Cars, Guns, Aging, and "Giving Up the Keys"

Gerontologist. 2023 May 9;63(4):717-730. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnac142.


Background and objectives: Age-associated changes can impair abilities for safe driving and the use of firearms. We sought to examine multiple perspectives on reducing access to firearms, including similarities and differences compared to reducing driving.

Research design and methods: Online focus groups and 1-on-1 interviews were conducted (November 2020 to May 2021) in the United States with: older adults who drove and owned firearms; family members of older adult firearm owners/drivers; professionals in aging-related agencies; and firearm retailers/instructors. Recorded sessions were transcribed, coded, and analyzed following a mixed inductive-deductive thematic analysis process.

Results: Among 104 participants (81 in focus groups, 23 in interviews), 50 (48%) were female, and 92 (88%) White. Key similarities: decisions are emotional and challenging; needs change over time; safety concerns are heightened by new impairments; prior experiences prompt future planning; tension between autonomy and reliance on trusted others; and strategies like reframing may ease transitions and avoid confrontations. Key differences: "retirement" was not an acceptable term for firearms; reducing driving may affect daily independence more, but there are few alternatives for the psychological safety conferred by firearms; and there are specific firearm-related legal concerns but more driving-related regulations, policies, and resources.

Discussion and implications: The similarities and differences in the processes and preferences related to reducing driving or firearm access have implications for the development of resources to support planning and action. Such resources for the public and providers might empower older adults and their families to make voluntary, shared decisions, and reduce injuries and deaths.

Keywords: Advance planning; Driving; Firearms; Guns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Automobiles
  • Family
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ownership
  • Safety
  • United States