle… was in a chair for a bit, thankfully that didn’t last long. But my brother and I even now still sees who can get to the “better” vantage point seat first. We usually wind up in a booth in or very near a corner and if my brother gets the seat facing the door I wind up actually sitting sidways with my back against the side wall and one leg stretched across the booth seat so I can easily pivot my head towards either my brother or the door. Sounds funny and some think it’s paranoia but I was in LE for several years, happened to be one of our range masters/instructors so it’s just a natural situational awareness thing to me. One reason I prefer the crossdraw. Still a good article and it’s something we should all think about and at least some training for because you never know, we may wind up back in a chair either permanently or temporarily one day. Thanks again, Mr. Freeman.

  2. SGT Davis, I wheel into a restaurant and still look for seating where I can see the door. One of my relatives will pull a chair from the table and I scoot up to it in my wheelchair. It’s very rare that I have to sit with my back to the wall.

  3. After a traumatic brain injury in 2018 incurring an eye that I cannot hear out of and an ear that is blind, hit the range and discovered a fear of “loud”, and that I could no longer see bullets striking a target with my previous 20/08 vision, more like I knew there was a target 15 yards away…in 2020 was wheelchair bound after GBS/CIDP/ whatever the Doc calls the permanent one.
    Have been looking for some advice just like this, and it is difficult to find.
    Been teaching my son basics on black powder revolvers, metal refinishing, and re-stitching store bought holsters, but nothing yet at the range. Hopefully soon though.
    I only carry a black powder loaded with shot in my yard for snakes or angry smurfs, but still feel that tug to gather up whatever I’ve got ammo for and hit the local range with my 2 girls and my boy.
    It’s not as much me wanting to improve upon my skills, (a lil bit) as it is to pass the skills on.
    Would really like to get certified as an instructor, and help others with a disability to both enjoy learning the joy of being able to consistently improve at the range, and the ways to adapt to what may seem like a dead end disability into those first few “steps” to improving themselves in a way that can be measured on a take home target and a more substantially seen improvement on the mindset. Everything takes practice, (ie: Carnegie Hall)
    Thank you again for this!

  4. After a traumatic brain injury in 2018 incurring an eye that I cannot hear out of and an ear that is blind, hit the range and discovered a fear of “loud”, and that I could not longer see bullets striking a target with my previous 20/08 vision, more like I knew there was a target 15 yards away…in 2020 was wheelchair bound after GBS/CIDP/ whatever the Doc calls the permanent one.
    Have been looking for some advice just like this, and it is difficult to find.
    Been teaching my son basics on black powder revolvers, metal refinishing, and re-stitching store bought holsters, but nothing yet at the range. Hopefully soon though.
    I only carry a black powder loaded with shot in my yard for snakes or angry smurfs, but still feel that tug to gather up whatever I’ve got ammo for and hit the local range with my 2 girls and my boy.
    It’s not as much me wanting to improve upon my skills, (a lil bit) as it is to pass the skills on.
    Would really like to get certified as an instructor, and help others with a disability to both enjoy learning the joy of being able to consistently improve at the range, and the ways to adapt to what may seem like a dead end disability into those first few “steps” to improving themselves in a way that can be measured on a take home target and a more substantially seen improvement on the mindset. Everything takes practice, (ie: Carnegie Hall)
    Thank you again for this!

  5. I too have lost my abilities to stand or walk. I have MS and heave been in a power chair for about 5 years. I’m a 30 year LE retiree. As a former firearms instructor I agree with what you said. No two wheel chair people are the same. Find an instructor who can work with your limitations.
    I still consider myself a sheepdog however I’m on a chain now. I can’t run to the guns anymore but I can establish a defense for anyone behind me if something happens.
    If you’re in a power chair I suggest you learn to drive with you non-dominant hand. Slow of practice can be done “dry” so practice. Remember the words of Ed Morales, FBI agent who although wounded finished the 1986 Miami shootout, Never go gentle into that good night. Rage rage rage against the dying of the light. You just have a different normal.

  6. The author is dead-on about the graduated trifocals, they are horrible. After spending even more than he did, I went back to dollar-store readers and I am shooting, driving and reading just fine. Thanks for an excellent article.

  7. I find it better carrying a chest holster with my wheelchair than I do with a side holster easier access with my chest holster with a sub compact or a single action 45 LC. or any other gun you carry either open carry or cancelled I find it easier to go too and draw from when I’m in a wheelchair thank you have a great day

  8. I shattered my right ankle over a year ago and still in pain and have walker and wheelchair. I went to the range yesterday to try out my new night sights , looking good . I am an old N.R.A safety & state instructor.
    If in the wheelchair you bring your elbows in and rest on your chest , it gives quite a bit of support for shooting . Hope I helped a fellow shooter.

  9. we all are moving along that same timeline. as a retired physical therapist, something i might suggest is moving the wheelchair controller to the left side if you are right handed to free up your dominant hand if needed. also continue to do some form of weight lifting if you are in a w/c. i’m not talking about heavy weights to bulk up just small weights with high repetitions in all available planes to keep your muscles toned. push-ups using the armrests, curls, etc., you can still to much to help yourself.
    also, you can carry more than one firearm on yourself and always extra magazines. same model of firearm would be good idea to keep things simple.

  10. Great article.

    I would love to get some more training.
    However the NRA really messed up when they tried to switch to online training.
    I much preferred their training back when you a got a book to take home after the class.

    So many instructors have parted ways with the NRA and now offer their own training.
    Unfortunately at least most of what is available in my area seems to be based on rolling around in the dirt while wearing your tacticool black PJs and larping as a SWAT team member.
    That just isn’t an option for me anymore.

    I have a degenerative muscle disease that would actually be made worse by weight training.
    If I get down on the ground I have to climb somthing to get back up or need a hand.
    Becase of this training in a class where you are expected to go from shooting at a target from the ground to doing it while standing and getting back on the ground and back and forth isn’t going to be a good use of my time and or money.

    Thanks again for this article.
    Hopefully trainers will start to take notice of shooters with disabilities.

  11. Self-Defense: From a Wheelchair
    BY DAVID FREEMAN Was very insightful and informative. As a Disabled Veteran and former HUNTER SAFETY AND FIRE-ARMS INSTRUCTOR, I certainly concur with the training aspect and assert the need for heightened alertness and readiness.
    I would like to offer another possible alternative to those suffering from poor vision problems due to cataracts, Consider asking for Bi-Vision. My DOMINATE RIGHT EYE WAS CORRECTED for distance and left for reading. THE RESULTS; NEAR PERFECT SIGHT, NO COMPLICATIONS AND NO GLASS’S except for reading very fine print. I’m 74 now and it’s been 15 years and I CAN STILL, HIT MY MARK, EVEN ON MY SCOOTER.
    Respectfully, GOD BLESS,STAY SAFE AND KEEP ON SHOOTING,
    Chaplain Jerry Vance

  12. While interesting, and it is VERY good article… I’m not sure on your lack of training… I’ve had some injuries, although none that have kept me in a chair permantly… but regardless, I prefer cross draw. Doesn’t matter which side or hand. I can do Cavarly draw same side if needed. Works great if sitting in vehicle or well… Going into a restauarant it always annoyed me that I couldn’t sit with my back to a wall and see who was coming in. My brother to this day still makes sure he grabs the “best” seat… and we both request a booth with the best vantage point. Haha
    Thanks for your article!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.