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Concealed On Wheels

Reprinted from PN Feburary 2017

Take a look at some options for carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense when you're in a wheelchair

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The decision to carry a concealed firearm for protection should never be taken lightly. 

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, people with disabilities are significantly more likely to be victims of violent crimes, which is why some wheelchair users choose to carry a concealed weapon.

Paralyzed Veterans of America National Secretary Larry Dodson, who has used a wheelchair since sustaining a C4 spinal-cord injury in 1974, has seen firsthand how people who have a disability can be viewed as easy prey for criminals. He was targeted by robbers in three separate incidents over a two-year period.

The first robbery occurred in 1979, when he was working for an accounting office in North Carolina and was taking a big deposit to the bank. Shortly after, he decided to get a concealed carry permit. The next robbery attempt was in a parking lot near his office, but that time Dodson displayed his weapon and the suspect ran away. The third time, the robber succeeded by flipping Dodson over in his manual wheelchair, leaving Dodson unable to retrieve his weapon.

“I believe that concealed carry is a very good idea for us [people in wheelchairs] to consider,” says Dodson. “I found it really a sad state when people have to go out and take advantage of the disabled who are not in a position to really defend themselves as adequately as someone who’s able to run or drop and fire at will. We’re at a little bit of a disadvantage.”

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If you use a wheelchair, there are additional factors you must take into consideration to ensure your own safety and the safety of others around you. From how and where to carry your weapon to defensive training, it can be challenging to figure out what works best for you.

On The Wheelchair Or Body?

Because every individual varies in strength and mobility, the best way to conceal a weapon is often largely determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Ultimately, the key is for concealed carry permit holders to be absolutely sure their firearm can be deployed quickly and safely, they’re comfortable with their weapon’s operation, and they have trained properly to hit their target.  

Joseph Logar, PT, DPT, is the national manager of the Adaptive Shooting Program, Education and Training Division, for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Logar was hired a little more than a year ago to head the program, and he’s made concealed carry a major focus. 

“What I would love to see happen is just like we have our disciplines, pistol, rifle and shotgun, I would like to have another discipline of adapted shooting, that way you could have instructors who were adaptive shooting instructors, not just pistol instructors or rifle instructors,” Logar says. 

Logar, who has a background as an NRA pistol instructor and in health care and rehabilitation fields, recently co-authored a comprehensive NRA guidebook about concealed carry for wheelchair users. The book is currently in the editing process, and a website is also in the works.


Nic Danger shows an example of a pouch someone in a wheelchair might use for concealed carry, which he prefers over a holster. (Photo Brittany Martin).

“What we’ve found is more people in wheelchairs concealed carry than we realize, and some of them are doing it just kind of on the fly, on their own, with little to no guidance, to varying degrees of success,” Logar says.

Logar’s goal with the guidebook is to present a set of standardized, proven, reliable techniques that have been focus-group tested.

In general, Logar says carrying the weapon on the body is preferable to carrying it on the wheelchair. This is for the simple reason that if the gun is attached to the chair and an attacker throws you from your wheelchair, you’re separated from your firearm and left unable to defend yourself. If the weapon is carried on or under the chair, there’s also a chance it could fall out or easily be stolen.

Logar says there are products available that could potentially work for someone in a wheelchair, but transfers are a big stumbling block. Some of the current devices made for concealing a gun, he says, require the person to unholster the gun and place it in his or her  vehicle before performing a transfer.

“And as anyone knows, that’s a bad idea,” Logar says. “Anything mounted to the chair that we’ve looked at, concealment is a challenge because it’s literally just bolted to the side of a wheelchair. I only offer the wheelchair mount as an alternative because if you look at all of our training, we don’t usually say, ‘This is the one solution.’ But for some people, either due to sensation issues or just limitations with other medical equipment, catheters, things like that, they may see mounting it to their chair as their only option. And if that is the case, it’s better than not. We put that out there as a plan C or D. We’re just showing them options.”

Holsters & Accessories

So then, the issue becomes how and where on the body to safely carry a firearm. Most importantly, it must be completely inconspicuous, otherwise you risk becoming even more of a target for criminals.

Some concealment options include a pouch or purse, a hip or leg holster, a belly band or shirt or shoulder holster. 

Nic Danger, president of The Next Step Peer Mentoring & More in Phoenix, has held a concealed carry permit since 2001. Danger was paralyzed in his own backyard in 2010 when a man who was attempting to rob his tool shed knocked him on the ground and shot him.

He still carries a gun for protection and says he prefers a pouch that’s attached to him because of the way he’s situated in his wheelchair. He also recommends carrying extra magazines and carefully selecting ammunition.

Laurie Wood has a different approach. Wood, who sustained a T10/T12 spinal-cord injury while working as a deputy sheriff with the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, was a firearms instructor for about six years.

“For me, I have some abs and I carried before [my injury], so it’s comfortable for me to have my weapon inside or mostly outside my waistband,” says Wood, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va. “Sometimes I cross-draw with a fanny pack, sometimes I just wear it on my hip. It depends on the type of gun I’m carrying, the size of it. Sometimes I wear an ankle holster.”

Wood also recommends carrying a backup gun somewhere that’s both accessible and secure. In addition, if the gun is carried on the wheelchair and the person leaves his or her chair for any reason, he or she should make sure the gun goes along.

 “If you’re going to be investing that amount of money, guns are not cheap, then you really need to invest in the holster that’s going to keep it secure and accessible for you,” Wood says. “It doesn’t make any sense to buy a cheap holster when you spent all that money on that gun.”

Dodson says he prefers a pouch mounted on the side of his wheelchair because it’s easy to get to and he doesn’t have to fumble with a jacket or zippers. But he has also used a shoulder holster in the past. 

There are other considerations for waist and shirt holsters. A tight shirt might reveal the outline of the gun, and having to reach up underneath your shirt to get to the holster also could prevent quick weapon deployment. A hip holster could potentially get in the way of your wheels or sideguards or dig into one of your hips. And depending on your range of motion and dexterity, a leg holster may not be the best option either.

“They’re great if you can get at them in your wheelchair, but if you get knocked out of your wheelchair, now you’re going to have to struggle to get your leg up to a position where you can draw that weapon, so now that’s more time added to the whole process,” Danger says.

It’s also important to consider the holster’s material in order to avoid skin irritation or breakdowns. Logar recommends a softer material like leather rather than Kydex, a plastic-like material, because Kydex is less forgiving on the skin and more likely to have sharp edges or burrs. 

A wheelchair user should be careful about choosing weapon accessories, such as flashlights. 

“If the person lacks sensation and that light gets turned on for some period of time and they don’t know it, they can get burns,” Logar says.

Obtaining A Permit

Each state’s laws and regulations vary when it comes to concealed carry permits, and it’s the gun owner’s responsibility to learn and obey those laws.

The NRA Institute for Legislative Action has a fairly comprehensive summary of each state’s laws on its website (nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws), or check with your local police department. 

There’s typically some combination of classroom instruction and live-fire training required or recommended to obtain a permit. 

“They make sure you know how to use your gun. They show you different scenarios. But it’s mostly about laws,” Danger says. “Ask other people with disabilities how they handle it. You can get an instructor to teach you the safe way of doing things, but he can’t teach you what it’s like being in a wheelchair.”

Dodson says those who use a wheelchair should consider arming themselves in some way, but only if they can handle the weapon, if they’ll take the necessary precautions to get trained and if they’ll practice.

“If they don’t do those things, they’re putting themselves and other people in danger,” Dodson says.

Once you’ve obtained a concealed carry permit and decided how you want to carry your weapon, don’t just put it in your purse or holster and call it good, Danger says.

“When you get a carry concealed license, you should also take some other defense classes just to make you understand that gun is not the thing that’s going to save your life,” Danger says. “The thing that’s going to save your life is on top of your shoulders, and that’s your brain, making the correct decision at the right time. There’s a lot of people who freeze up in situations. If you have knowledge, you won’t freeze.”   

 

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Concealed On Wheels

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