Handguns for Handicapped and
Very Recoil Sensitive Shooters

By C.W.B.

Some elderly follks, some handicapped people, and some women can't take much recoil, but still want as much stopping power in a defensive handgun as they can handle and, if possible, some concealability. I have had some experience in this area, being a handicapped shooter myself. If your hands can't control more recoil than delivered by the 9x18 Makarov, .380 ACP, .32 H&R Magnum, .32 ACP or .22 WMR (Magnum), then you don't have the option of more power.

Autoloading Pistols

Full size .32 ACP and .380 ACP pistols get very little attention from most manufacturers or gun writers, yet these are often the best choices for a recoil sensitive person. I realize that most gun writers have healthy hands and prefer smaller, lighter .380s and tiny .32 ACPs, so those are the guns normally reviewed in the shooting press. (Guns and Shooting Online has reviewed the Baikal IJ-70A and Bersa Thunder .380 ACP pistols. -Ed.) But, for those who can't handle much recoil the larger .380s are the only answer in an auto pistol with decent stopping power.

Full size .32s and .380s are exactly what I need. I have severe arthritis. My hand is held together by 4 screws and two artificial joints. I can't shoot the smaller .32s and .380s. In the lightest pistols (less than 18 ounces), I can't even handle .32 ACP. In midsize pistols I can handle .32 ACP fine. 18 ounces is difficult, 20 ounces is good, and 23+ ounces is ideal for .32 ACP.

In .380, more weight and size is better, with 23 ounces being about the minimum and 28 ounces being about perfect. The full size Beretta Cheetah (23.3ounces), Browning BDA (23 ounces), CZ83 (28 ounces), Walther PP (24 ounces), Bersa Thunder .380 (23 ounces), and Baikal IJ-70A/Makarov (24 ounces) are possible options. Use the softer and more ergonomic rubber grips on any Makarov type pistol to cushion the shooting hand.

Of these, the heavier CZ-83 is the most recoil friendly choice. Since it is offered in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9x18, it's a sure thing that one of these is perfect for anyone. In .32 the CZ-83 has minimal recoil, even for a guy with a screwed together hand. I'd recommend this for the most recoil sensitive people. In .380 it's okay, even for me. In 9x18 it's borderline for me, but doable on a limited basis. It's the most recoil I can handle.

In .380 ACP the Bersa Thunder and the other 23-24 ounce pistols are a borderline call as to whether tolerable for the recoil sensitive shooter. Their advantage is that these pistols are generally small and light enough to carry concealed. Before buying any of these guns, a recoil sensitive person should first rent one at their local shooting range.

The Bersa is not bad for recoil in .32 ACP. This model is sold as the Firestorm .32 and is currently available only in the Western USA.

Another option: The Bersa Model 83 is an all steel .380 the same size as a Bersa Thunder .380. I'm not exactly sure of the weight of the Bersa 83, but it's in the vicinity of 27 to 30 ounces, which makes it perfect for the recoil sensitive shooter in combination with its ergonomics and light trigger.


The .22 WMR, .32 Long, and .32 H&R Magnum are my preferred revolver calibers. For defensive purposes the .22 WMR is offered in S&W or Taurus double action small frame revolvers and NAA single action mini revolvers. (The 2" Black Widow and 4" Mini Master are the standout models from NAA. -Ed.) I don't like velocity robbing 2" barrels in .22 WMR, and a 4" barrel can be difficult to conceal. I'd prefer a 3" barrel if it were available.

I also like the .32 H&R Magnum in a 2.5", or 3" snub nose revolver as long as they are not lightweights with alloy frames. The ultra-lightweight Taurus and S&W snubbies in .32 Mag. are far too light for this cartridge. Note that any .32 Magnum revolver can also shoot .32 Long ammunition as a reduced power load.

The clear choice in a .32 Magnum revolver is the Ruger SP101 (catalog number KSP-3231X), a 6-shot, stainless steel snubby revolver with a 3 1/16" barrel that weighs 28 ounces. It even comes with adjustable sights. And, If a person can't handle the .32 Mag, they can shoot milder .32 Longs, which should be easy for just about anyone to handle in the SP101. The Ruger SP101 .32 Magnum is the best revolver choice.

There are still a few steel framed .38 Special snubbies around, such as the old S&W Chief's Special and Colt Detective Special. But even with 21 ounce weight this cartridge kicks too much in a small frame for arthritic hands. The best possibility in a .38 Special snubby is probably the Ruger SP101 with a 3 1/6" barrel (catalog number KSP-831X). This stainless steel, 5-shot pistol weighs 27 ounces and is supplied with fixed sights. Reloaders could probably work up reduced recoil loads that would make an SP101 .38 snubby a viable alternative.


I'd like to see at least one small frame snubby .32 Magnum that weighs about 23 ounces with a 3" barrel. I'd also like to see a .22 Magnum snubby with a 3" barrel. I'd very much like to see the Glock .380s imported into the USA.

Summary and Conclusions

The defensive handguns that I've taken a strong liking to are the CZ-83 (in .32 ACP, .380, and 9x18), the Ruger SP101 in .32 Magnum/.32 Long with 3 1/16" barrel, and the Bersa Firestorm .32 ACP. I bought these guns in each cartridge mentioned.

The CZ-83 in 9x18 and the SP101 in .32 Mag offer respectable ballistics with managable recoil in a gun weight that can be carried concealed. Nothing else does that as well.

If a person can't handle the CZ-83 in .380 ACP or the SP101 in .32 Mag, then they should try the CZ-83 in .32 ACP. Likewise, the SP101 can shoot .32 Longs, a low recoil alternative to the more powerful magnum. If those still kick too much, then try a .22 magnum revolver with a 4" barrel using Winchester 40 grain Super-X JHP ammo.

I recommend that the recoil sensitive person try various handguns before buying. This is possible at many local gun rental shooting ranges. Start with something light (such as a .22 Mag. revolver or Bersa Firestorm .32 ACP autoloader) and work up gradually to more powerful guns.

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