Elderly Gun Ownership and the Wave of State Red Flag Laws: An Unintended Consequence That Could Help Many
11 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2018 Last revised: 10 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 6, 2018
Recently, momentum has been building among health professionals and in legal circles to address gun ownership for older adults who display signs of cognitive decline, including dementia. However, elderly gun ownership remains underexamined and since incidents of gun violence among the elderly tend to occur in domestic settings, then they are much less visible than shootings in public areas. In contrast, there is widespread attention to curb mass gun violence through state legislation. Specifically, red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, have doubled in 2018 where thirteen states have enacted red flag laws and over 30 states have introduced or plan to introduce this legislation. Although red flag laws were not intended to address elderly gun ownership, they uniquely apply where other gun control laws fall short, as they provide the legal process to temporarily remove access to guns for persons believed to be at an elevated risk of harming themselves or others.
This paper surveys the thirteen states that have enacted red flag laws and analyzes key legislative elements across these states. The state laws have notable variations, including authorized persons who can petition a court for a protection order, standard of proof requirements, and length of time an order is in effect. These variations have implications for an elderly gun owner and their families, particularly in how they relate to the climbing rates of cognitive decline, suicide in late life, and elder abuse. The current wave of red flag laws across the country offer an opportunity to provide greater awareness around elderly gun ownership and prevent crises from becoming tragedies. It is therefore essential to highlight the differences in state red flag laws and provide recommendations for current and future laws so that they can be effectively accessed only in extreme cases as a lifesaving tool to reduce gun violence among older adults and protect public safety.
Keywords: elder law, public safety, dementia and guns, aging, violence
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