Defending Ourselves As We Mature      by Lyn Bates

Some folks don't mind being called "middle aged," a "senior," "senior citizen," "geezer," or even the curious term "chronogically gifted." Others think those are ageist terms that should never be used to describe individuals. Let's see if I can write a whole article about people in their 50's, 60's and above without using those words. Let's try "mature person," or MATPER for short. If you're not a matper yet, you will be some day!

It is one of the unchanging truths of the world that we change as we mature. Of course, not everyone matures at the same rate, or has the same issues along the way. Most of us expect that as a result of better nutrition, better medical care, and a better lifestyle, we will "age better" than our parents or grandparents did. Even if that is true, and I hope it is for you, there are some issues and problems that are common to many matpers and may affect one's ability to protect oneself, with or without a gun. Let's look at a few...

Eyesight. Sometime in mid-life or shortly thereafter, eyes tend to change. You may have had the same prescription glasses for years, and suddenly they need to be changed every year or two. You may have never needed glasses (other than safety glasses) for shooting, but suddenly your arms are too short to read the newspaper, and your front sight is getting blurry! Do you have to stop shooting? No, but you might need some careful attention from an optometrist. I'm lucky enough to have one who, after I made careful inquiry in advance, allowed me to bring an (unloaded) gun with me to my exam, so we can be sure I can really focus on the front sight. If you can't do that, at least have someone measure the distance from your eye to the front sight of your defense gun while you hold it (unloaded) in your preferred shooting stance, and let the optometrist know that that distance is particularly important for you.

There are other vision problems that may affect you. I recently read an article by a man who was a lifelong shooter for many decades, until cataracts started interfering with his vision. He reported that shortly after his (quick, easy, and successful) surgery, he was back to shooting with more pleasure than ever, and his shooting actually improved along with his vision.

Muscle strength. Not everyone is a workout demon, and maintaining muscle strength can be a major problem for many people, particularly women. Regular weight bearing exercise helps a lot here, and it doesn't have to be time consuming or expensive. Just be sure you get some advice from a very knowledgeable source before you start, to be sure you aren't doing anything that might cause harm.

Many unarmed fighting techniques require quite a bit of strength, so we are less likely to want to depend on these techniques as we mature. Fortunately, it doesn't take much strength to use many firearms, or to use pepper spray, so these are the defensive tools of choice of many matpers. If your gun seems a lot heavier than it used to and you can't easily get that strength back, consider a different gun. There are many guns now partially made with titanium, aluminum, scandium and other materials that make the guns much lighter. (Beware of increased recoil with these guns, however.) If you are going to stop carrying a gun or having a defense gun handy because it is too heavy to carry or shoot comfortably, consider moving to a smaller caliber. This would not offer the same level of protection as your higher caliber gun, but it is infinitely preferable to having no gun at all, or a gun you can't shoot well.

Bone strength. A huge number of women are at risk for weakening bones as they mature. About half of the women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the disease that develops when bones (usually in the hips, back, or arms) begin to thin. There are a large number of risk factors for this problem, including being a slim, white or Asian, post-menopausal woman, drinking soda, smoking, family history, and a host of other medical conditions and medications. Ask your doctor about bone density tests; you might need two, about a year apart, to determine whether bone loss is underway.

Having adequate calcium in your diet is important, but that alone doesn't prevent osteoporosis. Don't wait until you break a bone to find out that you have this problem! It is possible to strengthen bones, either by medication or by proper exercise; strengthening muscles causes the bones they are attached to to also strengthen, but you need to do this under a doctor's supervision.

If you do have osteoperosis, or osteopenia, its early warning cousin, you will probably need to avoid martial arts or other types of fighting that can put a great deal of stress on the bones in a real fight. Again, shooting a gun that is properly sized for your frame and strength will very likely be possible without endangering your wrist or arm bones.

Arthritis. About half of people over age 65 have some arthritis in at least one joint, and it is more prevalent among women than men. Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in the country. If you are one of the many people with arthritis in your hands, wrists, elbows, or shoulders, you might have trouble holding and firing a handgun. Again, a different gun might be the solution. Instead of a revolver with a painful release latch, try a semi-auto like a Glock, which has few levers and can be mostly operated with large muscle movements. A firearm with a tip-up barrel is another choice for those with severe arthritis or limited hand strength.

Or, you might find that manipulating the slide of any semi-auto is just too hard. In that case, look for a revolver that you can manipulate, hold and shoot easily. If everything is fine about the gun except the trigger pull is too heavy, find out how much a gunsmith can safely lighten it while still insuring that primer ignition is 100% reliable.

Bruce Elmer, who has made a study of firearms that are particularly good for matpers recommends the following: .32 ACP, LWS Seecamp .32 and Kel-Tec P-32; the 9mm, Glock 26, Kahr Arms PM9 and MK9, and Sig Sauer P239; and the .38 Special, snub-nose, Smith and Wesson J-Frame revolvers.

Another thing to try changing is your ammunition. If recoil hurts your hands, try lighter "target loads" with less powder. This significantly reduces felt recoil for most shooters.

Arthritis can also affect where you carry your gun. Carrying in a hip holster or pocket might hurt your back or hip. Try various options, from cross-draw to off body carry in a purse or other type of container.

In summary, using guns for defense as we get older is definitely possible, and less likely to harm you than most forms of physical self-defense. Don't expect to mature without changing anything about the way you use guns. Don't give up your defense gun just because you have encountered a serious problem with it.

Instead, remember the Ex-es. Examine your problem carefully. Explore alternative guns, ammunition, and methods of concealment. Explain the issue to other knowledgeable folk, and exhort them to help you. Expect that you will succeed in your efforts. Extinguish negative thinking. Exceed your expectations. Exercise wisely, with focus on goals that will extend your gun handling. Do everything you can not to become an ex-gun-user.

There's no reason why the later decades of life can't be protected with a gun, as long as you adapt sensibly to the inevitable challenges that mature personhood brings. In a subsequent article in this series, we will take a look at some specific matpers, mostly women, who proved to themselves and to us how compatible age is with self-defense with a firearm.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Sept-Oct 2007, Copyright © 2007, Lyn Bates