Gun Ownership Among the Elderly

The 85-and-older population is growing faster than any other group in the county and gun ownership among the very elderly is increasingly a concern of adult children. According to the national Firearms Survey of 2004, more than 25% of people ages 65 and older own guns. Some of these individuals live in retirement communities. The New York Times reported about a son begging his 90-year old mother with mild alzheimers’ to give up her gun for safety’s sake.

Geriatric managers in several Western gun-rights states said they regularly work with families struggling to persuade aging parents with dementia to give their children the firearms. For some individuals, guns like cars symbolize independence and individualism.

The Veterans Health Administration found that 40% of veterans with mild to moderate dementia had a gun in their home. After an 83-year old veteran shot a doctor in a VA emergency room in North Carolina, they issued guidelines for doctors to use to help family members with this complex problem.

Older white males have the highest suicide rate and 71% of the time they use a gun, according to a 2003 study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

As many of these folks bought their guns years ago they don’t show up in a data network. Some care facilities are instituting rules—no firearms allowed. States are concerned with the elderly driving, now there is an even more lethal concern.

Toni Wellen is the chair of the Santa Barbara Coalition Against Gun Violence. She lives in Carpinteria.