Firearm related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform
- Correspondence to: Professor Joan Ozanne-Smith Monash University Accident Research Centre, Building 70, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia;
Objectives: To examine trends in rates of firearm related deaths in Victoria, Australia, over 22 years in the context of legislative reform and describe and investigate impact measures to explain trends.
Design: Mortality data were extracted from vital statistics for 1979–2000. Data on firearm related deaths that were unintentional deaths, assaults, suicides, and of undetermined intent were analyzed. Rates were calculated with population data derived from estimates by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A quasi-experimental design that used a Poisson regression model was adopted to compare relative rates of firearm related deaths for Victoria and the rest of Australia over three critical periods of legislative reform. The Wilcoxon signed ranks test was used to assess changes in the types of firearm related deaths before and after 1998.
Results: In Victoria, two periods of legislative reform related to firearms followed mass shooting events in 1988 and 1996. A national firearm amnesty and buyback scheme followed the latter. Victorian and Australian rates of firearm related deaths before reforms (1979–86) were steady. After initial Victorian reforms, a significant downward trend was seen for numbers of all firearm related deaths between 1988 and 1995 (17.3% in Victoria compared with the rest of Australia, p<0.0001). A further significant decline between 1997 and 2000 followed the later reforms. After the later all state legislation, similar strong declines occurred in the rest of Australia from 1997 (14.0% reduction compared with Victoria, p = 0.0372). Victorian reductions were observed in frequencies of firearm related suicides, assaults, and unintentional deaths before and after the 1988 reforms, but statistical significance was reached only for suicide.
Conclusion: Dramatic reductions in overall firearm related deaths and particularly suicides by firearms were achieved in the context of the implementation of strong regulatory reform.