In 1950, Americans couldn’t get enough of the hit Technicolor musical Annie Get Your Gun. Sixty years later, “Granny, get your gun!” might be more common to hear around town.
As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, gun ownership and usage among senior citizens has risen dramatically over the past five years.
Over 22,000 people aged 65 and older took basic firearm training courses from NRA-certified instructors in 2015, reported an NRA spokesman. That number is four times greater than it was five years ago and represents a significantly higher growth rate than the overall average.
Wall Street Journal reporters accompanied residents of the Austintown Senior Center on one of their recent trips to the gun range. One member of the group, 63-year-old Phyllis Engler, a recently retired physical education teacher, was pleased with her debut. “I have arthritis in my shoulder so it was hard holding [the pistol] out, but I think with practice I’ll be fine.”
She planned to buy a pistol and apply for a concealed-carry permit. She had a message for criminals: “They better not mess with the women of Austintown.”
The WSJ also spoke with gun store owners around the country to get a sense of why senior citizens are purchasing more firearms: “Many dealers and older people around the country said personal safety was the priority,” the article reported.
According to the owner of Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, knowing how to shoot gives older people, “a sense of security and safety. It’s a great equalizer in this crazy world we live in.”
Miles Hall, owner of H&H Shooting in Oklahoma City, agreed: “Today’s buyers are scared,” he said.
Personal defense isn’t the only concern. Older Americans, like the rest of the country, fear that federal regulations will prohibit firearm purchasing in the future. Target shooting—a hobby without the physical demands of golf or tennis—is an additional motivation.
But not everyone believes senior citizens have business at the range.
David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at Harvard University, said “the evidence is pretty strong that [owning a gun] isn’t going to help you” because shooting an intruder or assailant is difficult. “Your heart starts beating like crazy,” he said. “If they’re running at you, you have half a second or something.”
What did Hemenway recommend instead? “Get a dog, get a good lock, get good neighbors, get a cellphone,” he said.
Hemenway wasn’t clear whether seniors should beat their assailants with the cellphone or use it to play solitaire while they wait for the police to arrive. Either way, Hemenway clearly doesn’t believe seniors can be trusted with a firearm in a life-threatening situation.
The distinguished Harvard professor may be surprised to learn that seniors can—and do–learn how to use their firearms safely and effectively. The Austintown shooting club provides a great example, as does Stephen Eyler, who, after purchasing a Glock for himself and his wife, immediately signed up for shooting lessons.
The Eylers purchased their firearms because they worried about random shootings, people with mental problems and “radicals,” Mr. Eyler said: “You see it on the news almost every day.”
Owning a firearm gives the Eylers a way to defend themselves and, unlike Prof. Hemenway’s recommendation, ensures they won’t be victims in an encounter with a criminal.
(Editor’s note: This article was a submission from freelance writer Jordan Michaels.)