With a bullet in her gut, her voice choked with pain, Dee Hill pleaded with the 911 dispatcher for help.
“My husband accidentally shot me,” Hill, 75, of The Dalles, Oregon, groaned on the May 16, 2015, call. “In the stomach, and he can’t talk, please …”
Less than 4 feet away, Hill’s husband, Darrell Hill, a former local police chief and two-term county sheriff, sat in his wheelchair with a discharged Glock handgun on the table in front of him, unaware he’d nearly killed his wife of almost 57 years.
The 76-year-old lawman had been diagnosed two years earlier with a form of rapidly progressive dementia, a disease that quickly stripped him of reasoning and memory.
“He didn’t understand,” said Dee, who needed 30 pints of blood, three surgeries and seven weeks in the hospital to survive her injuries.
As America copes with an epidemic of gun violence that kills 96 people each day, there has been vigorous debate about how to prevent people with mental illness from acquiring weapons. But a little-known problem is what to do about the vast cache of firearms in the homes of aging Americans with impaired or declining mental faculties.
Darrell Hill, who died in 2016, was among the estimated 9 percent of Americans 65 and older diagnosed with dementia, a group of terminal diseases marked by mental decline and personality changes. Many, like the Hills, are gun owners and supporters of Second Amendment rights. Forty-five percent of people 65 and older have guns in their household, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.
But no one tracks the potentially deadly intersection of those groups.