When selecting someone to victimize, criminals want the maximum return on investment with the least amount of effort and risk involved. People with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs for mobility, undoubtedly fall into the “soft target” category in the eyes of criminals. When it comes to wheelchair concealed carry, some special attention must be paid.
[Editor’s Note: Photography by Taylor Elizabeth Photography.]
I was shot and paralyzed from the waist down in a gunfight while serving as a U.S. Marine infantryman during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I spent months recovering in the hospital before finally getting back into society again as a civilian with a severe disability, and I immediately felt physically vulnerable around shady-looking characters. So it made sense that I’d eventually want to start carrying a handgun for protection and become more self-defense minded in general.
However, I had no clue what type of concealment method or holster to use, or even how to set up the holster for my own personal needs, so I simply mimicked how my able-bodied peers were running theirs. Over a decade later, with knowledge gained in more than 100 training classes and 50 different firearms instructors, the end result is a box full of holsters that just didn’t work for me. That’s not to say they’re all bad; they just don’t suit my specific needs.
My goal here is to help prevent you, or someone else you know who’s in a wheelchair, from having to figure it out on your own like I had to.
First and foremost — regardless of your chosen carry method — your handgun needs to be inside of a holster, and that holster should actually be designed for your gun’s make and model. The trigger guard needs to be completely covered and the holster alone should effectively retain the pistol. Only use high-quality holsters made of rigid materials like Kydex or injection-molded polymer.
The ability to adjust the depth and angle the holster sits at can be very important when you’re always sitting in a wheelchair as well, because the waistline of your pants typically rides at an angle instead of being level. So it’s important to have a holster that allows you to adjust it to suit your specific needs. The holster itself should also stay in place wherever you attach it and not move around, so that when you go to draw the handgun it’s always going to be where you expect it to be.
Before I break down each wheelchair concealed carry method, allow me to explain the requirements that dictate my personal methods of concealment (for any self-defense tool). First, I want my gun to be easily accessible at all times, regardless of the context in which I may need it. I should also be able to quickly access and draw the pistol using just one hand (left or right) if forced to, no matter if the other hand is injured or just busy fending off an attacker, grasping another tool such as a handheld flashlight or fixed blade knife, or controlling my wheelchair.
I also need to be capable of achieving this whether I’m in my wheelchair, driving my vehicle, sitting on the couch with the wife, or even if I’m thrown from my chair and lying on the ground. Bottom line: If I have to draw my gun, I want to be able to access it as quickly as humanly possible.
Carrying your handgun on-body, in an IWB (inside the waistband) holster secured somewhere along your waistline, whether attached to your pants or belt, or even directly to your body using something like the new Phlster “Enigma” concealment chassis, is by far the most effective and efficient way to go about it. Carrying on-body checks all of the above considerations, and the gun also goes wherever your body goes. Imagine fighting or holding off an attacker with one hand, while simultaneously drawing your gun with the other … and doing both of these things while on the ground after having been thrown out of your chair. You ideally want your gun to go wherever your body goes, without ever being physically separated from it.
As an example, I carry on my “strong side” (right hip) at 3 o’clock. I typically carry either a Glock 17 or 48 in a Tenicor “Certum3” holster (not a typo), depending on what I’m wearing. Since I cannot wear a belt on a daily basis (they can break down my skin and give me a wound on my tailbone), I use Discreet Carry Concepts metal clips that really bite into any of the pants I wear. The DCC clips keep my holster in place all day long, and I’ve never once had the holster come out in addition to the gun in the thousands of draws I’ve done since I began using them several years ago. They are by far the best clips I’ve seen or used to date on my holsters, magazine pouches, and knife sheaths.
If you do wear a belt on a daily basis (and you should, if possible), make sure it’s a belt that’s actually designed for carrying the weight of a gun and your other tools. You can also use soft loops when wearing a belt if you prefer them over clips.
Carrying appendix IWB is also a great option if you’re able to do it (I can’t, or I probably would). Just keep in mind that it’s crucial to use a holster that’s truly designed for carrying AIWB. My friend Luke Cifka, an instructor for Sage Dynamics, is a double above-knee amputee in a wheelchair who carries AIWB every day. “Equipment setup will make or break your draw stroke from a chair,” he says. “Chair users may have limited use of trunk mobility, which can complicate the draw since the user may not be able to straighten up to achieve a good grip.”
I agree, completely. It’s unique challenges like that which will dictate your ideal carry gun, concealment method, and holster setup. You’ve already got to work around your disability, so don’t compromise on your equipment.
Let me also briefly address carrying on an ankle or small of the back. Both of these can actually be good for concealment, but they’re much slower and require more overt movements to draw (making a slow-draw far more challenging) and are suboptimal carry locations if thrown to the ground. They may have some utility for carrying backup guns, but not as primary methods of concealment.
Off-body wheelchair concealed carry (i.e. inside of a shoulder bag, purse, briefcase, etc.) is, of course, always better than carrying no gun at all, but isn’t ideal for multiple reasons. For one, you always have to maintain positive control of the bag at all times. If it’s not on your person, then it’s an unsecured gun and that’s a good way for someone to access it who shouldn’t, like a child or your intoxicated friend at the dinner party you’re attending.
Something else to keep in mind: If you get thrown out of your chair and are receiving blows from your opponent, your bag will move and twist every which way. You’ll potentially be trying to draw your handgun while both you and your bag are simultaneously shifting around as you’re defending yourself … and that’s assuming it even stays attached to you or isn’t pinned underneath your back.
If you do decide to carry in a bag, buy one that you can wear crossbody on your strong side that’s purpose-built for carrying a handgun and has the ability to mount a good holster inside. You can also buy your own hook and loop tape to securely attach the holster inside of a bag. But this only works if it’s mounted inside a pouch or another tight compartment, so that it’ll always stay in place and be where you expect it when you need it.
Whatever bag you choose, it needs to provide easy access to the gun under stress as fast as humanly possible.
Lastly, there’s the ability to mount a holster somewhere on your wheelchair itself. (Side note: This actually works great for competition shooting and home defense.) This is technically still off-body carry, but it’s unique in that it always stays attached to your wheelchair, which does almost feel like an extension of your body.
I’ve seen one guy online who mounts his gun in a Level 2 retention holster on the frame of his manual wheelchair (close to his right knee), and then places a general-purpose pouch of some kind over the top of his gun, which serves to camouflage it completely. It looks a bit odd having such a large “pouch” hanging off the front side of his wheelchair, but this is definitely the best execution I’ve seen thus far of a wheelchair-mounted concealed handgun. When he wants to draw the gun, he simply rips off the dummy pouch, which exposes his holstered handgun, giving him immediate access to it.
The biggest downsides with carrying your handgun in any wheelchair-mounted holster are:
Becoming completely separated from your lifesaving tool the moment you’re knocked out of your chair and need it most.
Mounting it will likely have to be done by you, because it’s such a niche product, and concealing it takes some creativity.
Every time you transfer to your vehicle (unless you sit and drive from your actual wheelchair), you’ll have to safely move your gun from your wheelchair-mounted holster and into the vehicle with you somewhere that it’s readily accessible and will stay put.
When you transfer to someone else’s vehicle and do not want them knowing you have a gun, you’ll have to figure out a way to stealthily transfer the gun out of your wheelchair-mounted holster and into the vehicle with you, be it inside a bag or elsewhere on your person. You’ll also have to achieve this out of sight from anyone passing by or potentially even helping you into the vehicle.
Although mounting firearms on your wheelchair isn’t usually the best method, mounting other tools can actually be very advantageous.
I have a handheld flashlight mounted on the left side of my wheelchair, which is my support-hand side. I’m able to quickly access it with my support hand, which keeps my strong hand free to always be staged and ready to draw my handgun. I just used zip-ties to mount a G-Code universal magazine pouch to the frame of my chair, so I can carry any flashlight I want in that.
You can also mount spare mags, knives, pepper spray, tourniquets, etc. to your chair. I’ve got a Benchmade SOCP knife mounted to the frame on the right side of my chair. Although I could certainly use it for self-defense, honestly for me it’s primarily a utility knife that’s readily accessible.
One item everyone should carry is a tourniquet, and there’s several different ways to carry one. You can wear one on your ankle if you choose, or mount it to your chair, or even stow one in your backpack. I actually have my Dark Angel Medical D.A.R.K. trauma kit attached to the right side of my backpack via MOLLE webbing. I also have three extra tourniquets in my backpack. Pretty much every person in a wheelchair has a small backpack hanging on the back of their chair, so there’s no reason not to carry items that could save your life or the lives of people you care about.
When it comes to carrying spare magazines, body type again comes into play. When I carry a spare magazine on my body, I use the Bawidamann Vertical Uber CC Mag Carrier, because it allows the magazine to sit very deep inside my pant line. My spinal cord injury is “complete,” so I have a gut that will always stick out right at the level where my paralysis begins (level T12). Because of this, a standard-depth mag pouch prints terribly on me, but you may not have this problem.
Like tourniquets, everyone should carry a fixed blade knife (local laws permitting). I carry a Headhunter Blades “Rat” fixed blade knife on the support-hand side of my waistline, around 10 o’clock. This blade is extremely concealable and is easy to draw from the high-quality Kydex sheath that accompanies it. You can also attach the sheath to any pants material you wear, thanks to its metal spring clip. Amtac Blades is another great knife company.
One of the advantages a fixed blade offers is that it’s very fast to draw and doesn’t require as much movement to do a stealthy slow-draw. I’ve been in places where I can’t carry a gun, and I’ll actually carry a fixed-blade knife on each hip. If I’m forced to roll past some shady-looking individuals, I may even slow-draw a blade and keep it staged in my hand and keep pushing my chair without anyone ever knowing I have a knife in hand as I pass by them, as my blade is camouflaged by my wheel.
The one common theme for wheelchair concealed carry is that you need to be able to access any of your self-defense tools as easily and quickly as possible, be it a gun, knife, pepper spray, spare magazine, etc. When you’re in a wheelchair you have to think outside the box to accomplish things that able-bodied people take for granted, and self-defense is no different.
Don’t simply decide on a method of wheelchair concealed carry, buy a holster and then immediately begin carrying a gun in it the next day. Practice drawing from concealment in both dry and live practice before deciding to carry your handgun using a preferred method. Lastly, always seek out quality training from highly qualified instructors in order to constantly get better and become harder to kill.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Gardner is a former U.S. Marine Rifleman, firearms training junkie, and firearms instructor. He recently started his own training company, Strive Tactical. For now, he can be found on Instagram @Wheelchair_Technical.