Overcoming Adversity, N.J. Woman With One Hand Gets Permit to Carry.

photo provided by Gianna Novello to Bearing Arms

Around June of 2023 Gianna Novello decided to give shooting a shot. The native of north Jersey wasn’t looking to become the next Lara Croft, or dive too deep into the world of becoming a shootist, it was just something she committed to wanting to try.

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Novello went through some basic steps with her boyfriend on how to handle a firearm, then made it to the range. Novello’s story starts with her being uninitiated in firearms, to five months later owning three handguns, and having a valid New Jersey permit to carry. That’s a remarkable story. Coming from N.J., her deep dive into gun ownership is beyond fascinating. The most notable thing about Novello’s story is learning to do all this with only one hand.

Novello does not consider herself “disabled.” Her condition is congenital, and she’s never allowed it to hold her back. When chatting with the Generation Z gun owner, I quickly realized that her arm ending where her wrist would begin on her left hand became a motivator, rather than an anchor that drags her down.

“Okay, I’m going to refer to you as ‘differently abled,’ if that works for you?” I said to Novello. She was fine with that description. I told her she needs to guide me on making sure I’m not being offensive – which I excel at from time to time, and there was no need to double down on her original sentiments.

“I’ve never considered myself disabled because I’ve never really gone to the doctor and asked them to really clarify what I have. I don’t really think it’s a disability. But I do think I’m different than everybody else, obviously. And I do things differently.” – Gianna Novello

There’s a lot of minutiae to using firearms, much of which people that have both of their hands might take for granted. It’d be obtuse and trivial to say that a person with only one hand can’t shoot a pistol – Cam just talked to Michael Cargill recently about training a man to shoot with his feet – but, consider the act of using a handgun holistically, that’s a different matter.

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Before heading to Gun For Hire at the Woodland Park Range, Novello spent a good amount of time with her boyfriend going over the safe handling of a handgun. Novello said that she had a pretty good idea on how she wanted to give the pistol a two-handed grip while doing dry fire exercises, and she practiced.

Other challenges of learning to shoot that come with missing a hand include slide manipulation, magazine change out, and loading magazines. Granted, when Novello started this process, she was not 100% sure it would lead to getting a permit to carry, but it was in the back of her mind. Being able to safely execute every step needed in order to shoot was pivotal for her in order to pass a qualification course of fire. “I definitely did consider eventually taking the qualification to get my permit to carry, but did I think it would come right away? No, I didn’t think I would be doing it this soon,” Novello said.

Novello practiced two different methods to load cartridges into magazines. One included using a speed loader. When using a speed loader, she’d place the base of the magazine on a hard surface and then pressed the loader down, using her hand to also insert the rounds. When loading without the aid of a speed loader, she said it was easier, and that she had more control, to do so by pressing the base of the magazine against her abdomen, and then feeding the cartridges that way.

Slide manipulation was the next big hurdle. The firearm she was using, and eventually got, was outfitted with a red dot sight. She said she was able to use her left wrist to push against the housing of the optic, and slide back the slide that way. There are a few “charging” devices out there for semi-automatic pistols, but none that would fully meet her needs better than her current method.

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For reloads, she said that she ended up practicing this more with her instructor while at Gun For Hire. Tony Urena is the Director of Training at the facility and he worked with Novello in a private setting to get her up to speed on qualifying. One of the things that’s needed in order to pass the New Jersey qualification to get a permit to carry is handling reloads.

“I practiced with Tony. So, I would after the last round drop the mag, and then put it back in the holster with the slide closed. And then [I’d] put the new mag in, [draw my firearm] and then rack the slide back. Then, you know, start again and shoot.” Gianna Novello on one handed reloading

I asked Novello if she had any apprehensions prior to her first trip to the range. “I don’t really think any honestly. I just think I was more so doubting myself that I couldn’t do it. But I know I could.” Novello said. “I always feel like I try to do things that are new by myself. Before I ask for help.” She mentioned that the practice sessions with her boyfriend prior to going to the range were important to make sure she’d be able to do everything safely while conducting live fire.

When Novello got to the range, and started shooting, she did express a slight frustration. She perceived people were maybe treating her differently because she’s one handed.

“I don’t want to say it was frustrating, but it was a little difficult because, when I did do things I would have [people] say, ‘try this’ or ‘try that’ or ‘do this.’ It was a little frustrating at first. But then I did realize that most of what everybody is saying did help me and did get me to where I am today…” Gianna Novello

I asked Novello if that’s just how she perceived it at the time, people maybe treating her differently, and she agreed. Novello and I chatted about the general willingness of gun owners to help each other out, and that she was just a victim of the same kind of attention that anyone else would get when getting started – good, bad, or indifferent. Gun people love to help each other out. It’s embedded in the community. Gun people are the best people.

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When Novello started shooting, she was supporting her pistol in a modified teacup configuration, with her left wrist supporting the pistol at the bottom of the backstrap. Some of the people she met at Gun For Hire showed her how it’s easier to control by switching up her support hand, and placing it at the bottom of the front strap. This is similar to the pressure that a fully abled person would do when wrapping their fingers around the shooting hand. They figured out it was easier to maintain control by supporting the pistol there, rather than trying to come up with a modification of a thumbs forward placement on the side of the pistol.

After Novello’s first trip to the range she was hooked.

“My first experience that I went to Gun For Hire, it was great. Everybody was nice. I loved it. And then I came home that day and I applied for my F.ID. Then obviously I had to wait because it takes forever. Then I purchased my first gun and after that I would say a month after, I got another one, and then another one. So it kind of became addicting and a hobby as you can say.” – Gianna Novello on after firing her first shots

I reached out to Anthony Colandro, one of the owners of and founder of Gun For Hire, to chat him up about Novello’s experience. He was excited about her having had such a good first time – and subsequent times – shooting.

For Colandro, it’s not just about a happy customer – and every customer is important – it’s that his staff continues to put forth the best versions of themselves when they work with people. I’ll put words in Colandro’s mouth here and say it’s deeply personal to be able to connect with people in such a positive manner – Colandro treats customers like they’re family. “Gianna exemplifies why we need the Second Amendment and why it is for everyone. She is a warrior and all of us who at one time or another doubted our skills or capabilities should look to her for inspiration,” Colandro said to me about the new member of Gun For Hire.

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Tony Urena, Novello’s instructor, prides himself in helping people work through their challenges to meet their goals. He does not look at things from a perspective of what one cannot do, but rather “what levels of ability they have.” He told me that once he figures out what people can do he moves on from there.

“We all have levels of abilities that differ from person to person. It’s what makes us unique. So my thought is never ‘what can’t you do, but what can you do’ and build up from there.

Since I’ve taken over training at Gun For Hire, I’ve had the privilege of working with people that suffered from Parkinson’s to strokes. I consider it a privilege because these are people, despite their situation, they’re living life to the fullest and are not holding themselves back. I’m honored to help!” – Tony Urena on instructing the differently abled

I bent Novello’s ear a bit about Colandro. I said to her, “Anthony’s a good friend…is a good advocate. And, he cares about people. And he cares about the Second Amendment.” I asked her about her feelings on getting to know him through the process, and through the recording of an episode they did together of Gun For Hire Radio. Novello’s voice picked up a bit and she said:

He’s a great person. He’s very nice. And he’s always, you know, he’s always making everybody feel comfortable. He’s making everybody laugh. So that’s why we go there, because…it’s just, it’s always a good time to see him and see him joking around with everybody.

Novello has now had her New Jersey permit to carry for a few weeks. She carries confidently because she practiced and trained to get to a point where she’s comfortable. Training is something she wants to continue. She told me she carries her pistol inside the waistband and in a rigid holster.

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One of the things I had asked her about was the firearms industry and what they could do to make things better for the differently abled. For her and her particular needs, a charging device that could be perhaps mounted where the rear sight sits, and be better shaped for her wrist. That would make racking the slide easier. She also said that for people similarly situated, they should tell their instructor their situation and talk to them about it. Doing dry runs and lots of practice to get comfortable is another thing she stressed.

I wanted to know if Novello had a message that she wanted to get out. She said she wanted to share that:

My message would just be that whether you’re abled, differently abled, disabled, male or female, I think this is for everybody. I know, women, not most women, but some women in particular, they think that this is a men’s thing, or they’re not part of it. But I do believe that it is for everybody, and that they should go and that they should give it a try. Whether they end up liking it or not, making it a hobby, or just, a one and done thing, I think they should. And I do think that if you are like me, or you do have an actual disability, you should still give it a try. Because there are plenty of ways that people can help you. It doesn’t even have to be the gun range that I go to, it can be any gun range. They’re always people willing to help.

Gianna Novello, welcome to the club! It’s warming to get a chance to hear about stories like Novello’s, never-the-less be blessed with a chance to tell some of it. Novello is part of the growing trend of Americans becoming gun owners. As someone who’s differently abled, Novello has some real moxy in giving this a shot, and it’s formidable that she’s been willing to share the story of her journey as publicly as she has. When talking to Novello prior to setting up an interview date, I thanked her for agreeing to speak with me. She told me that if this is something that might help people, it’s totally worth it.

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If you stumbled upon this story and are not involved in the shooting sports at all, there are resources out there for you! If you’re differently abled or disabled, there are people willing to help. One of the best resources out there is the National Shooting Sports Foundation “Where to shoot” website. You can visit that page HERE.

If you want to tune into Anthony Colandro and Gianna Novello’s interview on the Gun For Hire Radio Podcast, click HERE or catch it in the embed below.

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