Australian Institute of Criminology

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Firearm deaths - older men at risk

Media Release

27 August 2000

Media release from Senator, the Hon Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs

Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, today raised concerns about the number of older Australian men committing suicide with a firearm.

"The number of older men who use a firearm to kill themselves would appear to be one of Australia's hidden tragedies," Senator Vanstone said.

The Minister made the comments in releasing a research paper from the Australian Institute of Criminology on firearm-related deaths in 1998.

"Suicides accounted for more than 70% of all firearms deaths in 1998 [71.6%] and of these, men over the age of 65 had the highest mortality rate - nearly all of them from suicide," Senator Vanstone said.

"Widowed men had the highest firearm mortality rates followed by divorced men."

"For even older males, the rate of firearm-related suicide is even higher, with men over 85 years having a firearm-suicide rate of 7.22 per 100,000 - six times greater than the rate of 1.25 per 100,000 for the population as a whole."

"Based on these figures, the number of suicides among older age groups, particularly men, is likely to rise, given that these groups constitute the fastest-growing segment of the population."

"The AIC paper highlights research which shows that suicide amongst elderly males is often planned, not spontaneous and it is often violent, with little opportunity for rescue."

"It is heart wrenching to think that so many in a group of Australians are simply giving up on life."

"The paper suggests that with people living longer, the problems which beset the elderly, such as chronic illness, isolation and institutional care which may have contributed to high suicide rates in the past, have shifted into even older age categories."

"On the positive side however, the number of firearm-related deaths in 1998 at 328 was 25% less - or 110 fewer - than in 1997 and a 37% decrease - or 197 fewer - than in 1996."

"The firearm death rate in 1998 was 1.75 per 100,000 Australian residents. In 1997 it was 2.36 per 100,000."

The paper Firearm-Related Deaths in Australia 1998 from the Australian Institute of Criminology also found that:

  • Of all deaths in 1998 [127,202] 328 [0.26%] were firearm-related
  • Suicides accounted for 71.6 per cent of firearms deaths in 1998, followed by homicides (17.4 per cent), and deaths from accidental discharge (6.4 per cent).
  • males are more likely to die as a result of firearm injury than females
  • nine out of ten firearms deaths involved males
  • males aged 25-34 are the highest risk age group for firearm-homicide
  • for females the highest risk age group for firearm-homicide was 45-54 years
  • the highest firearm mortality rate in 1998 for females was for those who were divorced