Best Home Defense Guns For Seniors

“The best home defense gun for seniors” can be a rather contentious subject. Knowing that this is the case I’ll make an attempt to keep your blood pressure from spiking and your eyeballs from bugging out while reading this article by acknowledging at the outset that opinions abound and that this article represents yet another opinion, mine. I should also be clear regarding the kinds of people this article is meant to address and the foundation upon which I have built my opinions regarding the subject at hand. So, here it goes…This article is intended to address the needs of senior citizens who are NOT “gun people.” In other words, they are average folks who might have no interest in owning a gun if it were not for the fact that they feel unsafe for whatever reason (political, societal, etc.).

The foundation upon which I have built my point of view is my experience as a professional firearms instructor for the better part of two decades during which I have personally taught several thousand people how to shoot. Many of them have been elderly.

Given my experience and this article’s intended audience, what matters most to me is that the senior citizen home defender be equipped with a firearm that most suits his/her needs and is enjoyable to shoot. If the gun is fun to shoot, then the owner will actually take it to the range and practice with it. The converse is also true. If the gun is painful, difficult, or in any way uncomfortable to shoot, the owner will not practice with it.

In this context the following popular biases are of little or no importance:

  • Semi-automatic handgun vs revolver.
  • Handgun vs long gun.
  • Large ammunition capacity vs smaller capacity.
  • Minimum calibers suitable for war, police work, and security personnel.
  • Tactical considerations such as rapid reloads.

OK, I know I just poked a bunch of buttons. So, before the swear words leap to life, let me acknowledge the following as facts:

  • The home defender’s physical ability, level of training, and willingness to practice are influencing factors.
  • A reload being performed during a home defense shooting is very rare and, therefore, highly unlikely to occur.
  • Handguns (both revolvers and semi-autos), carbine sized rifles, and repeating shotguns are all excellent choices for home defense. (Two shot shotguns such as side-by-side and over-under shotguns can be effectively employed for home defense, but there are better options available.)
  • Type and location of the home are influencing factors in the choice of a home defense gun.
  • When considering a firearm for home defense, concealability is a non-issue.

I listed the above facts in their order for a reason. If an elderly person with weak or arthritic hands, weak arms, and weak shoulders cannot handle a handgun or a shotgun, then the fact that those types of guns might be useful for others is of no consequence to that elderly individual. Secondly, reloads being rare in home defense situations, having a gun with an increased ammunition capacity is a plus.

Historically I have encountered two standard pieces of advice given to anyone who asks a gun store clerk what gun they should buy for home defense. The first is “buy a 12 gauge pump shotgun.” The second is “buy a revolver.” I will dispense with the shotgun advice for the purpose of this article, since an elderly person is less likely to select such a gun due to it’s heavy recoil and the requirement to pump the action in order to fire successive shots. The advice to purchase a revolver is quite often given to older people whom the advisor feels may have difficulty loading the magazine or racking the slide of a semi-automatic handgun. In all honesty, those are legitimate concerns. Still, I’m not convinced that purchasing a revolver will solve the problem.

Revolvers CAN work well for older people primarily due to their simplicity. They are considered safer for such folks, provided they have the hand strength to operate them. The reasons for this include:

  • The ease with which a user can determine if the gun is loaded.
  • The ease with which the gun can be unloaded
  • The heavy double-action trigger that makes accidental or negligent discharges somewhat less likely.
  • The point and click operation of revolvers (no safeties, levers, switches, etc.).

However, while these factors make the revolver desirable for some elderly people, one of them (the heavy double-action trigger) can make the gun unworkable for older folks with limited hand strength. This can also make the revolver more dangerous to operate, since weak handed older people tend to fire the guns single-action. The thumb has greater strength than the fingers. As a result, older folks who lack the strength to overcome the heavy double-action trigger can usually cock the hammer with their thumb and fire the gun single-action. That’s all fine and dandy except when applied to folks with limited dexterity and weak hands, arms, and shoulders. Here’s a short list of the problems involved:

  1. Because of weak hand strength, the action of cocking the hammer can result in the gun’s muzzle wandering all over the place. I’ve seen people do this more times than I care to count.
  2. People with weak hands often have weak arms and shoulders. Thus, they will pull the gun in close to their body in order to cock the hammer, then push the gun back out in an effort to establish a shooting position. This takes time that a defender simply doesn’t have to waste. It also increases the likelihood of a negligent discharge when you consider items C and D below.
  3. Untrained older folks generally have their finger on the trigger while cocking the hammer. You may not realize it if your hands are strong, but it requires greater hand strength to keep your trigger finger out of the trigger guard while cocking the gun. This is because removing your index finger from the trigger takes that finger out of play when gripping the gun. The result is a weaker grip and a decrease in the amount of control the shooter has over the firearm. Consequently, shooters with weak or arthritic hands commonly keep their finger on the trigger while cocking the gun in order to have a better grip. The trigger finger then becomes part of the grip applying pressure to the trigger during the action of cocking the hammer.
  4. The single-action trigger on a revolver is EXTREMELY light. As my dad use to say, “don’t sneeze, cough, or fart next to the shooter or the gun may go bang.”

When the four problems I just listed are inserted into the equation, the result is a greater danger of accidental discharge when the revolver is in the hands of a nervous or frightened elderly person whose hands are weak. These issues also increase the chance of a round fired accidentally missing the bad guy entirely and killing or injuring an innocent person down range.

In my experience handguns are often the least suitable home defense firearms for elderly people who have weak hands. Most “gun people” immediately understand the difficulty in loading a magazine and racking a slide. That’s why the standard advice to seniors with weak or arthritic hands is “get a revolver.” Unfortunately, the same “gun people” often do not recognize the challenges faced by weak-handed seniors who are attempting to safely and effectively operate that revolver. Nor do they immediately consider the effort it takes for older persons to hold a two or three pound handgun out in front of them long enough to fire it repeatedly. If they do consider the weight of the gun, they often advise the senior to buy a small revolver, thus compounding the problem by decreasing the size of the hammer, shortening the sight radius, making the sights too small for the shooter to see, and increasing the recoil felt when the gun goes bang. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. Little guns are much more difficult to shoot properly than are big ones. Please don’t advise older people who have difficulty operating big guns to buy little ones.

Handguns are the most difficult of all firearms to shoot accurately. They are small, their sights are difficult to see, their sight radius is very short, the shooter is required to hold it in the air at arms length, and the shooter has only one point of contact with the gun. By comparison, long guns are easier to shoot well. They have several advantages:

  • Red dot sights and other easily seen optics are simple to install.
  • The guns are easier to control because there are four points of contact with the firearm (forehand, shooting hand, cheek weld, shoulder).
  • Rather than holding the gun in the air at arms length, the long gun is pulled into the shoulder making holding a shooting position much easier.

Let me stop here and clarify that I am not disparaging the handgun as a self-defense or home defense tool. I am simply pointing out that one size does not fit all where guns are concerned. Likewise, a young, healthy, strong clerk at the gun store is not always the best one to advise elder, infirmed, or physically weak people regarding the best gun for their personal defense. In fact, some older people are not the best advisers in this regard either, particularly if they cannot dispense with their personal biases.

As I write this, I am in my mid 60’s. I am also healthy, physically strong, and fully capable of safely and effectively operating any type of firearm. What works for me may not work for someone my same age who is physically weaker. Thus any advice I give must take the physical condition and ability of the shooter into consideration before I give it. I submit that it is probably easier for me to imagine being older and less capable as a man in my 60’s than it might be for a gun store clerk at the age of 25. That is not to say that all gun store clerks are know-nothings. Quite the contrary. Still, it is wise to evaluate the source of advice before accepting it as gospel.

Considering the above, a revolver is not the appropriate one size fits all standard answer to the question of what gun is best for older people. Neither is a shotgun, an AR15, or a semi-auto pistol. You may find that a revolver works for an older person whom you know. You may find that a revolver doesn’t work. Each person’s needs are different. Where handguns are concerned, it is true that if a person cannot operate a revolver due to a lack of physical strength or dexterity, a semi-auto handgun probably won’t work either. That leaves long guns as the remaining option.

I’m not sure that handguns should be the first choice of most people for home defense to begin with. Long guns are generally more effective and easier to operate. This is certainly true of pump shotguns and relatively simple to operate fighting rifles like Mini-14s and Ruger PC Carbines. Therefore, I probably should address long guns as tools for senior home defense. Especially since I’ve just established that handguns won’t work for every senior. A basic list of considerations when looking at long guns would include: size, weight, recoil, and ease of function. But, there is a bit more to talk about.

I’m sure that this statement will cause some heads to explode, but caliber is less of an issue for home defense than most gun gurus would tend to believe. It is an undisputable fact that a solid hit with a .22 is much more effective than a loud miss with a 44 Magnum. Obviously, if both hit the target, bigger is better and the 44 Magnum wins. Still, if an elderly person cannot effectively and safely operate a handgun or a center fire rifle, but that person can run a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle with ease, then for crying-out-loud get that senior a .22 rifle! This is particularly true if he or she likes that little gun. As I indicated above, if the owner likes the gun, then he’ll take it to the range and practice with it.

To wrap this up let me give you an example: My elderly mother wants a gun. She is in her 80’s, has weak arthritic hands, and has trouble holding up the coffee pot to pour herself a cup of coffee. Therefore, she cannot handle a handgun of any kind. A shotgun is completely out of the question since the recoil would knock her over like a bowling pin. An AR15 is too complicated. Anything with a box magazine won’t work, since she lacks the finger strength to load the mag. What then? I’ve suggested a Marlin Model 60 .22 rifle. I advised the Marlin rather than the Ruger 10/22 because the Marlin is fed by a tubular magazine that is easy for her to load. That is in contrast to the Ruger 10/22 which has a rotary magazine that is very difficult to load. The Marlin Model 60 is simple to operate and the bolt is very easy to rack. The magazine holds 14 rounds of CCI Stinger .22 long rifle hunting ammunition. I plan to mount a micro red dot and green LASER on the gun. Then all she has to do is put the green dot on the bad guy and keep shooting until he’s down, gone, or the gun runs dry.

Obviously, a tube magazine fed .22 rifle is not ideal for personal defense. Any cop, security officer, or Marine with an ounce of sense would want something…. just about anything else in a gun fight. However, my mother is not chasing criminals, not protecting a VIP, and not entering a war zone. She is a fine old lady who refuses to be defenseless in a world that is rapidly going to pot. That .22 rifle might not be perfect for everyone, but it may be the ideal thing for my mother’s personal defense and, should she face a bad guy with criminal intent, it could mean the difference between surviving and not. I think this is the goal we should have in mind when advising seniors about what gun to choose.

To be perfectly clear, I am not advising you to buy a .22 rifle or suggesting that any specific type, brand, model, or caliber of gun is the be all and end all of senior home defense guns. What I am trying to impress upon you is that no standard across the board answer exists. The best home defense gun is going to be different for each one of us. As an approach to finding the answer that is best for you, I suggest starting with all options on the table and then using a process of elimination based upon your specific needs, your physical ability, and what type of gun you might actually like to take to the range. Then try before you buy. Whatever you settle on, practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more.

I hope this article has helped.