Dementia and guns could make for dangerous mix


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William Bailey of Wilco Defense explains safe gun handling to Joy Hines at the recent Brevard Association of Human Services program on dementia and guns.

MARIA SONNENBERG

When William Bailey’s grandfather was in the last chapter of his life, among the many health issues plaguing him was dementia. In his younger years, he had owned guns. So, as his health deteriorated, Bailey’s family asked him for help in finding and disposing of guns in the house.

“We figured he might have five or 10 guns, but we ended up finding 32,” said Bailey, a security manager and consultant for Wilco Defense, a Merritt Island-based elite security company that focuses on security services, including the prevention of workplace violence.

Bailey’s grandfather was bedridden, but many individuals with memory disorders are ambulatory.

“They may be suffering from memory loss, personality changes and impaired reasoning,” said Bailey, who discussed the issue of dementia and guns at the July meeting of the Brevard Association of Human Services.

Coupling dementia with access to guns makes for a recipe for tragedy, as meeting attendee Megan Guy of Salus Assisted Living will tell you.

Guy recalls a patient who, before moving to a West Melbourne facility, had found a gun at home and shot his wife. Fortunately, the woman survived.

The reality is that whether we like it or not, guns are part of many homes. Bailey asked for a show of hands of gun owners at the meeting. Half the room raised theirs, but no one did when Bailey next asked if anyone knew the four basic rules for safe gun handling (which, by the way, are to consider all guns as loaded, never let the muzzle point at anything you are not willing to destroy, keep your fingers off the trigger until your sights are on the target and identify what is behind your target).

Florida, ranked third for the number of cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s, also has a 32.5 percent gun ownership rate. For caregivers and health care providers of mentally impaired individuals who might have a firearm in the house, Bailey recommended taking advantage of risk protection legislation enacted last year.

“Contact your local law enforcement office and explain the situation and, usually within 24 hours, they will work to have the firearms removed,” he said.

To get the firearms removed requires a court order under Chapter 790.401 of 2018 Florida Statutes  Risk Protection Order.

“The process is initiated with your local police,” Bailey said. “The police would then file a petition and the court would decide. It’s a process.”

Tod Goodyear, the Brevard County Sheriff’s public information officer, said that having dementia or Alzheimer’s is not a reason to ask for someone’s guns to be taken away.

“There has to be some kind of action to make us believe that the person is a risk,” Goodyear said. “It has to be something like threatening someone.”

Goodyear said that if that happened the Sheriff’s Office would follow the statutes and file a petition with the court.

“At that point, it would be up to the judge to decide,” he said.

The judge’s order to remove the guns from someone who has threatened someone else or threatened to harm him or herself would be temporary. After 14 days, a hearing would be held to make a permanent decision of whether to return the firearm to the owner.

If ever faced with a situation involving mentally impaired individuals and guns, Bailey strongly recommends not playing the hero and trying to diffuse the situation.

“Once it hits that level, you need to get out of there,” he said. 

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