What You Need to Know About Guns in Senior Living Communities

Keeping residents safe is a priority of retirement communities, whether this means having an emergency call system in all apartments or documenting all dispensed medication to reduce medication errors. These safety features are why many families elect to have their loved one join a retirement community rather than living alone. In keeping with this safety-focused culture, there is one policy that is nearly universal across the senior living industry. Though this policy means that a resident’s freedom is curtailed, its adoption maintains a safe environment for everyone at the community—residents, staff and families.

In spite of the debate calling for expanding the number of places that firearms are permitted, the senior living industry has already taken a position on the issue—weapons have no place at a retirement community.

“It just makes sense,” Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of Public Policy for the Assisted Living Federation of America, says of why the policy was adopted 15 years ago by the senior living industry. While communities want residents to have the same freedoms they enjoyed living on their own, “when you have people living in a congregate setting, we want to keep them safe,” she explains.

This no-weapons policy was one voluntarily adopted by retirement communities rather than being mandated by state requirements. For example, Pennsylvania statute 2600.108 states that “Firearms and weapons shall be contained in a locked cabinet in a place other than the residents’ room or in a common living area,” and “If a firearm, weapon or ammunition is the property of a resident, there shall be a written policy and procedures regarding the safety, access and use of firearms, weapons and ammunition. A resident may not take a firearm, weapon or ammunition out of the locked cabinet into living areas.”

In California, for all community care facilities regulated by the Department of Social Services, statute 80087(g)(1) states that “Storage areas for poisons, and firearms and other dangerous weapons shall be locked and (2) In lieu of locked storage of firearms, the licensee may use trigger locks or remove the firing pin.” However, in Texas, statute 92.125(b)(I) of the Resident’s Bill of Rights and Provider Bill of Rights states that a provider has a right to “maintain an environment free of weapons…”

The 2001 National Gun Policy Survey of the National Opinion Research Center: Research Findings reports that 37.2 percent of adults 65 and older had a gun in their household. Of their gun-carrying behavior, 48.6 percent said they carry for protection and 67.4 carry concealed.

So, what should you do when your parent, who is one of the 37.2 percent, is moving into a retirement community and wants to bring a firearm? First, ask the community whether the weapon is permitted.

Tim Marzec, vice president of operations-Community Integration for Senior Lifestyle Corporation, says his company doesn’t permit firearms in their communities, a policy decision that Vice President of Marking Jonathan Barbieri echoes is the same for Greenfield Senior Living. ”We have a no-weapons policy, even for collector weapons.”

If your parent carries a gun for protection, that should not be necessary at a retirement community. With 24-hour staffing, one of a retirement community’s benefits is built-in protection. If your parents have collector weapons they wish to bring, ask the community if this is allowed, as this might be permitted on a case-by-case basis. Residents should also alert family members that weapons are not permitted at the “community, a policy that is the same for staff.”

But is it really possible to prevent weapons from being smuggled into a community? Bersani acknowledges that “people will break [the rule] if they want to,” but there can be consequences if that happens, such as the community being cited for failing to secure a weapon or failing to protect their residents should something happen.

What the senior living industry fears happening isn’t a mass shooting, as has been the cases at schools and other public places. Instead, it’s a possible murder/suicide incident, such as one that happened last year in Indiana. Bersani says the industry has just started discussing this and recognizes the need to do a better job of empowering people with end of life decisions.

Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts.

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