My grandfather became somewhat confused when he reached his early 80s.
He voluntarily gave up driving, although living on a seldom-used gravel road in the boondocks of northern Minnesota he posed little threat to other drivers.
He never consciously gave up his guns. Instead, he just stopped using them. His Remington 870 and Winchester Model 94 sat unused in the corner of the pantry until he day he died. The 94 was the last thing many a whitetail ever heard.
Grandpa wasn’t a gun guy. To him, firearms were just tools he used to feed his family.
Nowadays — especially when you consider the growing popularity of concealed carry — guns are more of a lifestyle. They’re how many folks self identify — including yours truly.
As a result, it’s never easy to coax someone into voluntarily surrendering their guns because they’re not handling firearms safely.
To be clear, age certainly doesn’t disqualify anyone from using and carrying firearms — far from it. I’m reminded of this fact every time I go to the range with my father-in-law. He out shoots me every single time. The issue is mental acuity.
Kathleen J. Houseweart is the director of Lutheran Social Services of Florida’s Sarasota Guardianship Program. She’s the former head of Geriatric Services and Memory Disorder Clinic for the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System — a program where families bring their loved ones when driving, firearms and other safety issues became concerns.
“Firearms — it’s the same as with car keys. You should have a driving retirement plan,” she said. “Talk with the person about how they would like things handled if they become unsafe with firearms. Those discussions often don’t happen when they should. It puts the family in a situation where they’re unsure how to ensure that the weapons are properly stored, and that they are only accessible when they can be safely used.”
If the conversation has to be conducted after the fact, Houseweart recommended that the family should reassure their loved one that they know how important firearms are to their lifestyle.
“Anything important to their lifestyle shouldn’t be ignored,” Houseweart explained. “To say they might kill someone so they need to take their guns away is not right. You have to start with recognizing how important they are, as well as how safe they’ve been for years, but now physical changes have necessitated taking some precautions.”
Removing the firearms, she said, is sometimes the only option, especially if they’ve been brandishing them inappropriately, but it too needs to be done correctly.
“Doing it clandestinely without their permission is sometimes the only option, but the best way is to have a plan,” Houseweart said. “Slowly remove the guns and other safety issues from their life, while considering that if something is taken away, something should be added in exchange. While every individual case is different, if they’re using their firearms as a hobby or social activity, they need to be replaced with another hobby or activity.”
I’d like to thank the folks who have emailed and called about this important topic. Rest assured, we will continue to report on this issue.