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Open Access Research article

Who uses firearms as a means of suicide? A population study exploring firearm accessibility and method choice

Helen Klieve, Jerneja Sveticic and Diego De Leo*

Author Affiliations

Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, National Centre of Excellence in Suicide Prevention, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Suicide Prevention, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

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BMC Medicine 2009, 7:52  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-7-52

Published: 24 September 2009

Abstract

Background

The 1996 Australian National Firearms Agreement introduced strict access limitations. However, reports on the effectiveness of the new legislation are conflicting. This study, accessing all cases of suicide 1997-2004, explores factors which may impact on the choice of firearms as a suicide method, including current licence possession and previous history of legal access.

Methods

Detailed information on all Queensland suicides (1997-2004) was obtained from the Queensland Suicide Register, with additional details of firearm licence history accessed from the Firearm Registry (Queensland Police Service). Cases were compared against licence history and method choice (firearms or other method). Odds ratios (OR) assessed the risk of firearms suicide and suicide by any method against licence history. A logistic regression was undertaken identifying factors significant in those most likely to use firearms in suicide.

Results

The rate of suicide using firearms in those with a current license (10.92 per 100,000) far exceeded the rate in those with no license history (1.03 per 100,000). Those with a license history had a far higher rate of suicide (30.41 per 100,000) compared to that of all suicides (15.39 per 100,000). Additionally, a history of firearms licence (current or present) was found to more than double the risk of suicide by any means (OR = 2.09, P < 0.001). The group with the highest risk of selecting firearms to suicide were older males from rural locations.

Conclusion

Accessibility and familiarity with firearms represent critical elements in determining the choice of method. Further licensing restrictions and the implementation of more stringent secure storage requirements are likely to reduce the overall familiarity with firearms in the community and contribute to reductions in rates of suicide.