National report finds firearms owners safe and responsible

by Nadia Isa

The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia has welcomed the release of a Federal Government report into firearm theft in Australia. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) statistical report has collated data from each state and territory to produce the Firearm theft in Australia 2018 report released this month.

While SSAA was glad to see the release of an evidenced-based report by seasoned author Dr Samantha Bricknell, the Association remains cautious about certain assumptions in the report as well as references to anti-gun lobby group Gun Control Australia. “It’s simply outlandish to quote Gun Control Australia in a government report,” SSAA National President Geoff Jones said. “They’re a lobby group with a targeted agenda - certainly the group has biases which have made their way into the report.”

A federal and state operation targeting trafficking and illicit firearms, Operation Athena, commissioned the AIC to examine firearm theft data for 2018 to establish the rate of change of firearm theft in Australia. Dr Bricknell used data from state and territory police on incidents of stolen or lost/mislaid firearms reported between January 1 and December 31 2018. SSAA was pleased to note Dr Bricknell then discarded reports of lost firearms.

The report found there were 847 incidents of reported firearms theft in 2018 and the distribution of incidents reflected the population size of states and territories. One quarter of incidents were reported in Queensland and Victoria followed by one fifth in both New South Wales and Western Australia.

The number of reported incidents of firearm theft increased by 15 per cent in the 10-year period between 2008-09 and 2018, however SSAA would like to note a parallel increase in Australia’s population during this same period according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Similarly, Dr Bricknell stated the national firearm theft rate was almost on par when comparing the two time periods at 3.4 incidents per 100,000 in 2018 and 3.3 incidents per 100,000 in 2008-09. This would discount the claim there has been a significant increase in national firearms theft across the previous decade to 2018.

The proportion of thefts occurring in major cities has decreased substantially, with a corresponding increase in theft in inner regional, outer regional and/or remote locations depending on jurisdiction. Data showed most thefts occurred in inner and outer regional areas at 61 per cent of all thefts as well as an increase in outer regional (23 v 34 per cent) and remote (3 v 8 per cent) theft incidents.

However, the report noted the locations of theft incidents were classified by remoteness status using postcode data. Geoff Jones said this method could be flawed, particularly in areas such a Queensland where postcodes extend many kilometres from inner to outer regional areas.

The report stated that “most incidents resulted in the theft of multiple firearms” as well as one incident where 27 handguns were stolen from a retail location. SSAA would like this highlighted as it disproves the theory from anti-gun groups that firearms owners should store their firearms in one location, such as a gun club. “SSAA has always argued against firearms being stored in one honeypot location and now we have the stats to back it up,” Mr Jones said.

The data used in the report indicated most stolen firearms were being stored in a safe or a similar device at the time of theft, dispelling the myth that firearms owners are careless with storage of firearms. In fact, the report found storage compliance had increased 13 per cent from the previous study which ended in 2009. “Most stolen firearms were stored in firearm safes or similar receptacles at the time of the theft. Force was applied or tools used to cut the locking device in 18 per cent and 13 per cent of incidents respectively,” Dr Bricknell said in the report.

“The entire receptacle was stolen in 14 per cent of incidents. Most of these cases required offenders to force the safe bolted to the floor and/or wall from its mooring and haul or drag it to a vehicle. Of note is that firearms were reportedly secured in 15 per cent of incidents but it was not evident how the receptacle was accessed.”

While the Association is pleased with an evidence-based report being published on firearms thefts, it advises caution when referencing certain assumptions in the study as well as strongly disagreeing with the inclusion of an anti-gun lobby group. Further, if firearm safety is to be treated as a public health concern as some commentators wish then, like seatbelt safety campaigns, it needs to be funded. The Association has seen the success of such campaigns like its Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport campaign and is convinced of the value in investing in such messages.

Because of this campaign and other education efforts, SSAA members have continued to be responsible law-abiding firearms owners and understand the necessity of thorough safety efforts. The Association’s insurance brokerage has received almost two-and-a-half times the amount of damage claims compared with theft claims in the 12 months to date, as members are smart and conscientious firearms owners. Only 0.04 per cent of SSAA Insurance Brokerage customers have made theft claims in the past 12 months as well as just 0.09 per cent of members claiming damages.

Because of its demonstrated knowledge, SSAA has developed a rural firearm security campaign which it plans to discuss with the Federal Government. The initiative would continue to improve the safe storage of firearms and aid in reducing the amount of firearms thefts in regional and rural communities.

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