Australian Institute of Criminology

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Weapons, drugs and crime

Media Release

29 June 2006

"The ownership and use of weapons amongst people detained by the police is relatively common" Dr Toni Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) said on releasing the Institute's latest paper in its Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice series, Weapons, drugs and crime: the Australian experience.

"The research shows that people detained by police are more likely than the general population to have recently owned firearms, with very few holding a firearm licence" Dr Makkai said, "The majority of both firearms and knives were purchased, mostly through illegitimate sources. Importantly, detainees who said they used a weapon to commit a crime had self-reported higher levels of illicit drug use and were more likely to test positive to drugs."

Key results include:

  • Forty percent of detainees reported that they had owned or possessed a knife at some time in their lives, whilst just over a quarter (26%) of the detainees reported that they had owned or possessed a handgun, a sawn-off shotgun or rifle, or other firearm.
  • Within the past twelve months, 36 percent of detainees reported having owned a knife and 16 percent a firearm.
  • The majority of weapons were purchased (66% of knife owners; 60% of firearms owners); mostly through illegitimate sources. A common source for weapons was a family member or friend.
  • Sixteen percent of all detainees reported using a weapon to commit crime at some time in their lives (nine percent reported using knives, seven percent firearms and five percent some other weapon).
  • Detainees who used a weapon to commit a crime self-reported higher levels of illicit drug use and were more likely to test positive to drugs than detainees who did not use a weapon to commit crime.
  • Detainees who had used a weapon to commit crime were more likely to have been arrested, charged with a violent offence and/or in prison in the past year. Those who had used knives to commit crime were more likely to be younger and less likely to be in full-time employment.
  • A small proportion of weapons owners (eight percent of recent firearm owners and four percent of recent knife owners) reported that they were for use in the drug trade. An even smaller proportion (one percent of both firearm and knife owners) reported ownership as being part of a gang.

Under the AIC's Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program, an addendum on weapon ownership and use was administered to police detainees in seven sites in the third quarter of 2001, the fourth quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2004. Of the 3,291 adult detainees approached for interview, 2,323 provided responses to the addendum questions on weapons.