Objectives: The aims of this study were to (i) survey mental health-related correlates of firearms ownership and availability in Australia, and (ii) assess possible causal relationships between civilian gun deaths, gun availability and mental disorders.
Method: Available data regarding firearms ownership, injuries and deaths were reviewed as well as studies of (i) gun ownership, suicide and homicide, and (ii) gun control laws and suicide.
Results: Findings indicated that 85% of firearm deaths are triggered by distress, as opposed to crime. Most firearm homicides are intrafamilial or involve familiar persons. Firearm suicide rates, athough tapering off in recent years, continue to rise among certain groups. It was also found that:
(1) Beyond reasonable doubt, a causal relationship exists between gun ownership and firearm suicides and homicides. The role of method substitution is controversial, but is probably less important among the young.
(2) Outside the United States, legislation may be useful in reducing firearm and possibly overall suicide rates.
(3) If firearm owners are representative of the community, then 15-20% suffer from a psychiatric disorder at any time. While a modest increase in risk of firearms misuse exists for this group, especially those with a history of substance abuse or violence, concern also arises regarding those with mental disorders who access firearms because owners have not secured them. No uniform definition or way of verifying self-reports exists for gun licence applicants regarding these issues.
Conclusions: Further regulation of firearm safety and availability is warranted. Public health measures include improved surveillance regarding firearm events, advocacy for appropriate firearm legislation, and better education and communication about firearms.