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Firearm legislation reform in the European Union: impact on firearm availability, firearm suicide and homicide rates in Austria

  • Nestor D. Kapusta (a1), Elmar Etzersdorfer (a2), Christoph Krall (a3) and Gernot Sonneck (a4)
Abstract
Background

The availability of firearms in homes and at aggregate levels is a risk factor for suicide and homicide. One method of reducing access to suicidal means is the restriction of firearm availability through more stringent legislation.

Aims

To evaluate the impact of firearm legislation reform on firearm suicides and homicides as well as on the availability of firearms in Austria.

Method

Official statistics on suicides, firearm homicides and firearm licences issued from 1985 to 2005 were examined. To assess the effect of the new firearm law, enacted in 1997, linear regression and Poisson regressions were performed using data from before and after the law reform.

Results

The rate of firearm suicides among some age groups, percentage of firearm suicides, as well as the rate of firearm homicides and the rate of firearm licences, significantly decreased after a more stringent firearm law had been implemented.

Conclusions

Our findings provide evidence that the introduction of restrictive firearm legislation effectively reduced the rates of firearm suicide and homicide. The decline in firearm-related deaths seems to have been mediated by the legal restriction of firearm availability. Restrictive firearm legislation should be an integral part of national suicide prevention programmes in countries with high firearm suicide rates.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Nestor D. Kapusta, Medical University of Vienna, Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, A-1090 Vienna, Austria. Tel: +43 1 404003064; fax: +43 1 42779656; email: nestor.kapusta@meduniwien.ac.at
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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Firearm legislation reform in the European Union: impact on firearm availability, firearm suicide and homicide rates in Austria

  • Nestor D. Kapusta (a1), Elmar Etzersdorfer (a2), Christoph Krall (a3) and Gernot Sonneck (a4)
Submit a response

eLetters

Authors Reply to the comment "Australian Firearms Data Requires a Cautious Approach"

Nestor D. Kapusta, Psychiartist
25 September 2007

McPhedran and Baker point out an unsolved problem of Australian suicide research. There are concerns about the quality of mortality data sources and statistics based upon them. Therefore, they urge researchers to approach Australian firearms data with caution. The authors cite a letter to the editor of the Medical Journal of Australia written by Diego De Leo (2007).

Professor De Leo highlighted inconsistencies of Australian mortality data since the year 2001 and called for homogenized certification procedures of deaths according to ICD-10 and for other improvements of death registries. However, in Austria autopsies are performed when there is any uncertainty regarding the cause of death. The autopsy rate is high in international comparison and was in average 29% in 1991-2000 (Waldhoer et al, 2003). If the cause of death is not clear, an additional investigation by Statistics Austria takes place. Statistics Austria registers deaths as suicide if that is the most probable cause of death. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-8, -9, -10) has been applied for many years and there are no signs of a decrease of the data quality of Statistics Austria. The work of Kapusta et al. (2007) is based on these data.

Furthermore, De Leo (2007) realistically states that some under-reporting is ubiquitous and has to be tolerated in suicide statistics. On the other hand, under-reporting of firearm-deaths seems less probable thanunder-reporting of e.g. deaths due to poisonings (longer survival periods)which tend to be classified as disease-related deaths.

We agree with McPhedran and Baker, that Australian firearm laws should be re-evaluated on the basis of more reliable data. But as long as sufficient evidence is not available, theoretical assumptions that Australian firearm laws had no life-saving effects remain speculative - from a scientific point of view. This applies also to Europe, where independent scientific firearm law evaluations are still rare.

Declaration of interest: None

De Leo, D. (2007). Suicide mortality data needs revision. Medical Journal of Australia, 186, 157.

Kapusta, N.D., Etzerdorfer, E., Krall, C., & Sonneck, G. (2007). Firearm legislation reform in the European Union: impact on firearm availability, firearm suicide and homicide rates in Austria. British Journal of Psychiatry, 191, 253-257.

Waldhoer, T., Berzlanovich, A., Vutuc, C., & Haidinger, G. (2003). Rates of postmortem examination in Austria: the effect of distancebetween location of death and site of examination. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 56(9), 891-5.

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Nestor D. KAPUSTA, M.D.Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, Medical University of Vienna, Austria, nestor.kapusta@meduniwien.ac.at

Elmar ETZERSDORFER, Prof. M.D.Furtbach Hospital for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Stuttgart,Germany

Gernot SONNECK, Prof. M.D.Institute for Medical Psychology, Medical University of Vienna, Austria
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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