Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Firearms Theft in Australia

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Firearms Theft in Australia

Article excerpt

A total of 25,171 firearms were reported stolen to police in Australia between 1994 and 2000. This equates to an average of about 12 firearms reported stolen per day. The majority of firearms reported stolen are rifles (51%), followed by shotguns (21%) and handguns (14%). Most firearms are reported stolen from a residential premise (81%). Currently there are over two million registered firearms in Australia and, annually, less than one per cent are reported stolen to police. This means that, on average, over 4,000 legal firearms are stolen annually in Australia and, most importantly, there is the possibility that at least some of these are being transferred into the illegitimate firearms market. Over the six-year period examined there has been a decline in the number of firearms reported stolen, suggesting vigilance of firearms owners in securing their firearms, making them less accessible to thieves. The findings of this paper re-emphasise the need for policy to focus on reducing the number of firearms stolen, and for further research on identifying the sources of firearms used in crime in Australia. Adam Graycar


Firearm regulation schemes - such as the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) introduced across all Australian states and territories in May 1996 - control the legitimate or authorised market for firearms by limiting access to firearms to persons deemed "responsible". However, restrictions on the legitimate ownership and availability of firearms may open up new opportunities for criminals by making illegal firearms more lucrative. In theory, there are three major illegal sources of firearms: theft, smuggling, and illicit manufacturing (Dandurand 1998). This paper focuses on the theft of firearms in Australia.

Since the firearms reforms of 1996, persons may be unlikely to report a firearm stolen if they are not licensed to own that firearm, or if the firearm was not registered. In other words, a firearm owner - for fear of repercussions - may not report the theft of a firearm if its possession is deemed an offence. This is considered a major limitation in attempting to accurately quantify the number of firearms stolen in Australia. The figures presented in this report are based on the number of firearms reported stolen to police services across Australia between 1 July 1994 and 30 June 2000 (effectively excluding unreported thefts).

Purpose of the Report

Reports about firearms theft appear now and then in the media, especially when it is of a large quantity or of high-powered firearms. Media reporting of such incidents may have raised concerns that the new restrictions on lawfully obtaining firearms may have led to increased theft against legitimate owners. The Australian Institute of Criminology, through its National Firearms Monitoring Program, aims to provide the factual information required to determine the current situation in relation to the theft of firearms in Australia. In brief, the purposes of this report are:

* to examine the incidence of the theft of firearms over a six-year period;

* to determine the types of firearms commonly stolen; and

* to determine which locations are usually targeted in the theft of firearms.

Each of these issues will be examined, focusing specifically on changes in trends and patterns of the theft of firearms over time in Australia. In addition, this paper presents (for the first time since the national firearms licensing and registration system was introduced) data on the extent of firearm ownership in Australia.

Observations from International Research

There is a paucity of Australian research specifically examining the theft of firearms, but we can turn to research conducted overseas as a starting point. International research can assist in providing useful background information as to what the expected characteristics of the phenomenon to be studied in Australia might be. However, it is important to note that while international research may be informative, its applicability and comparability with Australia is limited. …

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