Guns, Canes, and Home Security: What Senior Citizens Need to Know About Self-Defense

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It’s easy for martial artists to talk about self-defense for most of us. Most of us probably don’t struggle with physical challenges throughout the day. But what about senior citizens? I have taught self-defense to people in their late 60s and 70s. They were actually quite mobile and had the strength to hit the focus mits hard. (I remember one student was a 73-year-old retired physical education teacher. She was in great shape, had an awesome attitude, and man could she knock the stuffings out of the kick shield!)

However, in many cases, our elderly citizens struggle daily with loss of hearing, fading eyesight, arthritis, balance issues, and general lack of strength. Yes, I know there are exceptions like the amazing Helio Gracie (founder of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) who was still practicing his art well into his 90s:

But what about everyone else? What can we do if we’re getting a bit older and not so nimble?

1. Be aware and avoid danger.

We can still be aware that in this fallen world there are plenty of two-legged animals who are constantly sizing us up and planning to attack the weakest looking among us. When you leave your home, be aware that criminals will look at senior citizens as “easy targets.” Avoid known high crime areas. Shop during the day when there are more people around and in an area where you know there are plenty of security cameras.

If someone comes up to you to ask for the time or ask you to fill out a survey, know that he or she may be a criminal trying to get close enough to attack you. Keep people at a distance. Do not let them get close enough to attack you. Here is a great video demonstrating some techniques to be aware of the sneaky tactics criminals might use and how to counter them:

2. Be prepared at home.

Be aware that some people may be following you home. If you suspect that you are being followed, drive to the closest police or fire station and report suspicious activities. When you are home do NOT ever open the door just because someone is knocking and telling you that their car has broken down and they need to use a phone. That is the oldest trick in the book to gain entry to your home and rob you or worse.

Here is world-renowned self-defense instructor Massad Ayoob demonstrating the proper tactics to answer your door:

Do you have a dog? Dogs are great for home protection. (They are also great protection when you are taking them on a walk.) Some prefer the little Yorkies or dachsunds. They may not be able to take down a predator, but they sure can bark frequently enough and loud enough to let you know that there is a stranger nearby. And that may be all the warning you need to get to a safe location and call the police (or retrieve your gun).

Others prefer large, lovable Rottweilers, pit bulls, Doberman Pinschers, or German Shepherds. We all know that they can be ferocious and are very capable of frightening off an intruder (or destroying them if need be). If you have a large intimidating dog, make sure your dog is properly trained and that you can physically handle it on the leash (that might be quite a challenge for some senior citizens).

Invest in a home security system. Simplisafe offers a good, inexpensive way to make your home more secure. Have plenty of bright lights all around your home, and make sure you replace any lights that are out.

Always, always have your cell phone on you. Always. One of the most frustrating things for me as a pastor is trying to contact my senior citizen parishioners, but I cannot contact them because their phones are off, or located in some far flung part of the house, or the phone simply isn’t working properly. How can you get in touch with the police if your phone is in the garage and you are in your bedroom? Find a way to keep it on you at all times (and make sure it is always charged up).

3. Get a gun.

On one hand, I am hesitant to suggest this because some seniors simply are too mentally or physically frail to handle a gun. Some are incapable of using good judgment with a gun. On the other hand, as a Conceal and Carry instructor in Ohio I have taught numerous seniors who became quite capable of carrying a pistol and accurately shooting it. I was completely confident that they had the good judgment to carry and use a pistol. Some are physically too frail to fight off an attacker; they need a gun to protect their home and spouse.

If you can effectively learn jiu jitsu at age 70, wonderful! But those martial skills probably will not be as effective against multiple attackers as a pistol or a shotgun.

Some people want to use a tazer. Fine, except that it must always be charged. And you have to let the attacker get close enough to use it. Also, tazers are probably not the weapon you would need against more than one attacker.

Others want to use pepper spray. Pepper spray can be very effective, but again you must be close enough to use it, and it may not work on someone strung out on drugs.

I do believe in teaching how to fight with a cane. The Korean and Filipino martial arts have developed entire systems around the cane. Here again is Massad Ayoob demonstrating some techniques with the cane:

And here are more involved techniques (taught by expert Michael Janich) for those interested in learning how to use this weapon:

This is a rather lengthy video, but it is packed with very valuable information about the pros and cons (mostly pros) of senior citizens owning guns:

One thing I get from this interview is Dan Starks’ repeated emphasis on training. Whatever weapon you use, you MUST train with it. If you get a gun, make sure it is a gun you know how to operate. I mean, you must know it COLD. You must know how to pick that thing up and automatically have a proper hand grip, you must know how to properly aim, and you must know how the recoil feels and that you can handle it.

(You had better have an excellent grip on your state’s laws as well. You are responsible for every bullet that exits your gun.) And if you are carrying, you had better be able to retrieve that gun quickly and use it accurately. Only constant training will help you with this.

Some of my senior students could handle only a .22-caliber revolver. Others could easily load and accurately shoot a semi-auto that fires .45 ACP. For my students, a gun (even a .22) is better than no gun at all. A .22 Magnum bullet will stop an attacker if it hits him in the head. A hail of those bullets will at least encourage him to run the other way. You need to find out what works for you, and train.

But what about learning a martial art? I’ll let Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert Stephan Kesting have the last word on this issue of self-defense for senior citizens: