A whopping 57,324 firearms – including a cannon and a rocket launcher – were handed into Australian authorities as part of a drive to curb the illegal firearms market.
The drive came in response to the 2014 Lindt Café hostage situation in which an armed gunman entered a café in Sydney and took hostages. Three people died in the event: two hostages and gunman Man Haron Monis.
Following the attack, the Australian government approved a nationwide firearms amnesty – allowing most Aussies to hand in their illegal weapons without repercussions.
Australians already have pretty strict gun laws; the National Firearms Agreement in 1996 banned automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns after a man armed with semi-automatic rifles shot and killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia.
Despite that, a report released this week by the National Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group says there are around 250,000 unlicensed guns in Australia.
But along with black market guns, there is a subset of illegal firearms called “grey market guns” — guns that were supposed to be registered or handed in during the firearm reform in 1996, but weren’t.
These grey market guns aren’t normally intended for criminal activity, but a lost or stolen gun could end up in the hands of a person with criminal intent, the report says. It also said those who own grey market guns are less likely to report the guns stolen or lost because they fear repercussions — which is why they were given amnesty as per the report.
A grey market gun was used in the 2014 Lindt Café attack.
From July 1 to Sept. 30, people in Australia handed in 57,324 firearms and another 2,432 accessories like Suppressors, magazines or stocks.
Most of the guns were rifles (35,182), and shotguns (12,279). Handguns made up only 2,901 of the weapons. Air rifles and imitation guns numbered around 5,000.
There were also 1,984 weapons classified as “other.”
Among those were oddities and historical guns – including a rocket launcher. Multiple Second World War-era weapons and those even older were also handed in.
There was also a 25-millimetre single-shot brass cannon which was received as part of an estate, and a revolver and two sabres from an Australian who served in the Swiss Armed Forces, which will go to a local museum.
Multiple Second World War weapons were also handed in.
As for what happens to the guns now? About one-third were destroyed, while the rest were either registered and returned to the owners or passed to licensed dealers.
Government officials praised the drive, saying it was a “very good result.”
“This is another step in the process of making sure that we keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and gangs, and we keep Australians safe and secure,” Law Enforcement Minister Angus Taylor told the Associated Press.
Others said the amnesty didn’t change much, as guns returned weren’t the guns “on the street.”
“The guns that it gets in an amnesty were never on the street. They’re Grandpa’s old guns. They were in the back of a cupboard or wardrobe in a ceiling somewhere. They were never going to be used in a crime,” Senator David Leyonhjelm, who’s also an avid gun owner, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Taylor declined to comment on whether the United States and other countries should follow Australia’s example after the recent Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people.
“I’m not going to give advice to other countries. This is working for us,” Taylor said, referring to national gun controls.
When asked why they handed in their weapons, over half of respondents said they wanted to legally register it. Another 28 per cent said they had a “sense of responsibility,” and 17 per cent said they didn’t need the guns anymore.
Asked where they got the guns, almost half (47 per cent) said the weapons were family heirlooms or acquired through a deceased estate. About a quarter (27 per cent) said they received the guns from family or friends, and another 20 per cent of respondents said they bought their guns before the guns became illegal.
*with files from the Associated Press