Three years ago, Darrell Hill, 76, a former Oregon police chief and county sheriff, nearly killed his wife of almost 57 years by shooting her accidentally. The lawman had been diagnosed with a form of rapidly progressive dementia, which quickly stripped him of reasoning and memory. As the U.S. copes with an epidemic of gun violence that kills 96 people daily, there has been vigorous debate about how to prevent people with mental illness from acquiring weapons. A little-known problem is what to do about the vast cache of firearms in the homes of aging Americans with impaired or declining mental faculties, reports Kaiser Health News.
Hill, who died in 2016, was among the 9 percent of Americans 65 and older diagnosed with dementia. Many are gun owners and supporters of Second Amendment rights. Forty-five percent of people 65 and older have guns in their household, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. No one tracks the potentially deadly intersection of those groups. Kaiser Health News uncovered dozens of cases across the U.S. in which people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others. From news reports, court records, hospital data and public death records, Kaiser found 15 homicides and more than 60 suicides since 2012, although there are likely many more. The shooters often acted during bouts of confusion, paranoia, delusion or aggression — common symptoms of dementia. They killed people closest to them, such as their caretaker, wife, son or daughter. They shot at people they happened to encounter — a mailman, a police officer, a train conductor. At least four men with dementia who brandished guns were fatally shot by police. In cases where charges were brought, many assailants were deemed incompetent to stand trial.