Do Dementia Patients still have the Right to Bear Arms?

gunsWalt was 78 when he was diagnosed with dementia. The first consequence and the beginning of his loss of independence, was no longer being able to drive. He took it in stride because his family hired a lovely, mature caregiver Linda who became his friend and chauffeur. Better yet, Linda drove Walt to pick up his girlfriend Betty so they could go on dates. The three of them together would dine out, go on drives and even go to the movies. It was a good solution.

Walt had been a collector of guns for many years. He slept with a handgun under his pillow. He had antique rifles and some shotguns housed in a gun case. One night after dinner Walt was home alone and having his evening phone call with Betty. He heard a noise out back and was concerned there was an intruder. He abruptly ended his conversation with Betty. He never called Betty back. Linda arrived the next morning and made a horrible discovery. Walt was on the back porch, dead, from a gunshot wound. A shotgun laid by him.

The police investigation deemed it an accident. There was no sign of foul play. We will never know if there was an intruder from which Walt needed to defend himself. Perhaps the noise he heard was non-threatening. Had Walt’s mind been lucid he might have been able to distinguish and this tragedy avoided.

It was his right to bear arms, but does that right continue when there is cognitive impairment?   According to the Alzheimer’s Association, ‘concerns that the gun owner could accidentally shoot himself, a family member or a caregiver are warranted. As dementia progresses the individual affected will experience a decline in judgment skills, memory, perception and reasoning that compromises their ability to act safely in a variety of situations.’ The association says removal is the best option, secondarily would be to store guns in a vault with ammunition kept elsewhere and never leave a dementia patient with unsupervised access to the guns.

Family had removed the bullets from the handgun surmising that it would be the gun Walt would use in a panic. They never thought he would reach for a shot gun.