Report warns on firearms

from page 6 of The West Australian, May 1, 1996

by Marnie McKimmie and Rebecca Rose

  The State Government's report on firearm violence estimates there are 70,000 unlicensed guns in WA.
  The WA Health Department internal document says possibly one in four firearms is not licensed.
  It warns that WA must not become complacent because of its long-standing gun ownership legislation and low gun ownership level per household, stating that "today, the choice is ours, tomorrow, it may not be".
  The report, called Firearm Violence and Ownership -- A Public Health Perspective, was produced last year for health professionals and copies were sent to former health minister Graham Kierath and Police Minister Bob Wiese.
  But health department officials are believed to be disappointed by the little attention paid to the document.
  It was meant to highlight pressing health risks in the lead-up to the planned overhaul of WA's gun laws.
  "Gun-attributed violence is a significant public health problem, which requires attention from social, legal and health agencies," the document states.
  The Health Department report calls for more severe penalties for those who abuse the privilege of owning a firearm.
  It also want a strong public education campaign to provide information on the risks of owning a gun. Research has shown that just owning a firearm increases the individual risk of violent death tenfold.
  In 1993, 45 West Australians died from firearm injury, a bigger number than those who died from AIDS.
  It calls for the establishment of a monitoring and surveillance data collection system which would inform the Health Department on all those killed by guns and the circumstances of their deaths.
  WA's police firearm's branch said yesterday that it used to hold gun amnesties every four years. But a few months ago it had launced a permanent amnesty.
  The Australian Medical Association applauded WA yesterday for having the longest-standing gun ownership legislation, saying it was time that other States caught up with its tough stand.
  But AMA vice-president David Roberts said there were still many flaws in WA's legislation, which had remained virtually unchanged since the 1970s.
  Former Labor police minister Graham Edwards said yesterday that the massacre brought back sharp memories of his attempts to negotiate stronger national gun laws in 1991 and his clashes with Tasmanian authorities who were obstinate in their refusal to bend.

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