FIREARMS INJURIES

The Public Health Association of Australia notes that:

1. During 1994, there were 522 deaths registered due to firearms in Australia, accounting for 7.3% of all injury deaths. Of these more than 90% were male. Suicide accounted for 85 % and homicide for 10% of male firearm deaths. 3% were accidental. For females, homicide accounted for 52% and suicide for 36 % of firearm deaths. 10% were registered as accidental. Intent was not stated for the remainder.1

2. For males, rates were highest in young adults and old age. For females, there was less variation of rates with age; rates were low in old age. Firearm deaths have declined in recent years, especially for males. The male rate of suicide using other methods has risen while the firearm related suicide rate has fallen.1

3. Firearm death rates are generally higher in rural and remote regions, as are suicides, particularly among 15-24 and 45-54 year old males.2

4. The most recent figures, based on a random sample of households in 1989 International Victims of Crime Survey, found a household gun ownership (in Australia) of 20.7 % (this varies by area with about 41% of rural households owning a gun, while only 12% in the major metropolitan areas do so).3

5. A comparison of 14 countries in 1989 showed that although rates of gun ownership varies between countries, rates of homicide and suicide committed with a gun correlated with the rate of household gun ownership.4

6. More than a quarter of all reported murders in Australia are committed using a firearm. Of firearm homicides in 1992-93, "two in five resulted from disputes between sexual intimates, while a further one in five resulted from some kind of altercation between friends/ acquaintances." The remaining two in five included shooting during robbery, etc. and cases involving non-intimate family members.5 Very few shooting homicides are committed by persons whose prior mental state gave any useful warnings.

The Public Health Association of Australia believes that:

7. Gun ownership is a privilege not a right and should not compromise public safety.

8. Firearm injuries occur due to a combination of the availability of the firearm and the motivation for use: both factors need to be addressed to reduce firearm injuries.

9. Ownership of firearms should be permitted only for those with a genuine reason to do so. "Personal protection" should not be regarded as an acceptable reason. There are no acceptable reasons for members of the public to possess military style firearms and handguns.

10. A range of programs is required to address the risk factors for intentional and unintentional use of firearms in injury, including both public and professional education and improvements in services. The design of such programs should be based on scientific evidence available in the literature or gathered in by research. These programs should be closely targeted to those groups most at risk and be subject to rigorous evaluation.

The Public Health Association of Australia resolves that:

11. The Executive Committee and Branches recognises and supports the efforts of the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to establish uniform national legislation and further advocates:

11.1 adoption and enforcement of strong and effective nationally uniform legislation to include control of the importation, sale and purchase, ownership, storage, transport, use and disposal of firearms and ammunition, with the greatest restrictions placed on hand guns and military style weapons ammunition and firearms to be stored in separate locked areas that are secured to the floor or wall. Transport of firearms to only be permitted in locked containers in car boots or locked vehicles use of firearms to be permitted only by those licensed to own a firearm and according to established rules of safe firearm use

11.2. establishment of a national register of firearms documenting sales outlets, dealers, gun registration including sale, resale or change of ownership of weapons and linking licensed individual gun owners with their registered firearms so that firearm ownership can be measured, individual owners assessed and firearms traced.

11.3. requiring that sale of firearms only be allowed once a licence has been granted and produced

11.4. granting of licences to firearm owners only if they establish that they have an acceptable reason to own and use a firearm. Acceptable reasons should be limited to sports activity, firearm collection, occupational uses and vermin control. Licensing of sporting shooters (registered members of approved shooting clubs) and collectors should be strictly controlled

11.5. requiring that identification documents be produced and criminal records be checked before licences are granted

11.6. confining the age of licensing, ownership, use and possession of firearms to persons over the age of 18 years

11.7. requiring mandatory education on safe storage, transportation and use of firearms by accredited training courses as part of the licensing process

11.8. development, encouragement and requirement of secure storage of exempt firearms or their firing mechanisms away from domestic premises between uses. In urban and suburban areas establishment of "community armouries" may be appropriate.

12. The Executive Committee and Branches will advocate for the Commonwealth, in conjunction with State and Territory governments to:

12.1. provide a National Firearm Authority to monitor licensing of firearm owners and registration of firearms through a linked database accessible by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments

12.2. require that the Authority be responsible for retrieval and disposal of banned firearms currently in the community and to take appropriate steps to prevent the development of a post-legislation firearm black-market.

12.3. appropriately resource the Authority so it is able to sustain and enforce the requirements of provisions in Items 11. and 12.

12.4. require that firearm owners make a reasonable economic contribution to the development and maintenance of the Authority through the payment of registration fees

13. The Executive Committee and Branches will advocate for the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to address the risk factors for intentional injury, in particular:

13.1. the need for preventive mental health services to reduce suicide through training programs on recognition and referral of those at risk of suicide for families and professionals in fields such as education, nursing, medicine and law enforcement

13.2. the need to adequately fund support, treatment and rehabilitation programs for people who are at risk of suicide

13.3. the need for mandatory confiscation of firearms by police from households where interpersonal violence has occurred or where restraining orders are issued. In these cases firearm licences should be revoked for an appropriate period of time and reapplication for licensing required

13.4. the need for greater efforts to prevent domestic violence (as detailed in the Public Health Association policy on this issue, 1990 AGM).


1.Harrison J, Moller J and Bordeaux S, Injury by Firearms Australia 1994, AIHW 1996

2.Moller J, 'The Spatial Distribution of Injury Deaths in Australia: Urban, Rural and Remote Areas', Australian Injury Prevention Bulletin, 8, AIHW 1994

3.Dudley M, Cantor C, and De Moore G. 'Jumping the Gun: Firearms and the Mental Health of Australians' ANZ J of Psychiatry, 30, 370-381, 1996.

4.Killias M. International correlations between gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide, Can Med Assoc. J, 148 (10) 1721-1725, 1993. Quoted in Marshall J. Firearm Violence and Ownership - A public health perspective, WA Health, Perth. 1995.

5.James M, Hallinan J. Homicides in Australia 1992-93. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Number 5. Canberra, Australian Institute of Criminology, 1995.

6.Alpers P, Morgan B, Firearm Homicide in New Zealand: victims, perpetrators and their weapons 1992-94, Coalition for Gun Control Web Site, WWW, 1996.

Adopted at the 1992 Annual General Meeting of the Public Health Association of Australia and amended at the 1996 Annual General Meeting