Australian Institute of Criminology

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Characteristics of stolen firearms

Incidence of firearm theft

A total of 1,570 firearms from 620 separate theft incidents were reported stolen to state and territory police (except Western Australia) between 1 July 2008 and 30 June 2009 (see Table 1). The median number of firearms reported stolen for each incident was two. The largest number of firearms stolen in any one incident was 19.

Table 1: Firearm theft incidents and number of stolen firearms
 IncidentsNumber of stolen firearmsMean number of firearmsMedian number of firearms
n%n%
NSW 220 35 592 38 2.7 2
Vic 134 22 302 19 2.3 1
Qld 132 21 319 20 2.4 2
SA 67 11 211 13 3.1 2
Tas 37 6 99 6 2.7 2
ACT 11 2 22 1 2.0 1
NT 19 3 25 2 1.3 1
Australia (ex WA) 620   1,570   2.5 2

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

The proportional distribution of stolen firearms across jurisdictions was generally associated with proportional differences in registration numbers, that is, a greater proportion of thefts and stolen firearms were reported in the larger jurisdictions of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland where there are a greater number of registered firearms. In 2008–09, however, the proportion of firearms stolen in New South Wales (38%) was around 10–12 percentage points higher than that reported in the previous four years, accounting for around a quarter of all stolen firearms.

With the absence of Western Australian data, it is not possible to comment on the overall trend in stolen firearms since 2004–05, other than to note that firearm theft appeared to be on the increase (see Table 2). When considering data for all jurisdictions but Western Australia, the number of firearms reported stolen has increased an average six percent each year since 2004–05. These numbers, though, are still less than half the average number of firearms reported stolen in the previous decade (ie between 1994 and 2000; see Table 2).

Table 2: Trend in stolen firearms 1994–2000 to 2007–08 (number stolen per year)
 1994–2000a2004–052005–062006–072007–082008–09
NSW 1,048 371 401 432 410 592
Vic 538 302 211 276 332 302
Qld 750 329 302 320 352 319
WA 602 207 191 232 297 n/a
SA 823 150 198 204 193 211
Tas 306 83 114 52 107 99
ACT 36 8 9 n/a 9 22
NT 92 20 19 10 12 25
Australia 4,195 1,470 1,445 1,526b 1,712
Australia (ex WA) 3,593 1,263 1,254 1,294 1,415 1,570

a: The figures in this column represent the average number of firearm stolen during this period

b: Excludes Australian Capital Territory. Because the number of firearms reported stolen in the Australian Capital Territory each year is small, the exclusion of ACT data does not overly underestimate the Australian total

Note: Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Sources: Mouzos 2002; AIC NFTMP 2004–09 [computer file]

While the national trend is for an increase in firearm theft, state and territory trends have varied (see Figure 1), particularly in Victoria where there was between a nine and 30 percentage point difference in firearm theft numbers between years. Nonetheless, the general pattern for New South Wales and Western Australia was an increase in the number of firearms reported stolen and an overall decrease for South Australia. There was little difference in theft numbers reported in Queensland over the four year period.

Figure 1: Trend in stolen firearms, 2004–05 to 2008–09, by jurisdiction (n)

 Figure 1

Note: Data were not available for the Australian Capital Territory for 2006–07 and Western Australia for 2008–09. Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: NFTMP 2004–09 [computer file]

The prevalence of single versus multiple firearm thefts has varied since 2004–05, with multiple firearm thefts accounting for slightly more than half of all reported thefts in the most recent two years. Multiple firearm thefts were again more common in 2008–09, comprising 55 percent of all reported thefts (see Table 3). With the exception of Victoria, multiple firearm thefts predominated in the larger jurisdictions, in particular in South Australia, where 67 percent of reported incidents involved the theft of two or more firearms.

Table 3: Single versus multiple firearm thefts
 Single firearm theft (n)Multiple firearm theft (n)Single firearm theft (%)Multiple firearm theft (%)
NSW 90 130 41 59
Vic 68 66 51 49
Qld 60 72 45 55
SA 22 45 33 67
Tas 16 21 43 57
ACT 7 4 64 36
NT 16 3 84 16
Australia (ex WA) 279 341 45 55

Note: Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Describing stolen firearms

Type of firearms stolen

Rifles made up more than half of all reported stolen firearms (60%) in 2008–09 and shotguns accounted for almost a quarter (see Table 4). Handguns represented six percent of all stolen firearms. At least one rifle was stolen in three-quarters (74%) of all reported thefts in 2008–09, shotguns in 43 percent, air rifles in 16 percent of all thefts and handguns in seven percent. This general pattern has not changed over the five year reference period (see Borzycki & Mouzos 2007; Bricknell 2010, 2008; Bricknell & Mouzos 2007).

Rifles were the most common firearm stolen in each of the jurisdictions where data were available (see Figure 2; Table 36), reflecting the prevalence of this firearm type among the Australian firearm-owning community. There was, as in previous years, variability among jurisdictions in the predominance of rifles in the pool of stolen firearms. In 2008–09, rifles comprised 47 percent of all firearms reported stolen in Victoria and up to 82 percent in the Australian Capital Territory.

Figure 2: Type of firearm stolen, by jurisdiction (%)

Figure 2

Note: Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia); Table 35

Table 4: Type of firearm stolen
 n%
Rifle 949 60
Shotgun 376 24
Air rifle 108 7
Handgun 88 6
Other 18 1
Unknown 31 2
Total 1,570 100

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Similarly, there was variation among jurisdictions in the proportion of shotguns stolen. Victoria again reported a higher rate of shotgun theft compared with most other Australian states and territories, at around a third of all reported stolen firearms; shotguns also comprised a third of all stolen firearms in Tasmania. By contrast, handguns represented less than 10 percent of stolen firearms in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and less than five percent of stolen firearms in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The Australian Capital Territory did not report any handgun thefts in 2008–09.

Almost eight out of 10 rifles (78%) stolen were bolt action rifles, with lever action rifles the next most frequently stolen rifle type (13%; see Table 5). Single barrel and double barrel shotguns made up just over a third (36%) and a fifth (22%) respectively of all stolen shotguns (see Table 6). The stolen handguns were mostly revolvers (53%) or semi-automatic pistols (46%; see Table 7).

Table 5: Action type of stolen rifles
 n%
Bolt action rifle 688 78
Lever action rifle 117 13
Pump action rifle 35 4
Single shot rifle 11 1
Semi-automatic rifle 2 <1
Other 25 3
Total 878  

Note: Excludes rifles in which action type was unknown (n=71). Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Table 6: Action type of stolen shotguns
 n%
Single barrel shotgun 61 36
Double barrel shotgun 38 22
Over and under shotgun 28 16
Pump action shotgun 6 4
Bolt action shotguns 5 3
Semi-automatic shotgun 2 1
Lever action shotgun 1 1
Other 30 18
Total 171  

Note: Excludes shotguns in which action type was unknown (n=205). Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Table 7: Action type of stolen handguns
 n%
Semi-automatic pistols 37 46
Revolvers 43 53
Other 1 1
Total 81 100

Note: Excludes handguns in which action type was unknown (n=6) or recorded as a replica (n=1). Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Category of stolen firearms

For registration and licensing purposes, firearms in Australia are categorised according to a classification system based on firing action, calibre and other criteria. Each jurisdiction recognises five primary categories—A, B, C, D and H—although some have created additional categories for specific firearms (eg paintball markers; see Appendix B for description of generic firearm categories).

Category A and B firearms are the most commonly registered firearms in Australia and may be owned for a range of sporting, recreational (primarily hunting) and occupational purposes. Accordingly, these firearms made up the majority of all reported stolen firearms. In 2008–09, 61 percent of all stolen firearms were Category A firearms and 26 percent were Category B (see Table 8), similar to proportions reported in previous years.

Table 8: Category of stolen firearms
 n%
A 958 61
B 402 26
C 10 1
D 2 <1
H 91 6
Other 2 <1
Unknowna 102 7
Total 1,567  

a: Includes firearms from which insufficient information was available to ascertain category

Note: Excludes firearms in which category was recorded as not applicable (n=3). Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Category C and D firearms are restricted firearms and are only used for a limited range of sporting (eg clay target shooting: Category C), occupational (eg animal control) and official purposes. Just one percent of all reported stolen firearms in 2008–09 were Category C firearms and less than one percent were Category D firearms. Category H firearms are exclusively handguns and are also restricted; they may be acquired for specific sporting and occupational purposes. Category H firearms made up six percent of all reported stolen firearms in 2008–09.

Among the larger jurisdictions, Category A firearms comprised around six in 10 of all reported stolen firearms, except in South Australia where Category A firearms comprised 68 percent of all stolen firearms (see Figure 3; Table 36). Queensland recorded a Category B firearm theft rate greater than the national proportion (35% compared with 26%) and Victoria recorded a lower theft rate (19%). Handgun theft rates for all jurisdictions were generally similar to the national proportion.

Figure 3: Category of stolen firearms, by jurisdiction (%)

 Figure 3

Note: Excludes 107 firearms about which insufficient information was available to ascertain category or the category was recorded as other or not applicable. Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia); Table 36

Registration status of stolen firearms

As found in the previous four years, the great majority of firearms reported stolen in 2008–09 had been registered by a private owner or a dealer with the relevant state/territory police service (90%; see Tables 9 and 10). Only four percent of firearms overall, and no more than five percent in any one jurisdiction, were unregistered at the time the theft occurred. However, it is probable that this figure is an underestimate since owners of unregistered firearms would be less inclined to report the theft to police in order to avoid being charged for offences related to the possession of an unregistered firearm.

Table 9: Registration status of stolen firearms
 n%
Registereda 1,410 90
Dealer stockb 12 1
Not registered 61 4
Unknown 77 5
Total 1,560 100

a: Registered to private owner

b: Registered to dealer

Note: Excludes 10 firearms in which registration status was recorded as not applicable

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Table 10: Registration status of stolen firearms, by jurisdictiona
 RegisteredbNot registered
n%n%
NSW 525 89 31 5
Vic 256 85 10 3
Qld 285 89 16 5
SA 202 96 2 1
Tas 96 97 1 1
ACT 21 96 1 1
NT 25 100 0 0

a: Percentages are of all firearms reported stolen in that jurisdiction (ie including stolen firearms registered to dealers or whose registration was unknown or not applicable). Percentages in table rows will therefore not total 100

b: Registered to private owner

Note: Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia)

Firearm licence holders

The majority of firearm owners (88%) who reported the theft of firearms in 2008–09 held the appropriate licence(s) for the firearms they reported stolen (see Tables 11 and 12). Nine percent of all owners were not licensed, a higher proportion than the average six percent recorded in previous years. New South Wales and Victoria had the highest proportion of unlicensed owners reporting a firearm theft in 2008–09 (13% and 12% respectively).

A total of 991 firearm licences were held by the 601 owners who reported a firearm theft in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (see Table 13). Ninety percent of the total licences were for Category A and B firearms, corresponding with the predominance of these firearm categories among the firearm owning community. Eighty-three percent of owners held a Category A licence and 66 percent held a Category B licence.

Table 11: Firearm licence holders
 n%
Licensed 530 88
Not licensed 55 9
Unknown 10 2
Not applicable 6 1
Total 601 100

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Table 12: Licence holders by jurisdiction
 LicensedUnlicensedTotal (n)% of all firearm owners
n%n%
NSW 182 87 28 13 210 95
Vic 115 88 16 12 131 98
Qld 124 96 5 4 129 98
SA 63 94 4 6 67 100
Tas 36 97 1 3 37 100
ACT 10 91 1 9 11 100

Note: Excludes 16 theft incidents in which the licence status of the firearm owner was unknown or not applicable. Care must be taken when interpreting data from the Australian Capital Territory due to small theft numbers

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Table 13: Type of firearm licence held
 n% of firearm owners% of licenses held
A 497 83 50
B 396 66 40
C 28 5 3
D 7 1 1
H 47 8 5
Other 16 3 2
Total 991   100

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)