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

Prev Med. 2022 Mar;156:106955. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2022.106955. Epub 2022 Jan 21.


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: Dementia; Firearm ownership; Older adults; Suicide; Violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude
  • Firearms*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership
  • Police
  • Safety
  • Surveys and Questionnaires