MS, Wheelchairs, Walkers and Guns: Are They Safe Together?

MS, Wheelchairs, Walkers and Guns: Are They Safe Together?

When I began writing about multiple sclerosis, I never imagined that, one day, I’d be writing a column about guns. But here I am, staring right into that barrel.

The other day as I cruised around MS websites, I ran across a post from a woman who was considering getting a permit to carry a concealed handgun for protection. My initial reaction was “What? Wouldn’t that be dangerous?” But then I saw other posts, including one from a woman with MS who’s been carrying a gun in the pouch of her walker. And there were other posts:

“Feeling proud of myself! Yesterday I went to a gun carry permit class…”

I say that I cannot run from danger anymore, so I carry everywhere I go.”

Apparently, quite a number of MS patients are gun owners, at least here in the United States — where about 55 million Americans own an estimated 265 million guns. That’s about 17 percent of all U.S. adults. A recent study by Northeastern and Harvard universities reports that about 111 million of those weapons are handguns, a 71 percent increase from the number owned in 1994. And, by far, the reason people own them is for self-defense. Nearly two-thirds of all of gun owners surveyed, and three-quarters of handgun owners, said protection is one of their primary reasons for owning a weapon.

But, I wondered, could someone whose disease causes balance problems and loss of muscle strength safely handle a handgun? Several years ago a gun enthusiast named Eric, who identified himself as a doctor, wrote about this on the website The Truth About Guns. “No one is more vulnerable than the elderly, the disabled, and those among us who are both, he wrote.” But, Eric continued, “unfortunately, most pistols are made for the healthy.” So, for someone with a disability he suggested “.22 WMR or .32 DA revolvers” or “a .38 if he can stand it. For a recoil-sensitive person, I can’t imagine a better (or noisier) round than .22 WMR.”

Now, that’s all Greek to me. Back in my pre-MS days I spent a few years as a reserve officer with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, and I had to qualify with a revolver. I’ve never actually owned a gun and, since my policing days, I’ve only fired a shotgun, once or twice, at clay ducks. I’ve thought about owning. So has my wife. But, police officers I know tell me that getting off an accurate shot with a handgun in a high-adrenaline situation is very difficult. It’s a lot tougher than shooting on a range, even if that practice target is moving.

Can someone whose balance is unstable, whose legs are weak or who has vision or hand strength problems safely handle a handgun? How about someone in a wheelchair?

Is a handgun more likely to be a lifesaver or a danger when carried for protection by someone with MS?

What do you think?

(Read more of my columns on my personal blog:


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Diagnosed with MS at age 32 in 1980, Ed has written the “MS Wire” column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today since August 2016. He presents timely information on MS, blended with personal experiences. Before retiring from full-time work in 2012, Tobias spent more than four decades in broadcast and on-line newsrooms as a manager, reporter, and radio news anchor. He’s won several national broadcast awards. As an MS patient communicator, Ed consults with healthcare and social media companies. He’s the author of “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS: A tool kit for people living with multiple sclerosis.” Ed and his wife split time between the Washington, D.C. suburbs and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Diagnosed with MS at age 32 in 1980, Ed has written the “MS Wire” column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today since August 2016. He presents timely information on MS, blended with personal experiences. Before retiring from full-time work in 2012, Tobias spent more than four decades in broadcast and on-line newsrooms as a manager, reporter, and radio news anchor. He’s won several national broadcast awards. As an MS patient communicator, Ed consults with healthcare and social media companies. He’s the author of “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS: A tool kit for people living with multiple sclerosis.” Ed and his wife split time between the Washington, D.C. suburbs and Florida’s Gulf Coast.

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  1. Mike says:

    As a former LEO who has a son with MS- In “general’ a person is better off with the gun. It depends on the individual. Also you must be willing to use it. A gun you won’t use is worse than no gun at all.
    However training and finding the “right gun” is imperative. It is harder to hit someone with a larger caliber gun so I would recommend a .22 or .32 both are very loud and bad guys tend to go the other way once they realize you are not going to be an easy victim. I am not saying anytime you fear someone you should point a gun at them. This determination is what concealed carry classes are for. You should actually be spending more time in a classroom than on a range during this type of class. The practice really takes place outside of class. Also you can get some very good lessons at most ranges. As to home defense I would recommend a .22 rifle with a light stock it is much easier to hit someone with a long barrel. Forget the shotgun idea for two reasons 1. they kick hard and 2. they don’t spread at all at short distances. You are better off firing multiple .22 rounds than one shotgun round.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Thanks for providing that information, Mike. I think it’s very useful, especially your point about being willing to use your weapon. (I had intended to mention that). I suspect that many people will have a hard time firing a deadly weapon at someone, or will hesitate to pull the trigger just long enough to get into trouble.

      Hope your son is doing ok.


  2. Wayne Beard says:

    I am a 56yr old male who was diagnosed with MS in 2008 and I own several handguns and long guns . My experience has not been with balance or strength , but with and aim control and holding steady on target . I would think any problems would totally depend on the individual as I have found MS affects everyone differently .

    • Ed Tobias says:


      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s very much an individual thing, but doesn’t balance and strength affecct the ability to hold steady on a target?


  3. Allen Scheer says:

    My wife has MS, and can handle her carry guns just fine. It really depends on how the disease affects one personally. Strength and balance are only issues for firearms classes, where you are on your feet all day, and may do a LOT of shooting. We’ve always found instructors very accommodating in this respect.

    In short, MS is not necessarily an issue.

  4. Katie Collins says:

    I’ve been a gun owner ever since I was 7 years old and used to compete as a teen and young adult. Now that I’m 64 and have MS I have found that I needed to switch up my weapons to better suit the “new” me. Semi-automatics were very problematic for me as I now can easily jam or stovepipe them but then I found a 9mm Heckler Koch P30 that has yet to jam or stovepipe as much as my Glock or 1911 did. Most modern semi-automatics are lighter than revolvers and magazines are easier to swap out than loading a revolver with fine motor skill issues. There are also some nifty tools to make loading magazines easier to load. I have a dozen magazines that I pre-load at home before I go to the range so I don’t need to load at the range. I also take several with me when I carry. The NRA certified instructors I have taken classes from have all been very willing to work with me on specific needs due to my physical limitations. My son goes with me to the range often and if he ever thought I could no longer be safe carrying, he would definitely tell me! My aim is still better than his, but he’s gaining on me. It’s really good to have someone close to help judge your abilities. Disabled people are an easy target and having the ability to carry a firearm is a great equalizer to keep from being a victim.

    • Bruce West says:

      Hey Katie, check out the ETS brand magazine loader. Awesome new tool for easily putting multiple rounds in mags at a time. Helps my MS fingers get the job done.

  5. Jacqui says:

    I am a 53 yr old woman with MS. I have been carrying for a couple of years now. The key is training and finding the right gun for you that you can handle. When I started carrying I only had to use a cane sometimes to get around. Now I have to use a walker all the time. I am definitely safer with a gun than without. I have talked to too many disabled people who were seriously injured when they were attacked. I have found that a revolver is not good for me because it kicks so badly (my revolver does throw out a beautifully wicked looking flame though). But I really like my Glock 42 (.380) and my Walther CCP (9 mm). Both are very easy to rack and don’t kick much and are easy to conceal. I also have a Glock 19 that I really like but it is harder to conceal.
    My thoughts on gun carry are without the gun I have no chance to protect myself. I can’t run away and I don’t have the physical strength to stand my ground and fight. I do however have the strength, the will, and the determination to use my gun. I practice often and have found that I enjoy shooting and it has made my hands and arms stronger than they were. I am hoping when I go on vacation this year I can go to a range that has a simulator so I can practice in a high adrenaline situation.
    A good instructor can show you ways to make shooting easier on you.

  6. David says:

    As a 30 year law enforcement officer, 25 year firearms instructor, competive shooter and MS patient since 2005. I understand concerns over balance, walking, vision and all the other issues of guns and MS.
    That said the main thing is a matter of training and understanding your limitations. You need to train focusing on firearm handling, draw and firing.
    Select a handgun you can easily operate and control. A hit with a small bullet is better than a miss with a large bullet.
    Defensive shooting, especially for MS patient is going to be close and fast. That’s what the shooter needs to work on smooth gun presentation and accurate shot placement. We may not be able to walk, stand or like we used to but if you still have the hand strength and ability to hold steady enough for quick close range shooting there is no reason an MS patient cannot carry and safely use a firearm.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi David,

      What a great perspective. I appreciate your taking the time to share all of that info with us. It’s good to hear from someone with so much professional knowledge.


  7. Beth says:

    What is the best way to find an instructor? Do you just walk into a gun range and ask the guy behind the counter to recommend someone to you?

    • David says:

      Finding guality instruction can be difficult. Avoid the know-it-all types. You need to find someone who understands your needs and works to meet them within your limitations. You are training for weapon handling skills and self defense not to do high risk warrant service.
      I would suggest asking the local police department for recommendations and going to a range which holds handgun competition. Most competitors are willing to offer advice and many are experienced instructors. Hope this helps

  8. John Connor says:

    We’re not allowed guns in the UK. However I can see one distinctive advantage if we were – if the MS really got too much it would save me a trip to Switzerland.

  9. Bruce West says:

    I see no issue with MS victims carrying firearms.
    I’m a 30’s male with rrms, raised with guns, and I’m a veteran combat medic. I also have a concealed carry permit and carry every day.
    Because of my occasional – as I call it – ms hands, I’ve changed the type of firearm I primarily use to gain more control on a dumb-hands day, but I still have control of my weapons. (I used to carry 40 cal, but that has more recoil, so now those old guns are “backups”).
    No matter what you shoot, or how bad your MS, grip matters. I recommend a two-hand combat shooting grip – for reference, this is the grip primarily used by the US military and in shooting sports these days – there are good videos on YouTube from shooters like Jerry Miculek explaining how to implement it, so I won’t describe it here, but it gives you great control of the weapon, mitigates recoil, ensures your weapon cycles, and will greatly improve aim. Win win whether you have MS or not.
    I carry a 9mm Glock 43 with a pinky extension, and switched my home defense weapon to a 9mm Glock 34.
    The 34 is great – the mass of the slide helps manage recoil, longer barrel improves accuracy, and when paired with a good grip (I mean hand positioning, not grip strength), and the fact it’s only a 9mm, means this pistol shoots with a lot of control, and is easy to attain followup site pictures.
    For shooters with worse ms hands than me (or that aren’t 6’4” and/or haven’t shot tens of thousands of practice rounds in their lifetimes) I’d recommend a .380 (not a 38 like listed in the article) – it’s basicslly a 9mm bullet with a shorter casing, meaning less powder, meaning more manageable recoil. The trade off is decreased velocity.
    Article mentions 22 wmr, which is an alright round, but frankly doesn’t cause as much crevitation (internal damage) in a human body, and has a tendency to shoot clean through – not redeeming traits for a bullet intended to take anothers’ life to save yourself or others. Also, considering the handguns chambered in 22wmr, you might not get a superior grip. Scrap the odd rounds, and look into the more common .380, and get some great hollow points like the Hornady Critical Defense, and then practice until you’re comfortable.
    In the end, shoot what feels best for you, and train like your life depends on it, for one day it might.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Bruce,

      Thanks so much for this detailed information.

      Because my column on this subject was posted over a year ago I’m thinking about writing another one and I’d like include your suggestions. May I do that? I’m not a gun owner, though I’ve shot rifles and a handgun, or two, over the years. But that was long ago, so your expertise is welcome.

      I’m also planning to start a discussion on this subject in the new “forums” area of this website.


      • Bruce West says:

        Hi Ed,
        No problem at. Feel free to use any or all of it you like.
        Do you admin on this site? If so, and you have my email, feel free to shoot me an email if you need anything more.

        • Bruce West says:

          I should note, not only am I a concealed carrier (and also a former firearms dealer), but in addition to my former job as an army medic, I also used to train police officers in Iraq, which involved a lot of combat firearms instruction. I’m fairly versed in the subject.
          But of course, my experience and know-it-allness is limited to my own anecdotes, and I believe any individuals with MS interested in firearms still need to find what works best for them, and what they’re most comfortable with. There needs to be a balance of comfort, ability to handle, and practicality and extensive practice – the right platform could be easily found with a patient instructor and a non-pushy gun dealer (and then time spent at the range).
          One more suggestion I would make (although it may seem like an outlandish suggestion to some) is for people with too little grip dexterity and/or too much fear of a standard semi-auto pistol (or whose grip strength too often leads to stovepiping and poor cycling of a standard pistol), but who still want at least a home or auto defense weapon, to look into a pistol caliber carbine. One such suggestion is a small AR15 pistol chambered in 9mm (like the Angstadt Arms UDP-9) – it’s way too big to be a concealed carry pistol, but while technically still a pistol it’s larger yet still light, and thus easy to handle. This makes it great for home defense. And being chambered in 9mm means the round is affordable and readily available. A good armorer or gunsmith can lighten the trigger pull for you, and there are great modification options to adapt AR15 platforms to you, such as extended magazine releases, extended or ambidextrous bolt releases, extended ambidextrous charging handles, and extended ambidextrous safeties. These all add up to the qualities of an easily manageable, lightweight and reliable home defense weapon for handicapped shooters.

          • Joan Marie Cooke says:

            For myself I didn’t find you a know-it-all but knowledgeable. Thank you for the insights. I have difficulty with salespersons providing me with such detail. Rather I consistently encounter “only a @@@ will do”. Now I can at least enter the armory with a more informed base.

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