The National Firearms Amnesty gives Australians “an opportunity to hand in unregistered and unwanted firearms and improve community safety,” a statement from Justice Minister Michael Keenan said on Friday.
The program starts on July 1 and within three months – until September 30 – anyone who possesses an unwanted or unregistered firearm, or a firearm-related item such as ammunition, can legally dispose of or register their firearm at “approved drop-off points in each State and Territory”, without fear of being prosecuted, Justice Minister said.
Outside the amnesty period, however, those who are caught with illegal guns could face a fine of up to AU$280,000 (US$212,000), up to 14 years in prison and a criminal record.
“My expectation is it will probably not be the case that we will have hardened criminals who have made a big effort to get a hold on illegal guns would necessarily hand them in. The purpose is to reduce the number of unregistered and illicit firearms in the community,” Keenan said, as cited by AAP.
This is the first “nationwide” gun amnesty since 1996, after the Port Arthur Massacre took place, Kennan said. The tragedy at the popular tourist site in southeastern Tasmania is considered the worst shooting incident in Australia. A mentally-unstable man went on a shooting spree, killing 35 people and injuring 22. Following the tragedy, the federal government took decisive action and introduced restrictions on shotguns and rifles.
However, the vice-president of Gun Control Australia, Roland Browne, doubts that amnesty will stop the terrorist threat in Australia.
“Amnesties are good in the sense that they take guns out of the hands of the community who don’t need them and that’s especially helpful in the case of suicide,” Browne told the ABC. “But if you are dealing with people who are hell-bent in causing terror, they are not going to hand in their guns.”
Australia has recently seen fatal incidents inspired by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and is trying to cope with the Islamist-related threat. Earlier this month, the authorities announced plans to build its first prison solely for militants with extreme views to prevent the radicalization of other inmates.
The plans were announced shortly after Somali-born Yacqub Khayre took a woman hostage in an apartment block in Melbourne. One man died during the siege, as well as the attacker. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the incident.
Later, Australian authorities confirmed that Khayre was on parole after serving time in prison for a violent burglary in 2012. According to Australian media reports, he was also known to counterterrorism authorities for his alleged involvement in a 2009 terrorist plot to attack the army barracks in Sydney.
In 2014, an Iranian-born man, identified as Man Haron Monis, used an illegal gun to take hostages in a Sydney café. The siege ended with two of the hostages dead and the gunman eventually killed by police.