Can Doctors Prevent Firearm Suicides by the Elderly?

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Doctors should make gun safety a “routine” part of their health care for older adults suffering from dementia and related illnesses, according to an expert in geriatrics.

Writing in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, Katherine Galluzzi, a geriatrics professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, warned that the lack of regulations allowing the removal of firearms from vulnerable populations has made gun-related suicides a persistent threat to the elderly.

“Until those laws are enacted, the responsibility to address gun safety in this at-risk population of older adults must fall to their physicians,” Galluzzi and co-author Ilene Warner-Maron wrote.

“Thus, discussions regarding gun safety must be viewed by physicians as a routine part of health care for vulnerable populations.”

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  older adults commit suicide at a disproportionately higher rate compared to the general population. Men aged 65 and over are more likely to commit suicide than Americans of all other age groups, and three-quarters of them use a gun.

The researchers noted that the absence of a clear legal framework for removing access to firearms owned by older adults with dementia, disability, or psychiatric illness adds to the danger.

They recommended that physicians use a screening tool such as the proposed gun safety checklist for clinicians on a daily basis for at-risk patients. The checklist assesses for “red flags” and gun ownership.

Tara Sklar, a health law professor at the University of Arizona, proposed using “red flag” laws as a solution to suicide among older adults.  Advocates prefer describing them as  Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), to avoid what they is a stigmatizing reference.

ERPOs allow law enforcement and, in eight states, family or household members to file a petition for a court order to temporarily remove a person’s access to guns when they show “red flags” in exhibiting dangerous behavior.

More than 30 states have introduced or plan to introduce ERPOs laws, This year, a study found such laws in Connecticut and Indiana have helped prevent gun-involved suicides among older adults. The authors specifically found a nearly 14 percent reduction in suicides with a gun in Connecticut since 2007.

The full report of the current article can be found here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a contributing writer for The Crime Report

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