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Controlling firearms use in Australia: has the 1996 gun law reform produced the decrease in rates of suicide with this method?

Abstract

Background

Observed reductions in firearm suicides in Australia have been linked to the 1997 national firearms agreement (NFA) introduced following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. The NFA placed strong access restrictions on firearms.

Aims

To assess the impact of legislative restrictions on the incidence of firearm suicide in Queensland and explore alternative or contributory factors behind observed declines.

Method

The Queensland suicide register (QSR) provided detailed information on all male suicides in Queensland (1990–2004), with additional data for Australia (1968–2004) accessed from other official sources. Trends in suicide rates pre/post NFA, and in method selection, were assessed using negative binomial regressions. Changing method selection patterns were examined using a cohort analysis of 5 years of age classes for Australian males.

Results

The observed reduction in firearms suicides was initiated prior to the 1997 introduction of the NFA in Queensland and Australia, with a clear decline observed in Australian figures from 1988. No significant difference was found in the rate pre/post the introduction of the NFA in Queensland; however, a significant difference was found for Australian data, the quality of which is noticeably less satisfactory. A marked age-difference in method choice was observed through a cohort analysis demonstrating both time and age influences. Within sequential birth cohorts, rates of firearms suicides decreased in younger males but increased in hanging suicides; this trend was far less marked in older males.

Conclusions

The implemented restrictions may not be responsible for the observed reductions in firearms suicide. Data suggest that a change in social and cultural attitudes could have contributed to the shift in method preference.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully thank the Queensland Firearms Registry (Queensland Police) for the provision of data on firearm registrations. We are also indebted with Queensland Health for the continuing support to the Queensland Suicide Register.

Conflict of interest: None

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Correspondence to Diego De Leo MD, PhD, DSc, FRANZCP.

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Klieve, H., Barnes, M. & De Leo, D. Controlling firearms use in Australia: has the 1996 gun law reform produced the decrease in rates of suicide with this method?. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 44, 285 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-008-0435-9

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Keywords

  • suicide
  • firearms
  • method choice
  • access restrictions
  • epidemiology