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Association Between Gun Law Reforms and Intentional Firearm Deaths in Australia, 1979-2013

Educational Objective
To learn about gun law reforms designed to reduce the incidence of mass shootings in Australia.
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  What happened to the trend in firearm deaths after Australia introduced extensive gun law reform in 1996, including a ban on semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns?

Findings  In the 18 years before the ban, there were 13 mass shootings, whereas in the 20 years following the ban, no mass shootings occurred, and the decline in total firearm deaths accelerated.

Meaning  Implementation of a ban on rapid-fire firearms was associated with reductions in mass shootings and total firearm deaths.

Abstract

Importance  Rapid-fire weapons are often used by perpetrators in mass shooting incidents. In 1996 Australia introduced major gun law reforms that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns and rifles and also initiated a program for buyback of firearms.

Objective  To determine whether enactment of the 1996 gun laws and buyback program were followed by changes in the incidence of mass firearm homicides and total firearm deaths.

Design  Observational study using Australian government statistics on deaths caused by firearms (1979-2013) and news reports of mass shootings in Australia (1979–May 2016). Changes in intentional firearm death rates were analyzed with negative binomial regression, and data on firearm-related mass killings were compared.

Exposures  Implementation of major national gun law reforms.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Changes in mass fatal shooting incidents (defined as ≥5 victims, not including the perpetrator) and in trends of rates of total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and suicides, and total homicides and suicides per 100 000 population.

Results  From 1979-1996 (before gun law reforms), 13 fatal mass shootings occurred in Australia, whereas from 1997 through May 2016 (after gun law reforms), no fatal mass shootings occurred. There was also significant change in the preexisting downward trends for rates of total firearm deaths prior to vs after gun law reform. From 1979-1996, the mean rate of total firearm deaths was 3.6 (95% CI, 3.3-3.9) per 100 000 population (average decline of 3% per year; annual trend, 0.970; 95% CI, 0.963-0.976), whereas from 1997-2013 (after gun law reforms), the mean rate of total firearm deaths was 1.2 (95% CI, 1.0-1.4) per 100 000 population (average decline of 4.9% per year; annual trend, 0.951; 95% CI, 0.940-0.962), with a ratio of trends in annual death rates of 0.981 (95% CI, 0.968-0.993). There was a statistically significant acceleration in the preexisting downward trend for firearm suicide (ratio of trends, 0.981; 95% CI, 0.970-0.993), but this was not statistically significant for firearm homicide (ratio of trends, 0.975; 95% CI, 0.949-1.001). From 1979-1996, the mean annual rate of total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths was 10.6 (95% CI, 10.0-11.2) per 100 000 population (average increase of 2.1% per year; annual trend, 1.021; 95% CI, 1.016-1.026), whereas from 1997-2013, the mean annual rate was 11.8 (95% CI, 11.3-12.3) per 100 000 (average decline of 1.4% per year; annual trend, 0.986; 95% CI, 0.980-0.993), with a ratio of trends of 0.966 (95% CI, 0.958-0.973). There was no evidence of substitution of other lethal methods for suicides or homicides.

Conclusions and Relevance  Following enactment of gun law reforms in Australia in 1996, there were no mass firearm killings through May 2016. There was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths between 1997 and 2013 compared with before 1997 but also a decline in total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths of a greater magnitude. Because of this, it is not possible to determine whether the change in firearm deaths can be attributed to the gun law reforms.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Simon Chapman, PhD, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Edward Ford Bldg A27, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia (simon.chapman@sydney.edu.au).

Correction: This article was corrected on December 6, 2016, to correct typographical errors in the Model c equation and in the desciption of model parameters in the Methods section.

Published Online: June 22, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8752

Author Contributions: Drs Chapman and Jones had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study concept and design: All authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: All authors.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

Statistical analysis: Chapman, Jones.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. Dr Chapman reported being a member of the Coalition for Gun Control (Australia) from 1993-1996. Mr Alpers reported being director of GunPolicy.org.

Additional Contributions: James Harrison, Director of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Injury Surveillance Unit, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, provided the data in Table 2. He was not compensated for this contribution.

References
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