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Letters   |    
Interpreting Risk Factors for Violence in Australia: In Reply
Olav B. Nielssen, M.B.B.S., Ph.D.; Matthew M. Large, B.Sc. (Med.), M.B.B.S.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.62.11.1393a
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Copyright © 2011 by the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. McPhedran and Ms. Singh are correct in pointing out the small number of lethal shootings in our study—16 of the 272 mentally ill offenders used a gun (6%). However, the proportion of offenders with a history of psychiatric treatment who used a firearm was significantly lower than the proportion of patients experiencing a first-episode of psychosis (p=.014), suggesting that people with a diagnosed mental illness in New South Wales have reduced access to firearms.

We do not agree that the 1996 changes to the gun laws in Australia after a notorious mass killing are unrelated to the subsequent decline in firearm deaths. Dr. McPhedran and Ms. Singh write from the perspective of the International Coalition for Women in Shooting and Hunting (http://www.ic-wish.org). However, figures obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (personal communication, Brooke Black, information consultant, Australian Bureau of Statistics, April 28, 2009) show that in the decade from 1988 to 1997, before the changes in the gun laws took effect, 240 women committed suicide using a firearm, compared with 115 in the decade from 1998 to 2007. By 2007 using a gun was a rare method of female suicide in Australia. The story for male suicide is similar. In the decade before 1997, a total of 4,128 men committed suicide using a firearm, whereas in the decade after the changes to the firearms laws the number of male suicides by firearm was 1,945. It is true that the rate of suicide by all methods has fallen from 14.7 per 100,000 in 1997 to 8.9 per 100,000 in 2007 (1). However, the decline was mainly due to reduced access to lethal means of suicide, including guns, poisonous gas, and lethal medication (1), and was not due to a decline in the number of suicide attempts or increased participation in mental health care (2).

Dr. McPhedran and Ms. Singh are correct to point out that the rate of homicide was already declining in Australia before the change in the gun laws. However, the proportion of homicides by firearm has declined at a greater rate since that time (3), and the reduction in the number of firearm homicides is the main reason for the further decline in the rate of homicide in Australia to the historically low level of 1.4 per 100,000 per annum. Moreover, there were 13 mass shootings with 112 fatalities in the 15 years before 1996, and there have been none in the 15 years since.

We estimate that the change in firearms laws in Australia in 1996 has already saved about 2,000 lives. On that basis alone, the money used to permanently remove 640,000 automatic and semiautomatic weapons from the community was well spent.

Large  M;  Nielssen  O:  Suicide in Australia: a meta-analysis of rates and methods between 1988 and 2007.  Medical Journal of Australia 192:432–437, 2010
[PubMed]
 
Nielssen  O;  Large  M:  National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being findings do not reflect the decline in suicide in Australia.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 44:490–492, 2010
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Chapman  S;  Alpers  P;  Agho  K  et al:  Australia's 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides and a decade without mass shootings.  Injury Prevention 12:365–372, 2006
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
References Container
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References

Large  M;  Nielssen  O:  Suicide in Australia: a meta-analysis of rates and methods between 1988 and 2007.  Medical Journal of Australia 192:432–437, 2010
[PubMed]
 
Nielssen  O;  Large  M:  National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being findings do not reflect the decline in suicide in Australia.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 44:490–492, 2010
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Chapman  S;  Alpers  P;  Agho  K  et al:  Australia's 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides and a decade without mass shootings.  Injury Prevention 12:365–372, 2006
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
References Container
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