Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Catalogue Number
4397.0 - Firearms Deaths, Australia, 1980 to 1995  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/02/1997  Ceased
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product

INTRODUCTION

This publication presents an overview of the levels and trends in firearms deaths in Australia during the 16-year period from 1980 to 1995. It is a part of a series of publications on mortality produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and supplements those reports on related topics already issued by the ABS and other agencies. In 1991, the Injury Surveillance Unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published the report Firearm Death in Australia: 26 Year Trends, which analysed firearm-related deaths registered in the period 1964 to 1989. In 1994, the ABS released Suicides in Australia which included information on firearm suicides for the period 1983 to 1992. In 1996 the Institute of Criminology released Violent Deaths & Firearms in Australia; Data and Trends. This report included data on firearm-related deaths registered in Australia from 1915 to 1994 supplemented by data collected in the Institute's National Homicide Monitoring Program.

This publication provides statistics on firearms deaths as a whole, and suicides, homicides and fatal accidents involving firearms, derived from the data on registered deaths maintained by the Registrars of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in the States and Territories. Basic demographic information available on the death certificate is used to analyse variation by sex and age group, and by geographic location and month of occurrence. Information provided on the death certificate on the type of weapon is also discussed, although the ICD-9 classification used in this report does not distinguish between automatic and semi-automatic firearms.

This report does not cover injuries due to firearms. However, national information on firearm injuries is available through the hospital-based morbidity collection maintained by the Injury Surveillance Unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The Australian Institute of Criminology maintains a data collection on firearm homicide which is being expanded to cover firearm accidents.

As this report covers the period to 1995, the Port Arthur homicides, which occurred in April 1996, are not included in the data. In response to these homicides, Commonwealth and State and Territory governments agreed to implement uniform gun laws which would ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons. These measures are to be implemented throughout Australia in 1997. Within the data limitations stated above, this report on the fatal outcomes of firearm use will provide a baseline for monitoring the impact of uniform gun laws and associated measures.

After an initial presentation of the distribution of mortality from year to year, the remaining analysis is based on death rates averaged over three-year periods (except the latest year available, 1995), to minimise the effect of random fluctuations.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

NUMBER OF DEATHS

During the reference period, 1980-95, a total of 10,150 deaths were registered as firearm-related, accounting for 0.5% of all deaths reported. However in terms of premature mortality, firearm deaths are more significant, accounting for about 2.4% of total years of potential life lost before age 76 (see Technical Note). Of total deaths from external causes, which include accidents of all types, and all suicides and homicides, firearm deaths contributed 8.9%. Although the relative magnitude of deaths from the use of firearms as a cause of death is small, such deaths still have public health and social significance. Analysis of ABS mortality data indicates that firearms are involved in approximately one-quarter of all suicides and one-fifth of all homicides.

DEATHS FROM FIREARM USE, EXTERNAL(a) AND ALL CAUSES
Firearm deaths
External causes
Proportion(b)
All causes
Proportion(c)
Period
no.
no.
%
no.
%
Three year averages
1980-82
678
8,144
8.3
110,823
0.6
1983-85
684
7,553
9.1
112,935
0.6
1986-88
701
8,125
8.6
117,389
0.6
1989-91
604
7,936
7.6
121,147
0.5
1992-94
558
7,233
7.7
123,979
0.5
Latest calendar year
1995(d)
479
7,413
6.5
125,124
0.4

(a) Accidents, poisoning, violence.
(b) Firearms deaths as a percentage of deaths due to external causes.
(c) Firearms deaths as a percentage of deaths due to all causes.
(d) Data for single year. Data for other periods are three-year averages. Refer to table 2 for numbers of deaths 1980-95.


The majority (78%) of firearm deaths during the reference period were suicides, 15% were homicides while deaths resulting from the accidental discharge of firearms contributed 5%. The remaining 2% were made up of a small number of deaths resulting from legal intervention (deaths by law enforcement agents in the performance of legal duties) and deaths where the intent was undetermined.

OVERALL TRENDS

The crude firearms death rate declined from 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1980 to 2.6 in 1995 (see table 9). This represented a decline of 46% over a period of 16 years. The rate of decline observed remains about the same when firearm death rates are standardised for age to minimise the effect of variations in the age structure of the population over the years. (For details on standardisation see paragraph 9 of the Explanatory Notes.) The 1995 standardised rate of 2.6 was the lowest death rate from firearm use recorded during the reference period.

While the general trend was downward there have been fluctuations over the reference period. These fluctuations were influenced more by the year-to-year movement of death rates from firearm suicides than by firearm homicides or firearm accidents, reflecting the significance of suicides as the major component of firearm deaths.
FIREARM DEATHS BY TYPE OF DEATH
Number of deaths
Number of deaths
Number of deaths
Number of deaths
Standardised death rate (a)
Standardised death rate (a)
Standardised death rate (a)
Standardised death rate (a)
Year
Accidents
Suicides
Homicides
Total(b)
Accidents
Suicide
Homicide
Total(b)
1980
62
516
109
700
0.4
3.7
0.8
4.9
1981
36
495
87
632
0.2
3.5
0.6
4.4
1982
48
541
100
701
0.3
3.7
0.7
4.7
1983
40
512
92
654
0.3
3.4
0.6
4.3
1984
32
523
120
687
0.2
3.4
0.8
4.5
1985
35
550
97
710
0.2
3.5
0.6
4.5
1986
28
548
101
696
0.2
3.5
0.6
4.4
1987
27
571
96
711
0.2
3.5
0.6
4.4
1988
30
521
123
695
0.2
3.2
0.7
4.2
1989
19
450
80
569
0.1
2.7
0.5
3.4
1990
30
486
79
614
0.2
2.9
0.5
3.6
1991
29
505
84
629
0.2
2.9
0.5
3.6
1992
24
488
96
622
0.1
2.8
0.5
3.6
1993
18
431
64
522
0.1
2.4
0.4
2.9
1994
20
420
76
529
0.1
2.3
0.4
3.0
1995
15
388
67
479
0.2
2.1
0.3
2.6

(a) Standardised per 100,000 of the 1991 population (see paragraph 9 of the Explanatory Notes).
(b) Due to the small number of cases reported, firearm deaths classified under legal intervention and other types of death are not shown separately. However the total column includes all deaths.

While death rates from firearm accidents, suicides and homicides have all decreased in recent years, differences in their rates of change have affected the proportion of firearm deaths attributable to such deaths.

The proportion of firearms deaths resulting from accidents decreased from 7.2% in 1980-82 to 3.1% in 1995. Correspondingly, the proportion of firearm deaths due to suicides increased from 76% to 81% over the same period. The proportion of homicides remained relatively stable.

TYPE OF DEATH AS A PROPORTION OF FIREARM DEATHS
Accidents
Suicides
Homicides
Other
Total
Period
%
%
%
%
%
Three year averages
1980-82
7.2
76.3
14.6
1.9
100.0
1983-85
5.2
77.3
15.1
2.4
100.0
1986-88
4.0
78.0
15.2
2.7
100.0
1989-91
4.3
79.5
13.4
2.8
100.0
1992-94
3.7
80.0
14.1
2.2
100.0
Latest calendar year
1995
3.1
81.0
14.0
1.9
100.0



SEX VARIATION

Firearm deaths are much more common among males than females. Over the reference period the largest single group of firearm deaths by type of death and sex were male suicides which were 73% of the total. Males made up the majority of each type of firearm death. The proportion of deaths that were males was highest for suicides (93%) and lowest for homicide (64%).


PROPORTION OF FIREARM DEATHS THAT ARE MALE, BY TYPE OF DEATH
Accidents
Suicides
Homicides
Other
Total
Period
%
%
%
%
%
Three year averages
1980-82
93.2
92.7
63.2
92.3
88.4
1983-85
84.1
92.1
65.7
86.0
87.5
1986-88
87.1
93.2
61.6
93.0
88.2
1989-91
94.9
94.1
62.1
96.0
89.9
1992-94
87.1
95.3
64.4
94.4
90.6
Latest calendar year
1995
100.0
94.1
68.7
66.7
90.2
Aggregate
1980-95
90.0
93.4
63.6
91.3
88.9


Among males, the standardised firearms death rate decreased from 8.7 deaths per 100,000 in 1980 to 4.8 in 1995, while the much lower female rate decreased from 1.3 deaths per 100,000 to 0.5 over the same period. Most of the decline in the rates occurred after 1988. These declines were evident for each category of firearm death and for all age groups (see tables 10 and 12).



STANDARDISED FIREARM DEATH RATES(a), BY SEX


(a) Standardised per 100,000 of the 1991 population (see paragraph 9 of the Explanatory Notes).


AGE VARIATION

Age-specific firearm death rates were lowest among children and rose with age, peaking in the 15-34 years age group. Rates then declined until ages 55 and over where death rates began to rise again. This pattern reflects the pattern for male deaths. About 42% of firearm deaths among males occurred in the 15-34 years age group, with deaths among those 65 years and over accounting for about 13% of all firearm deaths (see table 11). Age-specific death rates were higher for males than females in all age groups. While females in general followed a pattern similar to males, the deaths were distributed over a wider span of adult age groups.

The type of firearm death varied with age. Over the reference period 210 firearm deaths of children under 15 years were registered. Of these, the largest proportion were due to homicides (46%), followed by accidents (30%). In the 15-24 years age group, the majority (78%) of firearm deaths were suicides, while accidents (7%) ranked third behind homicides (12%). This pattern remained the same in the adult age groups. While homicides ranked second in all adult age groups, the proportion was highest for those aged 25-44. At older ages (55 years and over) the proportion of suicides increased further while the proportion of homicides decreased.

TYPE OF DEATH AS A PROPORTION OF FIREARM DEATHS, BY AGE GROUP, 1980 TO 1995

      Age group (years)
0-14
15-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65+
Type of death
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Accidents
30.0
7.0
3.9
3.6
3.2
4.3
1.9
Suicides
21.0
78.4
75.2
74.0
79.7
84.4
92.5
Homicides
45.7
11.5
17.7
20.2
15.2
9.4
4.9
Other
3.3
3.1
3.2
2.5
1.9
1.9
0.6
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0


GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION BY USUAL RESIDENCE

States and Territories

Age-standardised firearm death rates classified according to the place of usual residence of the deceased, varied widely between States and Territories (see table 13). Although in small populations the death rates can be substantially affected even by a small change in the number of deaths, the Northern Territory and Tasmania stand out as the two areas with the highest rates. The Northern Territory rate fell substantially over the period, from about 14 deaths per 100,000 to around 7, whereas the Tasmanian rate showed little change, remaining at about 7 deaths per 100,000 (except in the rate shown for 1995, which was based on the number of deaths for a single year only). The fall in the Northern Territory rate was partly due to a decreasing contribution from accidents and homicides.

Queensland also recorded relatively high death rates. It had a rate of 6.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 198082 which rose to an average of 6.4 in 198388 before decreasing to an average rate of 4.3 in 1992-94 and to 3.4 in 1995. Western Australia consistently recorded the lowest rate over the period. The Western Australian rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 in 1980-82 decreased to 2.6 by 1992-94. Further disaggregation by type of firearm deaths at the State and Territory level is not possible due to the small number of deaths.

Capital cities, other urban, and rural areas

The analysis of firearm deaths by capital cities, other urban areas and rural areas is only possible from 1986 onwards as the estimated resident population at the Statistical Local Area (SLA) level, are available only from that year. The data have been classified according to the place of usual residence of the deceased. Throughout the reference period, rates were highest for the rural areas and lowest for the capital cities. In all geographic areas the firearm deaths rates declined, although the rate of decline was not uniform across the areas.

FIREARM DEATHS BY GEOGRAPHIC AREA
Capital city
Capital city
Other urban
Other urban
Rural
Rural
Period
Rate
%
Rate
%
Rate
%

Three year averages
1986-88
3.0
45.2
5.3
21.1
8.2
33.7
1989-91
2.3
42.6
4.1
20.3
7.5
37.1
1992-94
2.0
40.5
3.6
19.7
6.9
39.8
Latest calendar year
1995
1.7
41.3
3.3
18.6
4.9
40.1

(a) Percentage of total number of firearms deaths.
(b) Average standardised rates per 100,000 of the mid-year population. 1995 rate is for single year.

TYPE OF FIREARM REPORTED

Based on the information given on the death certificate, deaths are classified according to the following weapon types: hand gun, shotgun, hunting rifle, military firearm, and other firearm. The other firearm category includes those firearm deaths where the information given on the death certificates was not adequate to determine the specific weapon type.

Of the total firearms deaths registered during the reference period, in 3% of cases the firearm type involved was not specified on the death certificate, while in about 34% of the cases the information given on the death certificate was inadequate to ascribe a specific weapon type and hence these have been classified as other firearms (see paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes).

Among those deaths where the firearm involved was identified on the death certificate, the hunting rifle was the weapon most commonly reported. About 63% of firearm deaths where type of firearm was identified involved a hunting rifle and 30% involved a shotgun. The number of firearm deaths involving hand guns was about 5%, perhaps reflecting the longstanding legal restrictions on hand guns (dating from the 1930s). Among the deaths for which the weapon involved is known, the majority (54%) were suicides involving a hunting rifle while a further 24% were suicides with shotguns.

TYPE OF FIREARM DEATH, BY TYPE OF FIREARM INVOLVED 1980-95
Accidents
Suicides
Homicides
Total(a)
Proportion (b)
Type of firearm
no.
no.
no.
no.
%

Hand gun
21
226
92
355
5.3
Shotgun
75
1 589
326
2 018
30.2
Hunting rifle
182
3 620
368
4 218
63.2
Military style
5
52
27
85
1.3
Total(c)
283
5 487
813
6 676
100.0

(a) Includes deaths due to legal intervention, and other deaths, which are not shown separately.
(b) Percentage of total deaths (6,676) where the firearm type involved was identified.
(c) Firearms deaths where type of firearm involved was identified on the death certificate.

MONTH OF OCCURRENCE

Total firearm deaths aggregated for the 16-year period showed a largely uniform distribution by month, with approximately 8% of deaths occurring in each month. (For meaningful comparison, number of deaths have been adjusted to 30 day months). However, the proportion of deaths was slightly lower from April to July, and slightly higher proportions were recorded from September to March. This reflects the pattern of firearm suicides, which are the major component of firearm deaths.

For firearm accidents and firearm homicides the monthly variations were less clear. Such variations were largely random, and the percentage of deaths fluctuated erratically across calendar months. However, a slightly higher percentage of firearm homicides (11.5%) and firearm accident deaths (10.1%) occurred in December than in other months.


Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window

Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.