Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Australian Firearm Related Deaths: New Findings and Implications for Crime Prevention and Health Policies Following Revisions to Official Death Count Data

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Australian Firearm Related Deaths: New Findings and Implications for Crime Prevention and Health Policies Following Revisions to Official Death Count Data

Article excerpt

Introduction

Reducing levels of intentional injury, particularly lethal injury such as homicide and suicide, remains an ongoing goal internationally within the sphere of crime prevention and public health and safety policy and practice. Firearms misuse, and the possible application of legislative interventions to address misuse, has received particular attention. However, despite its international relevance, the majority of study in this field comes from the United States (see Makarios & Pratt, 2012, for an overview). Relatively little research has evaluated the impacts of significant epochs of regulatory reform upon firearm-related deaths in countries like Australia, where strict firearms regulations were introduced in 1996, following a mass shooting event. The imposition of a sweeping and nation-wide set of changes at a defined time period provides a 'natural experimental design' which enables pre- and post-reform comparisons to be made, to elucidate any effects of legislative change on firearm-related deaths.

Australia's 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) prohibited semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump action shotguns. Over 600 000 firearms were confiscated and subsequently destroyed by police, at an estimated cost of around half a billion dollars (Baker & McPhedran, 2007). The NFA also introduced strict requirements governing the possession of firearms, such as the necessity to have a proven or 'genuine reason' for firearm ownership (self defence was explicitly excluded), compulsory written safety tests, and the stipulation that all privately owned firearms must be registered through a State-controlled firearms management agency. Additional components such as safe storage of firearms when not in use, and 28-day waiting periods for acquisitions of firearms were included in the reforms.

It was expected that these legislative changes would affect both firearm suicides and firearm homicides. Within suicide research, for example, there is a body of evidence that restricting access to particular suicide methods can be an effective way to reduce suicides using that particular method (see Mann et. al, 2005, for a useful overview). Consequently, it would be reasonable to anticipate that placing increased restrictions upon firearms access would lead to declines in the use of firearms as a suicide method. In terms of firearm homicide, while it was acknowledged that there was at that time, in Australia, no available data in relation to circumstances associated with firearm homicide such as whether or not a perpetrator was legally permitted to own a firearm, it was also assumed that there was a meaningful association between levels of legal firearms ownership and firearm homicide (National Committee on Violence, 1990), such that increasing the restrictions around legal firearms ownership would be reasonably expected to have impact on firearm homicides.

In recent years, a succession of studies from different research groups, using a variety of different time series and analytical methods, have considered whether there is evidence that the legislative changes had significant impacts on firearm-related deaths. Although the total number of published peer-reviewed studies based on time series data remains relatively small (fewer than 15 studies, at the time of writing), none of these studies has found a significant impact of the Australian legislative changes on the pre-existing downward trend in firearm homicide (e.g., Baker & McPhedran, 2007; Chapman, Alpers, Agho, & Jones, 2006; Lee & Suardi, 2010; Leigh & Neill, 2010; Ozanne-Smith, Ashby, Newstead, Stathakis, & Clapperton, 2004). Findings for impacts of the legislative changes on pre-existing downwards trends in firearm suicide are inconsistent. Some studies find evidence of an impact (e.g., Baker & McPhedran, 2007; Ozanne-Smith et al, 2004), while others find little or no evidence of an impact and/or document substitution to other methods (e. …

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