Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Firearm Related Deaths in Australia, 1991-2001

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Firearm Related Deaths in Australia, 1991-2001

Article excerpt

An examination of firearm related deaths in Australia between 1991 and 2001 found a 47 per cent decrease in numbers, with a fall in the number of suicides accounting for the largest part of that decrease. Nine out of 10 firearm related deaths involved males. Compared to firearm related suicides and accidents where less than 10 per cent involved the death of a female, a higher proportion of homicides involved a female victim (33%). Persons under the age of 15 years were least likely to die as a result of a firearm related injury. Males and females who suffered a fatal firearms injury tended to follow a similar age distribution, with persons aged between 24 and 34 years accounting for the largest number of firearm related deaths. There appears to be a shift in age related risk between 1991 and 2001. in 1991, males aged between 15 and 24 years had the highest risk of firearm related fatal injury (rate of 9.5 per 100 000), whereas in 2001 males aged 65 years and older had the highest risk (rate of 4.9 per 100 000). The majority of firearm related deaths were committed with a hunting rifle, although there has been an increase in the use of handguns.

Toni Makkai

Acting Director

This paper examines the use of firearms to inflict fatal injury in Australia between 1991 and 2001. It focuses on the five main types of fatal firearm injury: suicide, homicide, accidents, legal intervention - that is, deaths as a result of law enforcement officers performing their duties (ABS 1997), and those deaths classified as undetermined by the coroner (that is, cases in which it was unclear whether the injury was purposely or accidentally inflicted).

Of the 128 544 deaths registered in Australia in 2001, 7876 deaths were caused by accidents, poisonings and violence (referred to as 'external causes'). The leading external cause of death in 2001 was accidents (transport, falls, and drowning/submersion) accounting for 61 per cent of all incidents. Firearms as a 'cause of death' only represent a small fraction of all external causes of death in Australia (4.2% or 333 deaths in 2001). While firearms account for a small proportion of externally caused deaths, there is much focus on controlling the use of firearms in criminal activities - particularly on whether or not their use has increased or decreased since the introduction of firearms controls in 1997. Briefly, these controls banned self loading rifles and both self loading and pump action shotguns; saw the establishment of nationwide firearms registration; and introduced stringent limitations to the ownership of firearms, primarily minimum age restrictions and satisfactory fitness and reason for ownership of firearms (Mouzos 1999). The main focus of this report is the identification of shifts in trends and patterns over the 11 year period between 1991 and 2001.

Data Source

The main data source analysed in the production of this report is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Underlying Cause of Death unit record data supplied to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) for the period 1991 to 2001. The registration of deaths is the responsibility of the individual state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Information relating to the cause of death supplied by either a medical practitioner or by a Coroner is included as part of the registration. Such information is then provided to the ABS for subsequent coding. The data used in this report have been coded by the ABS in accordance with the tenth revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which has been adopted for Australian use in the case of deaths. It should be noted that the figures contained in this report differ slightly from figures previously published by the ABS or the AIC (Mouzos 2000) (see methodological note at the end of the report).

Trends in Firearm Related Deaths: Number and Rates

In total there were 5083 registered deaths attributable to firearms in Australia between 1991 and 2001. …

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