Australia announces three-month gun amnesty

The Australian government said illegal firearms were used in the 2014 Sydney siege.

Story highlights

  • Major gun buy-back held in 1996 after Port Arthur massacre
  • Australia has seen no mass shootings since then

(CNN)Australia has announced a three-month gun amnesty in an attempt to stop some of the country's 260,000 illegal firearms from falling into the hands of terrorists.

From July 1, owners of unregistered guns will be able to hand them in without fear of punishment.
"As recent events have shown us, just one gun in the wrong hands can be deadly," Justice Minister Michael Keenan said Friday. "Now is the time to run another amnesty, with the aim of reducing this pool of illegal guns."
    Illegal guns were used in recent terrorist activity such as a deadly shootout in Melbourne this month, and the 2014 Sydney cafe siege which left two hostages dead.
    Anyone caught with an unregistered firearm outside the amnesty period could face a $280,000 (US$212,500) fine and up to 14 years in prison.
    There were 47 violent crimes involving firearms across Australia in 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. The same year, there were more than 11,208 homicides involving firearms in US, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
    Australia is a nation of nearly 24 million people, versus 321 million in the US.
    Clare O'Neil, an opposition Labor MP and Shadow Minister for Justice, told CNN her party was fully supportive of the move.
    "We are always pleased to see the states, territories and Federal Government taking steps to get illegal guns off our streets," she said.
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    This week's move is the first major gun amnesty 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 to reporters Friday, 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.