Australia’s summer-long National Firearms Amnesty has ended, resulting in 51,000 firearms confiscated and destined for destruction. The amnesty ran from July 1 to the end of September as the second nationwide amnesty since 1996. Australians face fines up to $280,000 and 14 years in jail if discovered in possession of an unregistered firearm.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Reuters that the amnesty would prevent future mass-casualty events like the one seen recently in Las Vegas.
“Every single one of those 51,000 guns could be used, could have been used in a crime where Australians could be killed – now they can‘t,” Turnbull said. He added that the stockpile of weapons owned by the Las Vegas shooter would be impossible to acquire in Australia.
The amnesty’s final tally of surrendered firearms included some antiques, including a World War I-era Luger, Smith & Wesson 455 from World War II, and a mid-19th century Beaumont Adams revolver. Other items included a grenade from World War II and homemade sub-machine gun.
Media publications have hailed the Australia’s gun control efforts as a victory for public safety, with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson arguing recently on NBC that the United States should consider implementing similar policies.
Australian gun laws, which vary from state to state, place heavy restrictions on handgun ownership. Firearms can only be purchased by individuals with a license who prove that they are active hunters, active members of a local shooting club, competitive shooters, farmers, or collectors. Firearm safety courses are mandatory, and police are required to periodically inspect the homes of gun-owners to ensure that guns are properly stored.
But critics have long argued that buyback programs are ineffective, buying up a fractional number of firearms in circulation and that Australia’s strict regulations have merely bolstered a completely unregulated black market.
The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates that there are 3 million legally-registered firearms in the country.
New South Wales MP David Shoebridge recently questioned the amnesty effort, observing that his state is “on track to have a record 1 million registered firearms by 2020.”
Since enacting restrictive gun laws, Australia has fought against illegal gun-smuggling, including schemes that ship unregistered firearms into Australia via the mail. It is unknown how exactly how many guns have been brought into Australia illegally, but an investigative series by Australia’s NewDaily in 2015 uncovered police data indicating that New South Wales firearms charges rose by 83 percent from 2014 to 2015, compared to 2005 and 2006. Similar numbers were also evident in Victoria.
Buyback programs are not isolated to Australia. They have been enacted in the United States on a local level. Seattle, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Fort Worth, and Dallas are among the cities that have all launched gun buyback efforts this year. Studies have shown that, as voluntarily removals, gun buybacks do not generally yield guns types that are commonly used in homicide or suicide.
Research by the Police Executive Research Forum (1996) showed “that those who are either using guns to carry out crimes or as protection in the course of engaging in other illegal activities, such as drug selling, have actively acquired their guns and are unlikely to want to participate in such programs.” Guns surrendered during buybacks are usually old and malfunctioned.