Firearm ownership, attitudes, and safe storage practices among a nationally representative sample of older U.S. adults age 50 to 80

Patrick M. Carter, Eve Losman, Jessica S. Roche, Preeti N. Malani, Jeffrey T. Kullgren, Erica Solway, Matthias Kirch, Dianne Singer, Maureen A. Walton, April M. Zeoli, Rebecca M. Cunningham


Firearms are a leading cause of injury mortality across the lifespan, with elevated risks for older adult populations. To inform prevention efforts, we conducted a probability-based web survey (12/1/2019–12/23/2019) of 2048 older adults (age 50–80) to characterize national estimates of firearm ownership, safety practices, and attitudes about health screening, counseling, and policy initiatives. Among older U.S. adults, 26.7% [95%CI = 24.8%–28.8%] report owning one or more firearms. The primary motivation for ownership was protection (69.5%), with 90.4% highlighting a fear of criminal assault. 39.4% of firearm owners reported regularly storing firearm(s) unloaded and locked, with 24.2% regularly storing at least one loaded and unlocked. While most firearm owners found healthcare screening (69.2% [95%CI: 64.9–73.1]) and safety counseling (63.2% [95%CI = 58.8–67.3]) acceptable, only 3.7% of older adults reported being asked about firearm safety by a healthcare provider in the past year. Among firearm owners, there was support for state-level policy interventions, including allowing family/police to petition courts to restrict access when someone is a danger to self/others (78.9% [95%CI = 75.1–82.3]), comprehensive background checks (85.0% [95%CI = 81.5–87.9]), restricting access/ownership under domestic violence restraining orders (88.1%; 95%CI = 84.9–90.7], and removing firearms from older adults with dementia/confusion (80.6%; 95%CI = 76.8–84.0]. Healthcare and policy-level interventions maintained higher support among non-owners than owners (p’s < 0.001). Overall, data highlights opportunities exist for more robust firearm safety prevention efforts among older adults, particularly healthcare-based counseling and state/federal policies that focus on addressing lethal means access among at-risk individuals.

Keywords: Firearm ownership, Violence, Suicide, Dementia, Older adults