We agree that dementia patients should not have firearms. Federal law going back to 1938 prohibits the possession of firearms by people determined to present a danger to themselves or others. This is a good law.
Sounds like a blessing on red flag laws, doesn’t it? There is only one problem: the determination must be made following due process. A finding in a court or a determination by a board of competent authority is required before a person’s rights can be circumscribed.
This is why I, and the NRA and most gun owners, think a better approach is to include the patient in the process rather than springing it on them with an early-morning visit from police. One incident resulted in the unnecessary death of an individual. Police knocked on the man’s door about 5:30 AM. The wary homeowner had a gun when he answered the door and he was shot and killed by police.
Once a diagnosis is made, an irrevocable power of attorney executed by the patient could, and probably should, include consent to a search of the premises and directions for disposal of the removed firearms. Federal law allows some flexibility in the case of a bequest and it’s possible that the existing law could be adapted to what amounts to a bequest, since there is no expectation the guns were be returned.
To be honest, if the person is a sufficient threat to be dangerous with a gun, they are likely to be dangerous with other items, as well. At that point, it might be wisest simply to take the person into custody for observation and evaluation by mental health professionals.
Outside of dubious constitutionality, this is where the whole red flag issue goes completely off the rails. The myopic focus on firearms ignores the fact that the person’s mental state poses a danger. Leaving a person who might become violent with a houseful of knives is stupid. It’s a lot like leaving a person at immediate risk of suicide in a houseful of belts, extension cords, pantyhose and other things that can be used with equal effect.
Right now, the process is adversarial. While it might be appropriate in cases of abuse or stalking, it is less appropriate in the context of addressing the declining mental incapacity of the elderly.
The family also needs to be counseled. They need to be given an understanding of the impact of their desired action on their family member.
This can be a huge blow to a person. They are, in essence, forced to confront their own mortality and the fact that they are unable to participate in the manner to which they have been accustomed for decades. In cases of a man accustomed to fulfilling the traditional male role in society, it can be seen as a repudiation. Support and care is vital.
This is why a blunt instrument such as the emergency protective orders currently in vogue are so bad.