News

Decline in gun deaths doubled since Australia destroyed 700,000 firearms


14 December 2006

The risk of dying by gunshot has halved since Australia destroyed 700,000 privately owned firearms, according to a new study published today in the international research journal, Injury Prevention.

"Not only were Australia's post-Port Arthur gun laws followed by a decade in which the crime they were designed to reduce hasn't happened again, but we also saw a life-saving bonus: the decline in overall gun deaths accelerated to twice the rate seen before the new gun laws," says study lead author, Professor Simon Chapman.

"From 1996 to 2003, the total number of gun deaths each year fell from 521 to 289, suggesting that the removal of more than 700,000 guns was associated with a faster declining rate of gun suicide and gun homicide," said Adjunct Associate Professor Philip Alpers, also from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. "This was a milestone public health and safety issue, driven by an overwhelming swing in public opinion, and promptly delivered by governments."

After 112 people were shot dead in 11 mass shootings* in a decade, Australia collected and destroyed categories of firearms designed to kill many people quickly. In his immediate reaction to the Port Arthur massacre, Prime Minister John Howard said of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns: "There is no legitimate interest served in my view by the free availability in this country of weapons of this kind… That is why we have proposed a comprehensive package of reforms designed to implement tougher, more effective and uniform gun laws."

As study co-author Philip Alpers points out: "The new legislation's first declared aim was to reduce the risk of similar gun massacres. In the 10½ years since the gun buy-back announcement, no mass shootings have occurred in Australia."

"On top of that, and despite the new gun laws not being designed to reduce gun suicide, domestic shootings, and the much less common 'stranger danger' individual gun homicides, firearm fatalities in the three largest categories - total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides - all at least doubled their previous rates of decline following the revised firearm legislation."

While the rates per 100,000 of total firearm deaths, firearm suicides and firearm homicides were already reducing by an average of 3 per cent each year until 1996, these average rates of decline doubled to 6 per centeach year (total gun death), and more than doubled to 7.4 per cent(gun suicide) and 7.5 per centeach year (gun homicide) following the introduction of new gun laws.

By 2002/03, Australia's rate of 0.27 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 population had dropped to one-fifteenth that of the United States.

The authors conclude that "The Australian example provides evidence that removing large numbers of firearms from a community can be associated with a sudden and on-going decline in mass shootings, and accelerating declines in total firearm-related deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides."

*International definitions of "mass shooting" and "mass homicide" range from 3 to 5 victims killed. To exclude most spousal and family violence killings, a "mass shooting" is defined here as one in which five or more victims are shot dead in proximate events.


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