Most SA child gunshot deaths are homicides

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A University of Adelaide study has revealed that more than 42 children have died in South Australia over the past 37 years as a result of gunshot wounds - the majority of them murder victims.

Forensic pathologist Professor Roger Byard says the study from 1969-2005, shows that 52% of the shooting deaths of children under the age of 17 were homicides, 33% suicides and 14% accidents.

The suicide victims and all but one of the accidental deaths were male, with equal numbers of male and female homicide victims.

Professor Byard, from the University's Discipline of Pathology, says that while these figures are disturbing, South Australia's paediatric firearm fatalities are well below that of comparative regions in the United States.

The study, which involved collaboration between the University of Adelaide and the University of California, also compared childhood shooting statistics with San Diego in California, a county with almost twice the population.

"In San Diego there were 185 paediatric deaths over an 18 year period as a result of firearms," Professor Byard says.

"The incidence of homicide was significantly higher in San Diego County compared to Adelaide, but per capita there were more murder-suicides in South Australia."

While Australia's national firearm amnesty and gun buy-back scheme is attributed to a decrease in the number of firearm deaths in South Australia, Professor Byard says firearm-related trauma has become one of the leading causes of paediatric injuries and death in the United States.

Death rates due to gunshots are five to six times higher in the United States than other countries of a similar socioeconomic level, the study revealed.

"Availability and access to firearms in the United States must be considered a potential factor," Professor Byard says.

"The comparative rarity of gunshot deaths in Australian children relates to differences in cultural and legislative practices, with reduced access to weapons in this country."

The study has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.


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