Q. With all the public shootings and gun violence lately, I’m concerned that I may be at extreme risk of becoming a victim of that violence. I want to do something to prevent that possibility, perhaps even purchase a gun for self protection, but I’m unsure if I should go forward with that idea.
I’m quadriplegic at the C5 level and am often alone in my home. I live in Southern California, where there has been much publicity about violent crime lately. The worst was the police officer who killed several people, captured and released hostages, and was later shot only a few miles from my home. During that manhunt our neighborhood was locked down for several hours, which made me feel extremely helpless — even more vulnerable than usual.
Purchasing a firearm of some type would not be difficult for me, as I am over 21 and have a clean police record. I’ve watched videos of people with similar disabilities shooting guns, even hunting big game. There may be adaptive technology involved in order to do that independently, but I’m curious if there is any type of firearm that I could have available to protect myself in the event of a home invasion or similar threat. If so, what advice can you give regarding where it should be stored, and how I can carry it with me when moving around the house?
— Future Gunslinger?
A. Owning a firearm is your right, and many wheelchair users who feel vulnerable exercise that option, but arming yourself for protection could work against you. Studies have shown that guns in the home are a leading cause of death or injury, and not necessarily from criminals or others who might invade your space. Most gunshot wounds in the home are caused by accidental shootings, and I’m sure that you are aware that many of the assaults and serious injuries inflicted upon disabled people each year are caused by caregivers or family members. Easy access to a firearm could make those assaults even more likely.
Still, you could probably handle a pistol in a shoulder holster while you move about. But getting it out of the holster and ready to fire quickly could be problematic with the limited dexterity caused by C5 paralysis. Fumbling with a pistol while trying to release the safety and get the gun into shooting position could result in a self-inflicted bullet wound. By then an assailant could have used their own weapon or wrestled your gun away from you. However, you know your dexterity level better than anyone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the problems caused by children or other household members who have access to guns that are left unlocked. If your firearm should be used to injure or kill someone, even without your knowledge, you could be liable.
If you buy a gun, my recommendation is to also purchase a home alarm system, preferably one that uses a loud bell or sirens and flashing strobes to scare off intruders. Also, use every possible means to notify law enforcement or nearby neighbors if you are facing what you consider to be an imminent threat. Make sure you have your local law enforcement emergency number pre-dialed into all of your phones, so that the touch of a single button will make a call.
Knowing your neighbors and setting their numbers up in your quick-dial system can provide an additional layer of security. Also, be sure that you are registered with the local “Smart 911” system, so the agency receiving your call will know that you are paralyzed and will have whatever other information necessary to respond quickly to your emergency.
While most people are familiar with the phrase, “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up,” the marketing efforts for those emergency alert buttons worn around the neck seem to be focused on the senior population. In actuality, though, they can prove to be a lifesaver for anyone who spends part of the day alone and who may not be able to get out of a dangerous situation without help. A capsized wheelchair, dead battery or similar problem can be taken care of with an alert button even if you are unable to reach a telephone. Wearing an alert button on a lanyard around your neck can even carry over into bed time. Using one should be much simpler than trying to fumble for a bedside telephone when strange noises are heard outside or you suspect someone may be trying to enter your dark house or apartment. Using a firearm should be your last resort.
Law enforcement agencies are uniquely qualified to respond to the threats you described. Letting them know when a threat exists may be the safest option.