Australian Institute of Criminology

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Other findings

Recovery of stolen firearms

Stolen firearms were recovered by police from 14 percent of reported firearm theft incidents (see Table 32), consistent with recovery rates of 12–13 percent from previous years. Firearms were not recovered from 77 percent of incidents, while the recovery status was not known for nine percent of incidents. Recovery rates varied considerably between the larger states, from just five percent in South Australia to 24 percent in Queensland. Since 2005–06, Queensland and New South Wales have reported a consistently higher rate of stolen firearm recovery compared with Victoria and particularly South Australia (see Table 33).

Table 32: Stolen firearm recovery and return rate
  n %
Recovered 84 14
Not recovered 460 77
Unknown 57 9
Total 601  
Recovered firearms returned 38 45
Recovered firearms not returned 39 46
Unknown 7 8
Total 84  

Note:Recovery and return rate refers to incident numbers. Data on recovery rates refer only to those events in which the firearm was reclaimed in the jurisdiction in which the theft occurred. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

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

Table 33: Recovery rate of firearms, by jurisdiction
  n %
NSW 26 12
Vic 18 13
Qld 31 24
SA 3 5
Tas 4 11
ACT 2 18
Total 84 14

Note: Recovery and return rate refers to incident numbers. Data on recovery rates refer only to those events in which the firearm was reclaimed in the jurisdiction in which the theft occurred

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

Recovered firearms were known to have been returned to owners in 45 percent of cases (n=38; see Table 32) but no explanation was provided as to why firearms were not given back to owners in the 39 other cases where return status was known. Previous data showed that firearms were not returned if the firearm had been tampered with or altered in any way, the original owner illegally possessed the firearm, or the firearm was still retained in police possession as exhibit property at the time of data collation.

Firearms were more likely to be recovered if the theft was reported as part of a general burglary (χ2=19.5, p<0.05) and if the offender was eventually apprehended χ2=249.7, p<0.001). Little information, however, was provided on the circumstances of the recovery event and it was not clear whether the firearm was found in possession of the original offender or a subsequent recipient. Firearms stolen as part of a multiple firearm theft were not usually recovered together and often only a subset of the original theft haul was located by the police.

Proceeding against offenders

Offenders responsible for, or found in possession of firearms associated with, 13 percent of reported incidents of firearm theft in 2008–09 were subsequently apprehended and dealt with (see Table 34). Apprehension rates were significantly greater for offenders if the theft was classified as a general burglary (76%; χ2=21.7, p< 0.01). No apprehensions were recorded from 76 percent of incidents classified as firearms theft only and it was not known whether an offender had been apprehended from 11 percent of incidents. Of the larger jurisdictions, Victoria and Queensland again recorded higher offender apprehension rates among the larger jurisdictions and South Australia recorded the lowest (3%). No offenders responsible for reported firearm thefts in Tasmania in 2008–09 were proceeded against.

Table 34: Offenders proceeded against, by jurisdiction
  n % of theft incidents
NSW 26 12
Vic 25 19
Qld 23 17
SA 2 3
Tas 0 0
Total 76 13

Note: Excludes the Australian Capital Territory due to small theft numbers

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

The type of offences with which offenders were charged and dealt with was provided by jurisdictions for 70 of the 78 applicable incidents and these are listed in Table 35. Data refer to the number of incidents in which a charge for a specific offence category (eg disposing of stolen property) was laid, regardless of whether one or multiple offenders were involved for that offence per incident. This has been done due to some ambiguity in the data as to the number of charges laid and offenders dealt with.

At least 82 offenders were known to have been proceeded against 191 separate charges (see Table 35). Offenders were charged with illegal entry offences (64%) and theft of the firearm (and other items) in 60 percent of incidents. Seven in 10 incidents in which an offender was proceeded against related to firearm offences (such as unauthorised possession of a firearm or ammunition).

Linking stolen firearms to crime

Table 35: Offence type
  n % of incidentsa
Firearm offencesb 49 70
Break and enter/burglary 45 64
Theft/stealing/larceny 42 60
Possessing/receiving/disposing of stolen property 24 34
Drug related 6 9
Violent crimec 3 4
Other 22 31

a: Percentage is of incidents where an offender was charged and dealt with and where information was provided on the offence type(s) (n=70)

b: Includes possession of unauthorised firearm, possession of unauthorised prohibited firearm, possession of ammunition without holding a licence/permit/authority, use unauthorised firearm, failure to surrender firearm, shorten barrel of longarm, alter firearm ID

c: Includes armed robbery and manslaughter

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

Information on whether firearms reported stolen in 2008–09 were used in subsequent criminal activity, or found in possession of persons charged with serious offences, was available for 65 percent of theft incidents (n=392). Of these, firearms stolen in 10 incidents (or 3%) were recorded as being used in subsequent criminal activity, or in the possession of a person charged with serious offences. Firearms stolen from two additional incidents were used or believed to have been used in two sudden death events.

A total of 51 firearms were stolen from these 10 theft incidents (33 rifles, 10 shotguns, 7 air rifles and 1 handgun) but it was not specified which of these firearms were linked to specific criminal offences. Of the offences listed, firearms from two theft incidents were linked with an offender who had displayed dangerous conduct with the stolen firearm and there were two incidents in which the firearm was found in possession of an individual involved in the cultivation or supply of a prohibited drug. In another case the firearm was found in possession of a member of an outlawed motorcycle gang. Only one theft incident resulted in the use of a firearm to commit a violent crime, in this case manslaughter.