Institute Of Criminology Report On Firearms Theft In 2018 (2020 Publication)


The Australian Institute of Criminology (‘AIC’) has recently produced a Firearms Report- something that it has unfortunately not done for quite a long time. I say unfortunate, because its research is of good quality and there is a dearth of current, quality, peer reviewed research dealing with firearms matters.

One reason for the absence is that the AIC strikes is a small organisation that probably pays dearly under our government efficiency dividend system. There is also sadly a lack of political appetite for quality research into our gun laws when one would have thought that quality research, of the type undertaken by the AIC would be at the core of almost all criminological law making.

This report is titled, and unsurprisingly deals with Firearms Theft In Australia in 2018.

Nationally, there were 847 incidents of reported firearms theft during the 12-month period, which involved 2,425 firearms. Thefts across states and territories reflect population size- NSW 24%, Victoria 24%, 19% NSW, WA 18%.

The National Firearm theft rate was 3.4 incidents per 100,000 people which is similar to the 2008-9 theft rate of 3.3 incidents per 100,000 people. The highest rate occurred in Tasmania 8.1 per 100,000 and WA 6.0 per 100,000.

The lowest rate occurred in NSW, with 2.0 per 100,000 which experienced a 21% decrease in theft between 08 and 2018.

83 % of thefts occurred in a residential setting. 51% of the incidents they were stolen from in a home, 22% from garage or outbuilding, 6% of thefts were from agricultural sites.

Remoteness was ascertained or rather presumed, from post code. 23% of theft occurred in major regional areas, 31% in outer regional areas. Areas with the highest concentration of theft were outer regional areas in NSW (53%), inner regional areas in Victoria (48%) and major city locations in South Australia (35%).

There would appear to be an overall decrease in major city theft incidents (36% v 21%) and an increase in outer regional (23% v 34%) and remote (3% v 8%) when comparing 2007-08 and 2018.

Firearms were the sole items stolen in 29% of incidents although there was variation across states in NSW 87% of robberies involved firearms and other goods. Firearms specific thefts were more common where the theft was from farm out buildings. The premises were known to be secured in 30% of incident and force or tools were used.

Tools or force was used to cut the locking device in 18% of incidents, but in a worrying 12% the key was located and used to open the receptacle and in 14% of matters the entire receptacle was taken.

Unfortunately, the report is a snap shot, and does not show why NSW recorded such a low figure- or indeed such a dramatic decrease.

Certainly 2017 Regulatory changes, which saw firearms removed from distant farm outbuildings had not been publicised by the Registry until guidelines were revised prior to the latest NSW audit round, so this can be discounted as a factor.

There were issues earlier in the decade involving the movement of records from a secure database to a local intranet, where it could be broadly accessed. This was exposed by a NSW concerned Police Sergeant, see Justin Law ‘Firearms data compromised’ (Sporting Shooter Magazine 26/07/2013).

This led to anecdotal evidence of ‘theft to order’. Here it would be interesting to note if there has been a significant fall in the theft of multiple firearms, since one would assume that a thief with ‘inside knowledge’ would isolated locations where multiple firearms are stored.

It would be interesting to note if this reduction in theft was a one off or occurred over a period of time after record keeping was tightened. Certainly, I can think of no other reason for the spike in theft in 2008-9 when compared to 04-05, 05-06, 06-07 and 2018. Sadly, figures for the intervening decade 09-18 are not included in the literature.

One possible curved ball though is that the National Firearms Council recently published a letter dated 9 April 2020 from the Deputy Commissioner (Investigations & Counter Terrorism) that advised that a copy of the Register on the Police server had been taken down- suggesting that Police had not taken the data security issue reported above seriously.

If this report is correct, and Police had once again put up an insecure firearm register clone on their unsecure intra net, to what extent has this been copied? And passed on?

I do not know the answer to this, as NSW storage requirements are similar to those in other states and territories, it is difficult to conceive of storage methodology as accounting for the difference in theft rate, and recent NFC allegations, potentially run counter to my hypothesis.

Clearly further research is needed.

Recovery of firearms- 11% in NSW, 20% QLD and 22% in WA- unfortunately data on the motive of the theft was not provided or analysed.

The discussion here is not really satisfactory, although this is really a subject matter for a research paper in its own right.

I would have liked to see the motive of theft analysed- was the theft, gang related or was it to feed the grey market? The context of the firearms recovery could give an indication here.

I often hear anecdotal evidence of people who are unlicensed for one reason or another, possessing and using firearms that would have to have been sourced from somewhere.

One other factor I find curious about the paper is an analysis of storage without seeking to ascertain its purpose, and whether existing storage, even where theft is evident, is achieving its intended purpose.

Firearms storage was never intended to prevent serious attempts at theft from occurring, but rather was intended to provide a first line of defence, in preventing the accessing by the firearm by members of the shooter’s immediate family and in particular children.

This is why Cat AB storage references a ‘locked receptacle’ and includes a reference to wood as a suitable material.

Cat AB firearms storage is not hard to compromise, I know of a popular brand of AB storage receptacle that was compromised by a mentally ill woman of small stature armed only with a block splitter. It took her about 50 frenzied blows to access the firearms within.

Even more sophisticated storage can be compromised by an electronic angle grinder, a heavy drill or oxy equipment- as my locksmith advised- all safe storage can be compromised- it is just a matter of time and a transfer of energy- usually heat.

The firearms being seized in domestic theft are typically Cat A & B firearms- rifles and pistols, whereas the streets are somewhat awash with illicit handguns. There seems to be little or no analysis available on the original source of illegal handguns and to try, in so far as one is able, to track their path to Australia.

The background of such firearms would be varied, but it would be interesting to know the number that may have been sourced by theft in the United States or elsewhere.

This report, and a consideration of the lack of AIC activity highlights a point that those involved in Firearms lobbying need to consider.

I would assume that the AIC undertakes research after receipt of an expression of interest from a law enforcement body, otherwise it would be undertaking research largely at the whim of its researchers, and that would not amount to a sensible use of government resources. In this context, I would not expect the AIC to receive instructions for research into areas that subvert the Australian government gun control paradigm.

We are never going to see a significant winding back of firearms laws in Australia unless there is a considerable body of highly persuasive peer reviewed research that grounds the changes to the National Firearms Agreement, in sound public policy.

Given this, interested players need to consider how this research can be obtained and be funded.

Simon Munslow

National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
M: 0427 280 962

Simon Munslow is a lawyer who has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University.
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.

He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.

This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice.
He can assist you with:

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