If you have elderly parents you likely have thought about their safety as drivers or their ability to take care of themselves if they live alone. While those are valid concerns, a number of people in Arizona face another sensitive issue: How and when to get an elderly parent to give up their guns.
In the United States, more than 17 million people age 65 years or older own a firearm. In a 2012 poll, 31.1% of Arizonians owned a firearm. The federal Brady Act prohibits gun sales to anyone adjudicated mentally unstable (a legal process many children do not want to put their aging parent through), there is no law for what happens to guns if the owner becomes mentally unstable or otherwise unable to manage a firearm.
An older gun owner may suffer from a cognitive impairment or dementia and these diagnoses can be detrimental to the gun owner. People with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia often suffer from memory loss, personality changes, aggressive behavior, confusion, anxiety or fluctuating lucidity and these symptoms can affect their ability to act responsibly, competently, and safely. When the person owns a firearm, these symptoms can affect the way they operate a firearm.
Even without a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, an elderly gun owner may have diminished eyesight or hearing loss and could accidentally shoot themselves, their spouse, a loved one or an in-home worker. It is best to discuss gun ownership before health diagnoses become a major concern.
Just like asking an elderly loved one to give up driving, asking the gun owner to give up their weapon is not easy. While you know you are acting in their best interests, for the elderly gun owner, giving up the firearm may symbolize losing control or giving up their independence. They may not be concerned with the possible risks of gun ownership. So, what should you do? Here are some tips to help deal with the situation.
- Is the gun owner competent to keep a weapon? If not, then immediate action should be taken. If the gun owner is not willing to give up the weapon, perhaps they would be willing to give up the ammunition. If the gun owner is not competent to keep a weapon and refuses to voluntarily give up the weapon or ammunition, try calling the local police department for assistance.
- Ask the gun owner if you can “borrow” the gun or if you may take it for a “professional cleaning”. Once the gun is out of the home, you may want to consider having the trigger mechanism disabled. If you intend on keeping it, you will need to register it.
- Ask the gun owner why he or she has a weapon and determine if those reasons are still valid. If, for example, the gun owner was formerly an avid hunter and the weapon was used to hunt. If the gun owner no longer uses the weapon, gently suggest that the gun be removed from the home and get permission to remove it.
- Do not remove a gun and bring it into your possession without the gun owner’s authorization. Although your intentions may be in the right place, this could be considered theft and the gun owner could report you to the police.
- If the gun owner has relinquished their rights to the gun, contact the local police department. You can usually bring the unloaded gun to the police department (but leave the firearm in the trunk of your vehicle). Tell the police representative that you are turning in a firearm due to a loved one being unable to properly use the weapon. Bring a signed doctor’s statement of the diagnosis and a statement from the gun owner relinquishing their rights. An officer will retrieve the firearm from your vehicle.
There is never a “right” way regarding how to deal with this type of situation and family dynamics often play an important role. See if you can get support from other family members, doctors or caregivers before broaching the topic with the gun owner. Address the safety risks and allow the elderly gun owner to participate in making the decision. Most importantly, try to come up with a solution that will allow the elderly gun owner to still feel independent and in control.
If you need any advice surrounding elder law, feel free to get in touch with an attorney here at Bivens & Associates. We specialize in elder law practice here in Arizona.