According to a University of Michigan study, a strong majority of American adults over the age of 50, including the 37% of older adults who own guns or live with someone who does, support specific measures that could reduce the risk of firearm injury and death.

The new national study shows seniors’ support for everything from gun safety advice by health care providers and background checks of gun buyers to ‘red flag’ policies that allow the temporary removal of firearms from persons at high risk of harming themselves or others.

The study also highlights opportunities to help older people recognize and manage risks in their own homes, especially for those who live with children, have an increased risk of suicide, or are beginning to experience cognitive decline. and/or dementia.

For example, the study shows that 24% of gun owners over the age of 50 regularly store at least one of their firearms loaded and unlocked, which previous research has shown increases the potential risk of injury. accidental or intentional. Gun locks and locked storage containers such as gun safes can reduce this risk, as can “smart guns” that can only be fired by a specific person.

Published this week in the journal Preventive Medicine, the study is based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80 by members of the UM Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, the Injury Prevention Center and from the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, with a colleague from Michigan State University.

The researchers conducted the study because one-third of all gun-related deaths in the United States occur in people in their 50s, 60s, and 60s, with 84% of those deaths being by suicide.

Preventing injuries and deaths among older adults, and the children and adolescents who live with them, has become a new urgency due to the increase in such incidents over the past decade, researchers say.

“Just as health care providers and health policymakers have worked to address other preventable causes of injury and death, we hope these findings will inform efforts to reduce firearm injuries. fire in the elderly, while respecting gun ownership rights,” the study leader said. Patrick Carter, UM emergency physician who co-directs the UM Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and directs the Injury Prevention Center.

“This is especially true for older people with depression, cognitive decline and other conditions that can increase their risk of firearm injury, as well as those who have children and adolescents living with them or their visit.”

Gun safety is about identifying and reducing risk, and creating policies, programs and education that can help achieve this goal. Every suicide, every accidental shooting, every homicide is a tragedy that affects many more people than the single person who pulls the trigger or is shot. This new data can help us move forward on a societal and personal level.

Rebecca Cunningham, lead study author and UM Vice President for Research

Main conclusions:

The survey covered a wide range of topics, from gun ownership and storage practices to attitudes toward specific policies and programs. Respondents were also asked about their own health and the presence of children at home.

Ownership and storage

  • 27% of seniors own at least one firearm, and most of these people own more than one. Another 10% say they live with someone who owns a gun.
  • 40% of firearm owners report regularly storing their firearms locked and unloaded, 35% report storing their firearms unlocked and unloaded, and 24% store their firearms loaded and unlocked.
  • Storage practices differed by firearm type, with a greater proportion of handgun owners reporting storing at least one loaded and unlocked firearm, while only 3% of gun owners reported keeping their long guns stored, loaded and unlocked.
  • 69% of those who own firearms cited protection as the reason, while 55% cited target shooting or hunting and 30% cited a constitutional right (respondents could choose more than one option) .
  • Of those who cited protection as a reason for owning, only 5% said it was to protect themselves from someone they specifically knew, while most agreed with the general feeling that they needed it. weapon to protect yourself.
  • 20% of gun owners who have children who live with them or visit them regularly reported storing at least one unlocked and loaded gun, compared to 35% of gun owners who do not don’t have children living with them or visiting them. Other research has shown that 75% of teen suicides involve a firearm from the teen’s home or from a parent.

Attitudes towards prevention programs and policies

  • Most seniors, whether or not they own guns, said they would be comfortable being asked or advised about gun safety by a doctor or other clinician. 69% of gun owners would be comfortable with healthcare-based screening for gun possession, and 63% would be comfortable receiving advice on safe gun storage firearms from a health care provider. Percentages were higher among non-gun owners, including those living with a gun owner.
  • “Red flag” laws and programs that allow family members or police to petition the courts to restrict access to firearms to people they believe to be a danger to themselves or others have were endorsed by 79% of gun owners and 89% of non-gun owners.
  • 81% of gun owners and 92% of non-gun owners support efforts to remove guns from the homes of seniors with dementia or confusion.
  • 88% of gun owners and 93% of non-gun owners support prohibiting people experiencing domestic violence from owning or having access to firearms.
  • Background checks for all gun sales, including private sales between individuals, met with support from 85% of gun owners and 93% of non-gun owners.

Individual and family characteristics and risk factors

  • Gun owners were more likely to be white, male, and veteran than non-gun owners, and more likely to be in higher income brackets and live in rural areas outside the Northeast.
  • 77% of gun owners had children who lived with them or visited them regularly, compared to 70% of non-gun owners.
  • 40% of non-gun owners said having children in their home influenced their decision to own guns, compared to 20% of those who did.
  • 40% of gun owners said they had experienced social isolation or lack of companionship in the past year; the survey was conducted just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This percentage was much higher (89%) among older gun owners who rated their physical or mental health as fair or poor.
  • 9% of older gun owners in the survey met the criteria for depression, which is a risk factor for suicide, compared to 8% of non-gun owners.


Journal reference:

Carter, PM, et al. (2022) Gun ownership, attitudes, and safe storage practices among a nationally representative sample of American adults aged 50–80. Preventive medecine.