To examine the rates of suicide by firearms in the five larger Australian States during 1968-1989, and to relate them to differences between those States. We hypothesised that (i) restrictive gun legislation will have reduced the firearms suicide rate in South Australia after 1980, and (ii) firearms suicides would be shown to be more common in States with larger rural:urban population ratios.
Data supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics were analysed by sex, State and year of suicide. Differences between the firearms suicide rates of capital city and rural dwellers, and of different age-groups, were recorded.
Firearms suicide rates in South Australia declined significantly after 1980, following proclamation of gun legislation, in contrast to the four other larger States where an increase in firearms suicides was recorded. The firearms suicide rate in Queensland has remained consistently higher than in the other four larger States during 1968-1989. The number of Australian firearms suicides per year fell by 25% from a peak of 572 in 1987 to 451 in 1989.
Further reductions in the Australian firearms suicide rate might be achieved by tightening gun laws and by a media campaign aimed at reducing easy access by males to guns in rural households.