In Louisiana, having guns in the home is a given for many families. The skill of shooting is passed down from generation to generation, whether it be for hunting or sport, and often an activity that family members enjoy together. This can mean it is particularly difficult when a loved one ages and can no longer use the guns in the same capacity they once did. Unfortunately, an activity and way of life that is commonplace in many Louisiana homes can become dangerous when a loved one has dementia.
Guns are a form of property that are often passed down after the death of a loved one and research shows that 45 percent of all adults aged 65 years or older either own a gun or live in a household with someone who does. For someone with dementia, the risk for suicide increases, and firearms are the most common method of suicide among people with dementia. In addition, a person with dementia who has a gun may put family members or caregivers at risk if the person gets confused about identities of people they know. A 2018 Kaiser Health News investigation that looked at news reports, court records, hospital data and public death records since 2012 and found more than 100 cases in which people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others.
The best thing to do is talk about the guns before they become an issue. Explain to your loved one that it is not them you are worried about, it is the dementia. When someone is first diagnosed with dementia, there should be a conversation about gun ownership similar to the conversation many health professionals have about driving and dementia. Framing the issue as a discussion about safety may help make it easier for the person with dementia to acknowledge a potential problem. Using words like “retire” when referring to firearms can be helpful, as opposed to using language that sounds like the person with dementia is having something taken away or kept from them.
What to do with the guns themselves is a difficult question. One option is to lock the weapon or weapons in a safe and store the ammunition separately. However, having the guns remain in the house – even if they are locked away – can be risky. Another option is to remove the weapons from the house altogether. In some states, though, there are strict rules about transferring gun ownership, so it isn’t always easy to just give the guns away. Passing down guns from one family member to the next can be tricky as well, due to your state’s gun laws. It’s important for families to talk to an attorney and familiarize themselves with state and federal gun laws before giving away guns.
A conversation about guns can also be part of a larger long-term care planning discussion with an elder law attorney, who can help families write up a gun agreement that sets forth who will determine when it is time to take the guns away and where the guns should go. Even if the gun owner doesn’t remember the agreement when the time comes to put it to use, having a plan in place can be helpful.
Whatever your family chooses to do, remember it is better to have a conversation before having firearms in the home becomes problematic. No one wants to think that their loved one could cause themselves or anyone else harm, but the memory loss and confusion that can come with dementia can be deadly if you are not prepared. Talk to your family about making gun safety a top priority in the home and talk to an elder law attorney who can help you navigate a larger plan for the aging loved ones in your life.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027