iAge

Changing how we see aging

Older Adults' Guns Killing Our Children

Although older adults own guns, their victims are children and young adults.

Apple Pie and Guns. Both are so American. Although apple pie is not illegal in any country, there are severe restrictions in guns ownership throughout the world other than the USA. The American gun culture is purely American because it does not export well.

The Small Arms Survey in 2007 by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva estimated that we have some 270 million firearms in the USA. This is a low ball. Other estimates push the number higher, much higher. But 270 million is a good number because even this low estimate signifies that there are more guns in the USA then the rest of the world--military or civilian. Guns are more American than apple pie. And older adults have a role in the popularity of gun culture.

A Pew Study in 2013 reported that under half of all households (40%) have a gun. These households are predominantly older adults (50 years and older), republican, rural, White 46% (twice as many as Black--21%--the next highest ethnic households) and most have some college education rather then just High School, or Postgraduate (the lowest household gun ownership but still at 33%.) Although for many, gun ownership is a matter of culture and upbringing, for others it is fear.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The argument that is often raised is that gun ownership is about protection and feeling safe. And safety is a valid argument. Public health records indicate that guns ownership causes more devastation than protection.

In 2011 David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, examined all studies that looked at health risks and benefits of gun ownership between 2003 and 2007. What he found is contrary to expectation. Each year 680 people were killed accidentally with guns. The victims were more likely children and younger adults. In addition, an average of 46 people committed suicide with guns each day, men more than women. Because guns are so accessible in households they are the preferred suicide method when compared to all other methods combined. Two-thirds of all murders involved guns. The average number of Americans shot and killed daily was 33. Of those, on average, one was a child (0 to 14 years), five were teenagers (15 to 19 years) and seven were young adults (20 to 24 years).

Although older adults might be the owners of guns, and have guns in their household, the victims are their children--theirs and others'. Children in the U.S. get murdered with guns at a rate that is 13 times higher than that of other developed nations. For our young people aged 15 to 24, the rate is 43 times higher.

We do not know of any real benefits of gun ownership other than the psychology--but not the reality--of feeling safe. In the USA the reality is that the health risk of having a gun in the home is greater than any potential benefit. Gun ownership is killing our children. Apple pie might also be more attractive to younger family members, and it is much safer.

© USA Copyrighted 2013 Mario D. Garrett

Mario Garrett, Ph.D., is a professor at the school of social work, San Diego State University.

more...

Subscribe to iAge

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?