Australia says it will put in place a three-month amnesty to allow gun owners to hand in illegal firearms without penalty. The move comes after several violent incidents that the government has called terrorist attacks.
The Australian government on Friday introduced its first gun amnesty in more than 20 years in a bid to counter the growing security threat posed by illegal firearms, which have been used in several recent violent incidents in the country.
"This is an opportunity for people to present guns to authorities, no questions asked and with no penalty," Justice Minister Michael Keenan told reporters.
He said the new amnesty, effective as of July 1, was needed to reduce the number of guns in the community amid new security threats including Islamic extremism, saying illegal guns had been used in some terror attacks in Australia in recent years.
He cited the 17-hour-long siege at the Lindt Cafe in the eastern city of Sydney by a radicalized self-proclaimed cleric in 2014 as one such incident in which an illegal weapon was involved. Earlier this month, an illegal firearm was also used by a gunman to kill a man in an apartment block in Melbourne in an attack claimed by the extremist group "Islamic State."
"We're living in a time when our national security environment has deteriorated," Keenan said.
Public support for effective gun laws
Australia's last such nationwide amnesty was in 1996, when the government bought back and destroyed more than 600,000 guns following a shooting in Port Arthur in the island state of Tasmania, in which a lone gunman killed 35 people over two days.
The incident led then-Prime Minister John Howard to enact some of the strongest and most effective gun laws in the world, which now include fines for owning unregistered firearms of up to 280,000 Australian dollars (190,577 euros, $212,408) or up to 14 years in jail.
All semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns are banned, and there are strict regulations on licensing and ownership.
Since the laws were introduced, there have been no more mass shootings in the country, leading many to see them as an effective way of countering gun crime. The laws enjoy strong public support in Australia.
However, authorities estimate that some 260,000 unregistered firearms, including automatic weapons, are currently in the community, despite periodical amnesties run by Australian states. Many guns arrive in the country illegally from overseas through organized syndicates.
tj/se (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)