Seniors now fastest growing gun-owning demographic

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Seniors are the fastest growing demographic at gun ranges according to the latest data and many of these seniors are driven by the need for personal protection.

The National Rifle Association says 22,739 people over 65 took basic firearm training courses from NRA-certified instructors in 2015, four times the number five years earlier. An NRA spokesman said the growth in that age category was much faster than the overall rate

Gun dealers around the country agreed that more seniors are showing up for lessons.

In Bay City, Mich., Glenn Duncan, owner of Duncan’s Outdoor Shop, estimated that at least a third of his students are senior citizens, compared with 10% five years ago. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group, estimates that the average age of people involved in target shooting with handguns rose to 42.4 in 2014 from 39.1 five years earlier.

Many dealers and older people around the country said personal safety was the priority. Knowing how to shoot gives older people  “a sense of security and safety,” said Rex Gore, owner of Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, who has had students as old as 95. “It’s a great equalizer in this crazy world we live in.”

There are other factors at work in the sudden rise in seniors taking up arms.

Demand from seniors is one reason the U.S. gun business is booming. In the three months through February, criminal background checks related to gun purchases were up 29% from a year earlier, according to the shooting sports foundation. Aside from concerns about crime and terrorism, fear of an eventual regulatory crackdown on gun ownership is driving some of the demand, gun dealers say. Sales at Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. , one of the biggest U.S. gun makers, jumped 62% in the quarter ended Jan. 31, and its stock price has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

Dave Campbell, 62, who was an editor for an NRA publication before retiring to a rural home near Powell, Wyo., said he got started teaching the elderly about guns because an older woman at his church asked him for lessons. The stress is on safety, Mr. Campbell said, and he keeps expectations in check: “You’re not going to turn these people into SEAL team operators.”

Rising demand from seniors shows that “life has changed. Law enforcement agencies can’t protect everyone,” said Mr. Duncan of Duncan’s Outdoor Shop. He said seniors also show up because they’re looking for hobbies; target shooting doesn’t require as much mobility as golf or tennis.

Seniors may also be concerned that President Obama recently used information from the Social Security Administration to deny guns to seniors.