SYDNEY - Australians have surrendered more than 400 guns a day under a firearms amnesty that began in July. The weapons turned in include several high-powered military assault rifles as well as shotguns from the Vietnam War.
This is the first national no-questions-asked amnesty since one following a mass shooting in the state of Tasmania in 1996. 26,000 firearms have been handed in so far, much to the surprise of Australian officials. They had not expected so many weapons to be surrendered during the three-month program.
Law enforcement authorities have been worried that unwanted military-style rifles, pistols and shotguns could fall into the hands of extremists and criminal gangs.
The New South Wales assistant police commissioner is Dave Donohue.
“Because it is an amnesty we do not know the history of those firearms. We are not running searches on those firearms but certainly it is a potential there that those firearms could have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained,” he said.
A similar amnesty followed the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania more than 20 years ago. Measures enacted then also restricted possession of automatic and semi-automatic firearms.
Thirty-five people died when a lone gunman, using a semi-automatic rifle, attacked a former penal colony at Port Arthur, a popular tourist destination. It was the worst mass shooting in Australia's history.
After the current amnesty finishes at the end of the month, anyone found with an unregistered firearm faces up to 14 years in prison or a very hefty fine. Surrendered weapons are destroyed.
It is estimated there are more than a quarter-million illegal guns in Australia, although officials concede the exact number is impossible to gauge.