Guns and Dementia

Hook Law News | Oct 29, 2018 | Letha Sgritta McDowell

A recent New York Times article highlighted a subject which is not often discussed but should be.  While gun ownership is generally on the decline in the United States, ownership is still common, and is more common among older adult men than the rest of the population in general.  Gun ownership is higher in rural areas than in urban ones. Thus, while not every household in America has a gun, there are many which do.  While discussions about guns and gun ownership are common political talk, gun ownership and possession is almost never considered when discussing dementia.  However, research has shown that since 2012, more than 100 gun-related deaths have occurred when a person with dementia used firearms within their home and, as the number of people with dementia in the US will increase, the number of injuries or deaths is likely to increase.

In the cases discussed above, the violence occurred during an episode of confusion, paranoia, delusion, or aggression.  In addition to these episodes which are often related to the cognitive impairment, suicide is not uncommon among older adults, especially those suffering from a chronic illness.  While not all individuals living with dementia will demonstrate aggression, delusion, or depression, it is impossible to predict who will.  Therefore, while planning for the future by reviewing and updating legal documents and financial plans, practical considerations should be made as well.

The conversation about gun ownership and dementia may arise in any setting and can be initiated by a professional such as an elder law attorney or financial advisor.  Many are hesitant to reveal gun ownership but, for those who do, they often don’t want to reveal locations, nor do they want to voluntarily give up possession of their firearms.  When the discussion focuses on “taking things away” for a person with a diagnosis of dementia, this may feel like additional loss of control and can be extremely unpleasant.  Instead, the conversation should be approached as one of safety.  Unfortunately, dementia can often interfere with a person’s reasoning and decision-making skills, and the person may lack insight into the potential problem.  However, when the discussion is presented as one of safety for themselves and loved ones, the conversation feels like less of an intrusion.

Once the barrier of having the discussion is breached, next is the matter of what should be done with firearms. Some may suggest simply locking up any guns in the home.  However, the Alzheimer’s Association advises that securing guns may not be enough, because a person with dementia may “misperceive danger” and force their entry into the safe or cabinet; therefore, removing guns from the home is a safer alternative.

Family members and professionals should use caution when removing firearms from a home and when advising individuals.  Many states allow the temporary transfer of a firearm to a family member without a background check but 7 states, including North Carolina, do not allow such transfers.  Individuals convicted of a felony are not allowed to have possession of a gun in any state, and states have strict laws about allowing the private sale of guns.  Some gun stores and ranges offer storage and transportation options.  If removing a firearm from a home is the option all parties feel to be appropriate, be sure to talk to an attorney about what options are available.

The issue about gun ownership and dementia is not one which has been highlighted or much explored given the publicity about other gun violence; nevertheless, it is an issue which exists and will likely increase with the aging population.  Early discussion and planning about how to manage gun ownership and dementia will increase the safety of all involved.

Ask Kit Kat – Feline Agility

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about feline agility competitions?

Kit Kat: Well, it’s rather new, but yes, felines can compete in agility competitions. Heretofore, it was thought felines would not cooperate, but that is so untrue. International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT) have gained some prominence after their appearance at the famed 2016 Westminster Dog Show. Cats were even noted in a NY Times article. According to ICAT, cats are a natural for agility—they can jump 6 times their height, can run up to 30 miles per hour, and have superb short-distance visual acuity.

The nice things about feline agility competitions is that participants do not have to be purebred. Your ordinary domestic shorthair can compete as well. According to Niki Feniak, a certified feline agility ringmaster from Hillside, NJ, a couple of domestic shorthairs won national awards this past season. She also says that a blind cat from a few years ago was a standout and completed an agility course in 32 seconds. “She followed the sound of her owner’s voice. The owner had taught her ‘up’ for when she wanted her to jump. It was amazing.”

Ideally, training for agility competitions should start early—ie., when the cat is a kitten. If the cat is older, he/she may need a little more coaxing, but as long as there is some reward at the end of the training session, older cats, too, can be taught to run and jump on command. The reward can be a nibble, but sometimes playing with a favorite toy like a feather on a string works quite well. If your cat seems to enjoy performing on command, more tips can be gleaned from checking out the websites and There are even some YouTube videos on the subject. Who knew feline agility had risen to this level? (Arna Cohen, “The cat jumped over the moon-Agility is not just for dogs anymore,” All Animals, September/October 2018, p. 32-33)

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Letha Sgritta McDowell

Attorney, Shareholder, CELA
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Letha Sgritta McDowell is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, long-term care planning, personal injury settlement consulting, guardianships & conservatorships, and tax law. Ms. McDowell’s clients range from high-net-worth individuals with over $75 million in net worth to families with limited assets.

Ms. McDowell is a past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and was named as a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trusts and Estates Council (“ACTEC”) in 2020. She is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation (“CELA”) and Board Certified as a specialist in Elder Law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Furthermore, McDowell is accredited to prepare and prosecute claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ms. McDowell is currently the chair of NAELA’s strategic planning committee, a member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Chapter of NAELA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. She is the former Chair of the North Carolina State Bar’s Elder Law Specialization Committee and is the former Editor-in-Chief of “Gray Matters”, the newsletter for the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. She is a consultant for InterActive Legal and has worked on several law and technology initiatives including IBM’s Watson project. Along with her experience practicing as an attorney, she has dedicated much of her time writing for national publications including, but not limited to: Wolters Kluwer,, the NAELA Journal, Trust & Estates Magazine and many more.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Special Needs Planning
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