A rocket launcher and automatic rifles were among the 57,000 firearms handed in during a three-month gun amnesty in Australia, the country’s first since tough gun laws were introduced in 1996.
Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said Thursday 57,324 firearms and 2,432 parts and accessories were surrendered between July and September 2017.
The national amnesty was announced last year after police said illegal firearms had been used in several attempted terrorist attacks.
Despite having some of the world’s toughest gun laws, around 250,000 unlicensed guns are estimated to be in circulation in Australia.
Australia’s gun legislation is often held up as an example for the US to potentially follow after a spate of shootings, most recently in Florida where a lone gunman killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school.
In Australia, anyone caught with an illegal firearm outside the amnesty period could face a $280,000 (US$212,500) fine and up to 14 years in prison.
Rocket launchers and machine guns
Of the 57,000 guns surrendered, almost 2,500 were either fully or semi-automatic. More than, 80,000 rounds of ammunition were also given up.
As well as a host of regular rifles and shotguns, the amnesty turned up several bizarre items, including a World War II Sten machine gun, Swiss cavalry sabers from the 1800s, an anti-tank rifle, and a rocket launcher.
Other items included a bolt-action rifle concealed within a spirit level, two tiny pistols the size of pens, and a homemade machine gun housed within a briefcase.
“Taking these unregistered firearms off the streets means they will not fall into the hands of criminals, who might use them to endanger the lives of innocent Australians,” said Angus Taylor, Australia’s Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security.
The National Firearms Amnesty report said the exercise had been “highly successful” and had resulted in a “safer and more secure Australian community.”
Supporters of the move pointed to both security incidents in Australia and mass killings in the US as a reason why the amnesty was needed.
“Australia has some of the strongest gun laws in the world but illicit firearms remain a threat to community safety,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in October.
“We’ve seen the shocking tragedy in Las Vegas … We have strict gun control laws, but we don’t take anything for granted. We here not complacent about it.”
Gun control success
Last year’s amnesty was the first such major initiative in the country since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which a lone gunman killed 35 people with a military-style semiautomatic rifle.
In the wake of that tragedy, then Prime Minister John Howard banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns and tightened gun licensing. The government eventually bought back and destroyed more than one million firearms.
Speaking last year when the amnesty was announced, Howard said he was “all in favor of anything that seeks to eliminate guns in Australia.”
In the wake of his reforms, mass shootings in Australia dropped to zero, gun suicides declined by an average of 4.8% per year, and gun-related homicides declined by an average of 5.5% per year.
Those statistics are often pointed to by gun-control advocates in the US as proof restricting the availability of deadly weapons can reduce the number of deaths from them.