Redflagging a sibling
September 26, 2023 12:30 PM   Subscribe

My brother has come into possession of a pair of handguns. I'm extremely concerned that his temper and impulsivity will lead to a dangerous situation. How can I express this to him in a way that will make him re-think this decision to keep these guns in his home?

My dad died earlier this year and left behind a large cache of firearms. These legally belong to me and my older brother through inheritance, and they were all licensed and legal. We have sorted out his physical belongings and sold the majority of the guns to a dealer. In the will, my dad specified that two particular handguns would go my brother. He has never owned firearms before and does not have any experience with them, but he decided to keep them and is filing the paperwork to ensure that they are registered legally to him. He says he plans to take a class to learn how to properly use and store them. For now they are unloaded (we sold all of the ammo in my dad's possession) and in a locked box in my brother's home, where he lives with his twentysomething daughter, my niece.

I am very concerned about this situation. I do not think my brother should have access to guns in his home. If he wanted to go to a firing range and shoot guns, fine, but I don't think he is the kind of person who should have them accessible in his home. Our mom (divorced from our dad for decades before he passed) expressed to me that she is also concerned about this. My brother has always had a temper. I grew up with him throwing things at me, destroying things like video game controllers or computer disks because he got frustrated with playing a game, or coming close to hitting me but pulling back at the last second. All over relatively trivial frustrations, from what I remember. We have a good relationship now as adults, but I have always suspected that he acted like that to his wife when they were married (once he had hurt his hand and claimed that a bookshelf fell on it, but I noticed a hole in the wall in their apartment around the same time). My niece has confided in me that she is scared of him when he scolds her or loses his temper at her. I knew exactly how scary he could be and it hurt my heart that he had done that to her as well. I am terrified that he could lose his temper and use a gun to menace her, or worse.

I am also concerned with my niece potentially having access to these guns. She has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation in the past. She lives with my brother because her mother is physically and emotionally abusive. She works but does not make enough to live on her own yet. I told my brother he needs to make sure to have the guns secured in a safe that she cannot access, and he agreed to that.

My brother does not have any kind of mental health history or arrest records that would preclude gun ownership, although he does live in a state that has a red flag law. My mom and I could potentially invoke this to have the guns removed from his possession, but I fear that would spell the end of our relationship. While my family has struggled with his temper in the past, we are all on good terms now. However, the precipitating event to this question was my brother becoming visibly upset and going from 0-60 in anger at my mom over a relatively minor comment at dinner the other night. Immediately after that was when my mom shared her concerns with me, which confirmed what I'd already been thinking.

I love my brother but I do not trust him with these guns at all. I am afraid to bring this up to him because he could lash out and cause irreparable damage to our relationship. If I do say something I will make sure to do it somewhere other than at his home where the guns are currently located, but I still don't think he'll take this well. I'm not worried that he will carry these guns with him regularly or premeditate anything, it's his unpredictability and impulsiveness when he's angry that I worry about. And it doesn't take that much to set him off. This is just a horrible situation waiting to happen and I feel helpless. How can I convince my brother to either sell these guns or keep them somewhere else other than at home? He was closer to our dad than I was and I think he feels a certain attachment to them because it was one of the only things that Dad had specified in the will that he wanted him to have. My dad knew about my brother's temper and I am so angry at him for putting us in this situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, it doesn't sound like you can tell him he's not an appropriate owner.

Maybe talk about cool gun safe technology? And how gun ownership is such a big responsibility vis a vis young people and depressed people? Sounds like you've been doing that, but like maybe show him a catalog of safes? They really do have cool tech for gun safes.

There are also commercial gun lockers where you can store your guns, at least in my town there are, and that's an excellent option for folks who rent their homes (i.e. can't be bolting gun safes to the floor) or don't want to give up their closet space etc. It's a great way to reduce the possibility of accidents or impulse tragedies. Maybe you can suggest it as if it's a solution for the logistical challenge of safe acquisition? The supply chain on gun safes IS actually rough right now, with several-month waits, so maybe research what your town has and suggest locker storage as a short term solution "while he figures out what safe he wants to get and in case it takes a while to arrive" and hopefully he'll just leave them there?
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:37 PM on September 26 [6 favorites]

Is there anyone else who can have this discussion with him or at least broach the subject? A pastor or similar? I'm thinking of someone he will likely listen to but is also not directly part of the family dynamic.

This individual may also be able to serve as an entry point to your brother getting some help for the anger.
posted by jquinby at 12:43 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]

What about drug usage? Federal law prohibits anyone who is a habitual user of, or is addicted to, any narcotic or other illegal substance, from possessing firearms. Under federal law, there's no such thing as legal marijuana; the last ATF guidance I heard said that any pot usage in the past year is an automatic disqualifier from firearm ownership.

What about your niece? Is she a felon, drug user, or otherwise unable to own firearms? If so, he's legally obligated to keep the firearms in a safe where she can't access them, and may simply be unable to have them at all depending on your state's laws.
posted by Hatashran at 12:48 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]

Depending on the type of firearm, there are pieces/parts that one can store separately, lack of which renders them non-operable, and are difficult to replace. Perhaps you can raise that for your niece’s safety and removing potential for self-harm that they be kept separate, like in a safe deposit box, or with you. Even if the parts are serialized many states have exceptions to firearm transfer laws for purposes of preventing harm. Easy enough to retrieve to go to the range, the gun is still in his possession (for the most part) as a sentimental item, but practically out of reach for impulsive action.

Gunsmiths can also make firearms nonfunctional if the sentimental aspect is the bulk of it for him, but I can see how this would be a more difficult possibility to raise.

To be honest I think a lot of this is about framing and availability in *your* mind. Before these firearms came into his possession, he was only at most ten days and a few hundred dollars away from being in the same position, and you’d be none the wiser. I know that’s not really much relief, but consider that he hasn’t done anything to obtain guns before, despite presumably having them in the household before. While it’s definitely an orange flag, there is *some* distance between breaking things and having a short fuse, and deadly force.

You could also go the mitigation route and get your brother good firearms instruction. Some safety-first discipline around them might help him respect their destructive potential and put up some guardrails in his mind. Not all instruction created equal of course, and it’s hard to find the good stuff (i.e. not catering to or run by retired or off-duty cops).
posted by supercres at 1:10 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]

Here's a possible approach: Research gun safety courses, shooting ranges, and gun safes. Share some of this information with him in a completely friendly way, and try to make taking a gun safety course together, and doing some target practice at the range, into a positive sibling activity -- perhaps a way to remember your dad together.

Ideally this will be the kind of course in which the instructor strongly recommends the use of a gun safe in the home. And/or ideally you could find a range that allows people to store their weapons securely at the range, instead of in the home.

The stats on how much having a gun in the home increases the chances of people in that home dying by gunshot are extremely sobering. It would be great if that information could be conveyed to him by someone other than you. Maybe you can set an example here.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:11 PM on September 26 [7 favorites]

> We have a good relationship now as adults, but I have always suspected that he acted like that to his wife when they were married (once he had hurt his hand and claimed that a bookshelf fell on it, but I noticed a hole in the wall in their apartment around the same time).

Is there a possibility that his ex wife can report him now for domestic violence (if she did not already do so back when it happened)? I know it's a really long shot but there are states where he wouldn't be allowed to own a gun if he's found guilty of a misdemeanor (not necessarily a felony DV charge).

I do not make this suggestion lightly. I know the chances of a conviction are low and the barriers and costs to reporting are very high.

So why am I suggesting it?

Because your niece TOLD YOU that she's scared of her father.

And he has a long history of domestic violence.

And now he has a whole bunch of firearms in the house.

This is a five alarm situation. This is the reason why domestic violence related restrictions on gun ownership exist, you will be using these laws exactly as intended. It is not an overreaction or too extreme. It is "just right". The only concern in proceeding with this plan is the safety of his ex wife (I do not suggest his daughter report him, the danger to her is too high). If there is a reasonable level of safety for the ex, e.g. she lives far away and doesn't know her contact details, this is well worth considering on the basis of your niece's fears.

Regardless of whether the ex wife is willing to report him and press charges, regardless of whether you are willing to go with the plan above, you must please sit down with your niece and help her make a plan to move out ASAP, as well as an emergency safety plan in the meantime. She should not live in a house where she is scared of being murdered by her dad. She should not live in a house where she is scared of being murdered by her dad. That is not normal or acceptable in any way. She deserves a safe living situation, she's literally missing the entire foundation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs! I cannot overstate how urgent her safety planning is.
posted by MiraK at 1:11 PM on September 26 [16 favorites]

Maybe talk with your niece and ask if you could bring up her depression as a reason to store the guns at your house. If she's okay with it, lean in to the risk of suicide going up when there's a gun in the house and you're worried about your niece. That it would be safer to store the guns offsite at your house or a range and you'd be glad to meet up if he wants to go target shooting. It keeps you from having to bring up his temper as a reason but it's still a valid point to keep the guns out of the house.
posted by stray thoughts at 1:15 PM on September 26 [9 favorites]

I think that your only viable approach here is to focus exclusively on the danger to his daughter. If your brother had the emotional maturity and self-awareness to be receptive to the argument that he's not a safe person to own these guns, you probably wouldn't have these concerns in the first place. But he might be able to hear that having guns in the house is too dangerous for a person who has struggled with suicidal ideation.

If you try this argument and he agrees in principle but feels that the guns are personally meaningful to him, perhaps they can be mounted or displayed in a way that renders them ineffective as actual firearms.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:16 PM on September 26 [22 favorites]

OP, the more I think about this the more I realize: your goal should not be to take the guns away from your brother - it's super unlikely you will convince him to give them up and any involuntary seizure of his guns is extremely unlikely and will take far too long for practical purposes.

I think your goal should be to get everyone else safely away from him and his guns and his temper in general.

So please ignore the first half of my comment above (reporting the guy for DV) and focus solely on helping your niece to get out, and any other siblings, and perhaps animals too if you've ever had reason to suspect he takes it out on the family dog. Your niece's safety is a real emergency. She is in fear for her life. Please take that extremely seriously.

Can you help her talk your brother into giving her a little financial support so she can move out? Maybe pitch it as her learning to be independent and learning to stand on her feet and how if he can just help her out in the beginning, get her started, then she'll be off running on her own soon enough. It'll be good for her. It'll teach her to be responsible and build character. You know the spiel. Whatever you need to say, say it and help her get out of there.

If your brother has a significant other, consider warning them discreetly, perhaps by asking casual questions about whether your brother still has his silly old temper, haha, and sigh, he has such a good and true soul but sometimes it can feel a bit scary to be around him, don't they think? Oh nothing *truly* dangerous, of course, he he's a good steady soul. But they know what you mean, right..? Test the waters, slowly draw them out, and then maybe offer something like: if they ever feel like they need to get out of the house for an hour or two, well, they can give you a call anytime, day or night. Because he's your brother. You know how he can get. Best to give him some room if he's in a mood, hehe.
posted by MiraK at 1:32 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]

I think that your only viable approach here is to focus exclusively on the danger to his daughter.

I agree with this. I mean obviously better to get the daughter out of the house, but if you can't, I think the best move is to pull something like "You're a man, you protect your daughter by getting these guns out until she's feeling better." And then she just never is enough for them to go back. He won't listen to you about his own temper. People with tempers like that never do.
posted by corb at 1:41 PM on September 26 [5 favorites]

Are the firearms something of a red herring that are bringing these issues to a head? if it’s a 100% emergency to get your niece out of the house now for fear of violence from your brother, it was a 98% emergency before. This isn’t a “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument, it’s an argument for not downplaying the potential for any violence, firearm or fists, if it’s been a consistent factor in the home. No question that weapons amplify the potential consequences though.
posted by supercres at 1:44 PM on September 26 [10 favorites]

If you are considering using your state's red flag law, you should make sure you understand what it can do and can not do. For example, in California, what you are doing is filing a temporary gun violence restraining order (GVRO) The judge may issue a temporary GVRO when there is a “substantial likelihood” that the subject “poses a significant danger of harm to self or others in the near future by having access to a firearm.” Temporary GVRO petitions are typically decided on the same day they are filed and may be in effect for up to 21 days. Before the 21 days expire, you can petition for a longer GVRO that could last from 1-5 years.

The first point is that you would have to demonstrate substantial likelihood of significant danger to a judge. I don't know what this standard means in real life but you would want to think through the probability of convincing the judge before you can decide if it would be worth antagonizing your brother over this. If you are still seriously considering this route, you might want to contact a local domestic violence organization for advice.

The second is that the initial GVRO only lasts for 21 days in California. The assumption is that this gives people time to start to deal with underlying problem with the guns out of the way. It can be extended but you would need to meet a high bar to make your case and your brother would be able to defend himself.

I'm not saying don't do it but I just don't want you to start down that path and then find out that you blew up your relationship for something that wasn't even going to accomplish your goal.
posted by metahawk at 1:52 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately I also don’t see a path here where you personally convince him not to keep the guns at home. If there is someone else on the family whose opinion about guns he values and who agrees with you about guns in this home being unsafe, trying to enlist that person to make the pitch would be the thing I would try in your shoes.

Otherwise, I would focus on helping his daughter find a path out of the house. I might also consider setting a personal boundary for yourself that you won’t go to his home while the guns are there / not safely stored / whatever your personal line in the sand is. But you’ll have to decide how big a rift that would cause and how worried you are being in his home next time he gets incredibly angry with ready access to a gun.
posted by Stacey at 1:53 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]

In this situation, if I were you (but also me), I would:
1) find a reasonably priced gun range/storage place in your town that ALSO offers safely and shooting classes
2) sign *both* of you up, so that you're involved the process
3) advocate to storing the guns at the range, because it's more convenient to where you guys are doing stuff

This of course requires you to be willing to take this on, which is a big ask, even a non-starter for a lot of people. I get that and it's an understandable position to take.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:00 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]

> Are the firearms something of a red herring that are bringing these issues to a head?

Sure sounds like it to me. The guns certainly escalate the danger wildly but the danger seems to have been always there. OP, gently, you have been ignoring the fact that your brother is a domestic abuser. It can be hard to confront these truths and hard to know what to do, but at least now you are confronting it. Good for you. Take steps to protect your niece!
posted by MiraK at 2:03 PM on September 26 [5 favorites]

I am also concerned with my niece potentially having access to these guns. She has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation in the past.

Consider this as an inside track to speak to him about being concerned about guns in the house. DO NOT suggest that he might be the problem.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:32 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]

You could offer to cover the cost of having the guns rendered inoperable and mounted on a plaque or stand, effectively turning them into harmless decor. He could keep the sentimental connection with your father without having a dangerous weapon in the house.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:33 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]

Use your resources to help the twenty-something move out and get established, away from him. Everything else is a distraction.
posted by fritley at 2:59 PM on September 26 [13 favorites]

In my personal experience, each time a woman has ever told me that she is afraid of a man she lives with, it’s because he was beating her up pretty routinely. Neice needs to move out.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:01 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]

3) advocate to storing the guns at the range,

Depending on where you live, this may not be an actual option. It certainly isn't here, and I don't think it was in the last places I've lived, either. But if it is an option, I agree that it would increase safety in this situation.

I suspect that the only way he might actually hear and listen to the concerns is over the daughter's safety given her past history of suicidal ideation. Secure storage in an actual safe (not one of those quick-access pistol boxes that are usually easy to pick; I followed a helpful YouTube video the time I needed to pick one), with ammunition locked up separately (or ideally, not kept on the premises at all) would probably be the best realistic outcome here.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:49 PM on September 26

Is the niece under 18 years old? Would she be allowed to leave? If this dad is the better of two options....where else is she gonna go?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:20 PM on September 26

jenfullmoon, OP said the niece is 20-something years old, has a job but doesn't make enough to live on her own.
posted by MiraK at 4:23 PM on September 26

I encourage you to listen to the Last Day podcast episode Everyone out here is armed. The host interviews a Montana gun advocate whose son died by suicide in his home. The advocate continues to keep guns in the home.

The stat offered in the podcast is that over the last 10 years, 86% of all firearm deaths in Montana are by suicide. The risk identified by the posters above cannot be overstated. If the niece feels unsafe and has mental health issues she should be offered alternative housing. Can anyone in the family take her in or help subsidize her living expenses?
posted by shock muppet at 4:33 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]

Just to add a resource to the above advice, if you're in the US:

"Hold My Guns’ mission is to connect responsible firearm owners with voluntary, private off-site storage options, through our national network of partnering gun shops and FFLs, during times of mental health crisis or personal need."
posted by Chrysalis at 5:28 PM on September 26 [6 favorites]

I am also concerned with my niece potentially having access to these guns. She has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation in the past.

I agree that this is likely your best path. Could you bring up your concerns about your niece, and then offer to hold on to the guns until she's doing better (but ideally doing better won't happen until she's out of the house)?

And honestly, if he did agree to this, I would personally take the guns and have them made inoperable, and then give it back to him when he asks. This might be the end of your relationship, so maybe it's not worth it to you.

If there's any way to get your niece out of there, please do that. This sounds like a scary situation. Try talking to DV shelters in your niece's area.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:05 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]

This isn't your decision to make, and you are correct - it will likely damage your relationship with him if you bring it up. There is no ammo there now. Since he doesn't sound comfortable using a gun, perhaps he'll leave them where they are and simply keep them as keepsakes. If he ever becomes legally not qualified to own a gun, THEN you can report him or whatever his state deems the correct action. Until then, I'd keep my thoughts to myself.
posted by summerstorm at 10:00 PM on September 26 [5 favorites]

Is the niece in any sort of therapy or ongoing medical care? If so, please encourage her to indicate to her care team that there are firearms in the home.

I have told my therapist, "I own a firearm, this is what it is and how and where it is stored, if I say anything in a session that alarms you, please red flag my ass. That's just part of responsible ownership."

It could also be a route through to Brother. He's not going to want to hear about his temper, but he may want to hear about safe storage (lock the guns, if any ammo is purchased lock it up separately) and potentially rendering the firearms inoperable.
posted by champers at 3:01 AM on September 27

I agree with Metahawk. To continue with the example from the California state process, this is what you need to prove to the judge in order to get the order:

"You will need to present facts to show that the person to be restrained is dangerous. This could be information about any threat of violence that the person to be restrained
has made, any violent incident in which the person has been involved, or any crime of violence the person has committed. It could also be evidence that the person to be restrained has violated a protective order or abuses controlled substances or alcohol. It could also be evidence of the unlawful and reckless use, display, or brandishing of
a firearm or the recent acquisition of a firearm. Or it could be evidence that the person to be restrained has been identified by a mental health provider as someone prohibited from purchasing, possessing or controlling any firearms."

The judge will be concerned about demonstrable immediate threats. They aren't going to care about something that happened when you were kids, something you suspect might have happened years ago, or a verbal argument unless it contained a threat.

I understand that you're concerned about your brother and niece, but that is definitely not the route to take. You wouldn't be successful and you would just drive a wedge between you and your brother, which would be a shame since you say you have a good relationship.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 7:14 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

Focus on the neice. Not the guns, your brother could always get more guns, legally or illegally. His interest in guns is 100% his choice. But if the niece is unsafe now, and:guns in the home would make her more unsafe, she should be your focus.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on September 27 [5 favorites]

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