By Sandra W. Reed
The issue of gun safety is of concern for the oldest among us. According to the American Journal of Public Health, more than 17 million people 65 or older own a firearm. The public health implications of this group’s ownership needs to come to the forefront. When should Grannie or Grandad turn over their guns for safe keeping?
The issue is especially crucial for those suffering from dementia, other mental health issues and conditions, such as Parkinson’s and arthritis, which result in shaking hands. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that individuals with Alzheimer’s of whatever age not be allowed access to guns.
Elderly suicide from guns
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate among Americans 65 and older is 15 out of 100,000, while that number drops to 12 out of 100,000 for all ages combined. Those age 85 and older have the highest suicide rate among adults. A large portion of these suicides are by firearm.
Families should be alert to signs that an older loved one might be at risk of taking his or her own life. And, if guns are present in the at-risk person’s household, these should be immediately removed. Additionally, relatives and friends who visit carrying guns should be warned to place guns out of the at-risk person’s access.
Homicide and accidental death rates of seniors from firearms
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide and accidental death rates for those 65 and older are relatively low. However, if it is your own mother, father, grandfather or grandmother lying in the coffin, the number is too high. Families must take steps to guarantee safety for older loved ones. If mom and dad live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, it may be time to move. Also, if guns are stored in ways that lend themselves to accidental firing, this should be remedied immediately.
Impairments that restrict driving applied to guns
Susan Sorenson, a professor of the University of Pennsylvania, and Brian Mertens published an alum, co-authored an article in the May 2012 American Journal of Public Health in which they contend that many of the safety questions regarding senior citizens and driving, such as memory, cognitive impairment, judgment and reaction timing, apply to firearms as well. The implication is that, if an elderly person doesn’t pass his or her driving test, it is time to remove guns from that person’s access. As with driving, if the senior sees the gun as a symbol of independence and freedom, convincing the owner to give up firearms is difficult.
Make gun safety a priority
Many persons over 65 are perfectly capable of handling guns without endangering themselves or others. They may still enjoy hunting and suffer no limitations that affect their capacity to do so safely. However, gun owners of any age need to be certain that they store their guns where children and others who might not be trained in gun safety cannot cause harm with them.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain. She may be contacted by phone at (254) 797-0211 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.