Too Young or Too Old to Own a Gun?

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posted on August 29, 2018
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A common theme among anti-gun extremists is what we refer to as the Goldilocks approach to limiting access to firearms by law-abiding citizens. Rather than admitting that the end goal is to disarm all Americans, those opposed to the Second Amendment create fictional arguments about why certain types of firearms, ammunition or accessories should be eliminated.

Rifles have been called “too powerful,” “too modifiable,” “too accurate,” “too similar to actual military arms,” etc.

The latest approach to Goldilocks-style gun control, though, seems to focus less on what you can own, and it instead focuses more on who can own firearms. And we don’t mean people with criminal records.

After this year’s horrific tragedy in Parkland, Fla., age became the new battle cry for those seeking to limit gun ownership, with the goal of denying Second Amendment rights to
18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.

Eighteen-year-olds have not been prohibited from purchasing and possessing rifles and shotguns at the federal level, nor in the vast majority of states, since the founding of our country. Nonetheless, because of the violent acts of one individual, we have seen an onslaught of legislation across the country that seeks to raise the minimum age to buy and/or possess rifles and shotguns to 21.

But being deemed “too young” to own firearms isn’t the only threat. A new approach might be beginning to form. You might soon be deemed “too old.”

An article by JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey, published by Kaiser Health News (KHN) and PBS NewsHour, has begun making the rounds at a number of media outlets, such as CNN, and it discusses the issue of gun owners who may be suffering from dementia. Sort of.

“Only five states have laws allowing families to petition a court to temporarily seize weapons from people who exhibit dangerous behavior.”

Dementia can be a devastating disorder. It is a category of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, that affects the brain, and its effect on individuals varies widely. Of course, discussing the problem of dementia is a conversation worth having. Unfortunately, the KHN/PBS article is riddled with language that sounds like it came straight from one of the gun-ban groups being funded by anti-gun billionaire Michael BloombergWe can only presume it is likely to be used to promote anti-gun policies that focus on prohibition, ignoring reason and constitutional considerations.

Aleccia and Bailey refer to an analysis of Washington state survey data that claim that approximately 54,000 residents who are 65 and older have “some cognitive decline” as well as a firearm in the home. Is this really important to note? No, because two key facts are ignored.

First, cognitive decline is common among the elderly, and can manifest itself simply as slight memory loss. It does not mean dementia is present. 

Second, the story refers to these people (again, likely just elderly folks with no known mental disorder) having “access to weapons,” as if that is a concern. But they might not really have access. The survey apparently asked if there was a firearm in the home. The person surveyed could well be living in a home that has firearms, but they might not have access to them.

The authors also seem to lament, “Only five states have laws allowing families to petition a court to temporarily seize weapons from people who exhibit dangerous behavior.” These are the so-called “red flag” or “extreme risk protection order” laws that are being promoted nationwide. They generally lack sufficient due-process protections necessary for deprivation of a constitutional right and are often rife for abuse.

All states have a process to seek to have someone’s competency adjudicated or be involuntarily committed, which could result in a more permanent firearm prohibition. And these laws generally protect due process.

If the debate is going to move toward one more Goldilocks argument suggesting that just getting “too old” is reason enough to confiscate firearms, as this article might suggest, then that is a debate we will not bear.

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