When it’s time to take a loved one’s guns away

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.

Kathleen Houseweart

Houseweart said there is a treasure trove of community organizations that can assist families facing these type of challenges by providing experts. And she stressed that the time to have a conversation about personal firearms is long before they ever become a concern.

“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.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

17 Comments

  1. Donnie Robertson on

    “Taking away the guns” HOPEFULLY will NOT be made to APPEAR as a form of PUNISHMENT. What we elderly who are EARLY ON in the DEMENTIA GAME do NOT NEED is to see yet another DECISION made for us.

    HOW DO I KNOW? Well folks I am 70 as of this past March (2017) and OUT OF THE BLUE MY WIFE INFORMED ME THAT SHE BELIEVED I was “slipping” and exhibiting the EARLY SIGNS of that mind killing “bastard”! dementia …….. and I did NOT receiver HER LAYPERSON DIAGNOSIS WELL. In MY opinion SHE was jumping to conclusions and making ME out to be damn FOOL! I became DEFENSIVE (NEVER PHYSICALLY aggressive.

    YES after over a YEAR of being stagnant at home and having become a COMPUTER ADDICT I WAS “SLOWER PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY” since NOW virtually EVERY DECISION WAS MADE WITHOUT ANY INPUT FROM ME. The reasoning behind this loss of being INCLUDED was I simply was NOT felt to be capable of anything constructive. WOW! Did I feel like a lump of coal waiting to be ignited!

    Then I took FOUR FALLS and found myself in “PHYSICAL REHAB” where my EVERY MOVE WAS MONITORED. I was subjected to even MORE SCRUTINY when venturing out of my room to take a slow, detailed WALK! I went EIGHT MILES EVERY DAY for the exercise and pure enjoyment of making a statement …… I WAS STILL A VIABLE PIECE OF “MEAT” and with MINIMAL ASSISTANCE I was doing just FINE ………… UNTIL I WAS NO LONGER TO SEE THE FOREST FOR THE WHEELCHAIRS AND WALKERS! I was NOT dangerous! I was not VIOLENT and I sure as hell was NOT A THREAT TO MYSELF OR OTHERS!

    I DID FIND OUT the FIREARMS HAD BECOME A “WORRY POINT” for the family, doctors and therapists. I was CRUSHED! I WAS ANGRY! I was essentially DEFEATED BY THE WORRY OF OTHERS and NOT a WORD had been mentioned to ME. NO DISCUSSION! We just jumped to what I considered the PENALTY PHASE of MY LIFE!

    NOW when we go to “VISIT” friends / relatives” I am told ALL FIREARMS HAVE BEEN SAFELY put into a “SECRET STORAGE LOCATION ……… just as if I were once again a “kid”!

    So? THE RIGHT TIME IS A TIME WHEN the individual who ENJOYS FIREARMS will NOT be made even worse thanks to the SO-CALLED GOOD INTENTIONS OF OTHERS!

  2. Donnie Robertson on

    IT IS A SHAME MORE FOLKS DO NOT CHIME IN ON THESE EVER SO IMPORTANT MATTERS!

    Come on people! SHARE YOU BELIEFS AND FEELINGS!

  3. I hadn’t really thought about this before. I’m a gun-guy. And for many reasons, I value them, and having them for my immediate en recreational uses.

    If I could be asked, in my later years, what my answer would be today, is that I would want them slowly given to family members, while keeping a couple treasured ones in the house. Perhaps, when its the right time, unload them and and keep the ammunition locked away. I also enjoy shooting cans and paper with BB guns, which may be a good substitute for the firearms along the way. It’s still a “shooting sport”.

    But, when it comes to everyone’s safety, then what ever measures should be taken, must be.
    I’ll be sharing this article with my family. I hope I live long enough, to enjoy popping cans with a BB rifle, after my prized firearms are shared with younger family.

    Thanks for the good article.

    PS. Vietnam Army Combat Vet, former LEO, NRA Life Member, proud Dad, and proud Grand Pop.

  4. Tough call on this issue but I couldn’t take anyone’s guns away unless you could also take their ability to speak, not be searched without a warrant, and not quarter troops in their homes, amongst other things. One right guaranteed is no less guaranteed than the other. Period.

  5. I will never give up my guns at any age, nor will I ever expect anyone who is not clearly mentally unsound to do so. Our society treats reaching any age past 65 as some sort of a disease, and that in itself is a crime. Granted, if someone suffers from Alzheimer’s they are probably not competent to have guns, but that is a small minority of “old” people.

    We make lots of noise on our gun blogs and forums, and in our activism with the government to protect the rights of everyone to be armed to defend themselves, but yet, some see age as an adequate reason to strip people of that right. Just like Obama’s executive order taking to right to own and bear arms away from anyone on Social Security who has someone else balance their checkbook. Well, not in my home or the homes of people who respect the intelligence and wisdom of those who have lived long and successful lives.

    I grew up in farm country where men worked a full day right up to the moment they left this life for the next, and there were many times when someone who was too physically infirm to hike up and down the hills to hunt was driven to a good spot where they could sit and wait while we bushwhacked through the brush so they could get a shot at yet another prime buck in their long lives of hunting and shooting. And God Bless them for their love of hunting and shooting.

    And there are plenty of instances where people over the age of 70 have successfully defended themselves from home invaders because they had a gun to do so with. Who has the right to deny them that ability just because of their age? The answer is no one.

  6. Dementia is on issue. Depression or suicidal thoughts are another.
    An intervention involving removing personal guns from a depressed or suicidal person may intensify those feelings of helplessness.
    Tread lightly

  7. Peter Harriman on

    I only have a few anecdotal references, but it seems the elderly people I know who used guns were like your grandfather. They never became unsafe, but at some point they just stopped using firearms. That tells me on a fundamental level they really appreciated what guns were about. These were people who grew up with guns and never treated them like a golf club or a boat or any other hobby. You never had to worry about someone like that accidentally shooting you. And the 870 and 94, what a pair to draw to!

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