Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, along with colleagues from the Rocky Mountain Veteran Affairs Medical Center, launched a website today to support adult firearm owners and their families when making decisions about what to do with their firearms in the future. The Firearm Life Plan is a free, anonymous website empowering users to make voluntary, private decisions about what to do with their firearms as they age.
“We knew from prior research and our own experiences with patients and families that adjusting to aging-related changes can require hard decisions that affect autonomy, identity and social connections. Guidelines and resources are available for thinking about when it’s time to “hang up the keys” to the car. But when we talked with families about firearm decisions, we heard from them that there aren’t great resources available to guide planning,” said Emmy Betz, MD, professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative, which is housed in the Colorado School of Public Health.
The Firearm Life Plan was created after spending more than a year with focus groups and interviews of over 100 firearm owners, families and other stakeholders. The team discovered that even the most responsible firearm owners often don’t think about what should happen to their firearms when they can no longer use them – whether through death, loss of independence or other life events. The Firearm Life Plan aims to support that planning process.
Resources for firearm owners
“The site has a variety of resources that a person can download and complete on paper or on their own computer – it’s something they share only with those they want. We don’t keep a copy of them. The documents themselves aren’t legally binding, but we do suggest that people consider talking with their attorneys about including them in their estate planning or wills,” Betz said.
In addition to a printable firearm inventory template that allows an individual to list each firearm and what they would like done with it, the site also offers resources to assist families or friends in identifying when it might be time to initiate planning conversations, as well as suggestions regarding ways to make these conversations easier. The team said there are several red flags that could indicate that an individual may no longer be able to practice proper firearm safety and it may be time to enact the plan.
“Generally, it’s the things you need to be able to do in order to handle a firearm safely – like physical abilities (strength, coordination, sight), cognitive abilities (thinking, memory, judgment), and mental state. Alterations in any of those areas could cause a problem – examples include weakness in a hand, confusion, depression or agitation,” Betz said.
Approaching these issues with a loved one can be incredibly sensitive. During the focus groups, the team discovered both firearm owners and their families have difficulty navigating these waters.
“Older adult firearm owners expressed that they appreciated the opportunity to have a discussion about planning for a time when it may be necessary to limit access to or no longer use firearms. Through these discussions with peers, they realized that there were more details to address than they had originally anticipated. While owners expected trusted individuals to tell them ‘when it was time,’ we heard from families and friends that there is a reticence to broach this topic,” said Kathryn Nearing, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at CU School of Medicine.
The site offers advice and tips on how to create a bridge so that it’s easier for families to approach these topics.
“I think it’s important to show respect and acknowledge the identity and history of the person, while also citing particular concerns. It could be something like, “Dad, you taught me how to shoot and I love our yearly hunting trips. But I’m worried that your worsening eyesight could cause problems in the future. Can we talk about what you would want to do with your guns, if things get worse?” Betz said.
At the end of the day, the team said they found that owners and their care partners want the same thing-to preserve a legacy and maintain the value of safety that accompanies firearm ownership.
“Older adult firearm owners we spoke with explained that firearms can have historical, sentimental, monetary and practical value. Components of the firearm life plan are intended to help firearm owners specify their preferences, as well as the value, meaning and importance of individual firearms,” she added.
The Firearm Life Plan Website is available here: https://firearmlifeplan.org/.