Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

The National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program (NFTMP) has collected information on all incidents of firearm theft reported to Australian state and territory police for the years 2004–05 to 2008–09. This report represents the fifth and final report in the NFTMP series and describes the nature and characteristics of firearm theft that was reported to police in the period 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. The findings described here refer to incidents of firearm theft reported in all Australian states and territories excluding Western Australia and Northern Territory; however, information on the number and type of firearms reported stolen does include data from the Northern Territory.

The number and type of stolen firearms

  • A total of 1,570 firearms were stolen in 620 reported incidents of firearm theft in 2008–09 from all Australian states and territories excluding Western Australia.
  • The number of firearms reported stolen in Australia (excluding Western Australia) has risen by six percent each year since 2004–05.
  • Fifty-five percent of all reported incidents involved the theft of multiple firearms. The number of firearms stolen in multiple-firearm thefts ranged from two to 19. The modal (most common) theft involved two firearms.
  • Rifles accounted for the majority (60%) of all reported stolen firearms, with bolt-action rifles the most often recorded as stolen. One-quarter (24%) of stolen firearms were shotguns, mostly single barrel or double barrel. Handguns constituted six percent of firearms that were reported stolen; just over half (53%) of these were revolvers and 46 percent were semiautomatic pistols.
  • Six in 10 stolen firearms were classified as a Category A firearm and one-quarter as a Category B firearm. Restricted firearms made up less than 10 percent of all firearms reported stolen in 2008–09—six percent were Category H firearms (ie handguns), one percent or fewer were Category C or D firearms.
  • Ninety-one percent of firearms reported stolen were registered at the time of the theft.
  • Firearms were recovered from 14 percent of thefts and were returned to owners in 45 percent of these cases.

Firearm owners reporting stolen firearms

  • Eighty-eight percent of firearm owners who reported a firearm theft in 2008–09 held a valid firearm licence for the firearms they reported stolen.
  • Firearm owners held an average of 1.6 firearm licences; 90 percent of the total licences were for Category A and B firearms.
  • Seventy-eight percent of firearm thefts were reported by the owner of the stolen firearms.

Location and other characteristics of the theft

  • The majority of firearm thefts (89%) followed an unlawful entry of a residential or business premises, or a vehicle.
  • Six percent of theft locations were identified as the site of a repeat victimisation, although firearms were stolen in less than half (40%) of the previous theft events.
  • Private residential premises were the primary target for firearm theft (77% of all thefts), as was the case in the previous four years of monitoring. More than 80 percent (n=1,273) of the total firearms reported stolen were taken from this location, the majority of which (55%) had been stored within the house.
  • Theft from business premises accounted for six percent of all reported firearm thefts. Thefts from vehicles accounted for nine percent of all reported firearm thefts; the vehicles were mostly parked in public or unsecured sites such as public roads and car parks or in private driveways.
  • A substantial number of firearms thefts were aided by the premises or vehicle not being secured at the time of the theft. In almost a fifth (18%) of thefts from private residential and businesses premises and a third of vehicle thefts, offenders entered the premises or vehicle through an unlocked window or door.
  • Ammunition was stolen with firearms in 27 percent of incidents of firearm theft.
  • Other non firearm-related goods were stolen with firearms in 55 percent of incidents of firearm theft. Items commonly stolen with firearms were cash, tools, jewellery and watches, and personal electronic items such as mobile phones and iPods.

Firearm storage compliance

  • Firearms stolen in 63 percent of incidents had been stored in a firearm safe or otherwise secure receptacle. Firearms were described as being unsecured or left in the open for 10 percent of theft incidents in 2008–09.
  • Firearm storage compliance rates have fluctuated between 52 and 60 percent of affected firearm owners over the five year monitoring program. In 2008–09, 60 percent of firearms owners reporting a firearm theft were found to be storage compliant and 24 percent were found to be storage non-compliant.
  • Owners were considered non-compliant if receptacles were unlocked or unapproved (eg firearm stored in a wardrobe), the key to the receptacle had not been concealed, the firearm had been left in a vehicle, or no apparent attempt had been made to safeguard the firearm.
  • Firearms stored in residential garages or sheds were more likely to have been secured correctly compared with firearms stored within the home (80% of theft incidents cf 58%).
  • Vehicles were much more vulnerable to incidents of firearm theft than private residential or business premises because they were significantly more likely to be unlocked at the time the theft occurred and were significantly less likely to have been secured within the vehicle.
  • Eighteen percent of firearms (n=1,133) stolen between 2005–06 and 2008–09 were not stored appropriately at the time of the theft.

Breaches of firearm laws

  • Since 2004–05, around 20–25 percent of firearm owners who reported a firearm theft were found or suspected to be in breach of one or more firearm laws. In 2008–09, 22 percent of affected firearms owners were found in breach by police.
  • Sixty-two percent of owners found in breach of firearm laws were subsequently charged and/or disciplined.
  • The majority of charges brought against firearm owners were again related to the offence of failing to secure or safeguard a firearm (57%). Eight percent of charges related to the unlawful or unlicensed possession of a firearm and a further eight percent to the possession of an unregistered firearm.
  • Where formal proceedings had begun, just nine percent of firearm owners had received disciplinary action or such action was pending.

Proceeding against offenders and use of stolen firearms in crime

  • Police apprehended and initiated proceedings against offenders involved in 13 percent of reported firearm thefts in 2008–09. Higher apprehension rates were recorded in Victoria and Queensland.
  • Offenders were charged with offences related to breaches of firearm laws, break and enter, theft and possession, receipt and/or disposal of stolen property.

Firearms stolen in three percent of theft incidents were later involved in the commission of an offence or found in the possession of an individual charged with a serious criminal offence. These included one incident of manslaughter, two incidents in which the offender had displayed dangerous conduct with the stolen firearm, two incidents in which the firearm was found in the possession of persons involved in prohibited drug cultivation or supply and one incident in which the firearm was found in possession of a member of an outlawed motorcycle gang.