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To Fight Terror, Will Aussies Give Up Their Guns?

To Fight Terror, Will Aussies Give Up Their Guns?

Amid fears of mass shootings, Americans tend to rush to gun stores to get their hands on more weapons. But Canberra expects Australians to do just the opposite, announcing a nationwide gun amnesty to turn over illegal arms, no questions asked.

The measure, effective July 1 and lasting three months, comes amid rising fears of terrorism Down Under. A siege on June 6 in Melbourne saw one bystander killed and another held hostage. In 2014, three died in an hours-long hostage crisis in a Sydney cafe. Both of these incidents, deemed terrorist attacks, involved illegal guns.

“We’ve got a deteriorating national security environment,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’ve got an environment where there has been five terrorists attacks on our soil and sadly in the vast majority of those cases it has been an illegal firearm that’s been used.”

The number of illicit arms has been rising as well, with some figures estimating that there may be as many as 260,000 unregistered guns now inside the country.

Possession of unregistered weapons can carry stiff penalties in Australia — more than $200,000 or up to 14 years behind bars.

It’s Australia’s first gun amnesty in 21 years — and the last one led to a sea change in Australia’s relationship with firearms.

In 1996, a young man killed 35 people in the historic town of Port Arthur, the deadliest shooting in Australia’s history. Afterward, private ownership of semi-automatic and automatic weapons was heavily restricted, and a gun registry system put in place. Subsequent gun buyback and amnesty programs saw over 1 million firearms turned in and destroyed.

There have been no mass shootings in Australia since those measures were passed, leading many Aussies to argue that gun control saves lives.

It’s an argument that never seems to gain much political traction inside the United States — as the Daily Show famously skewered in a three-part segment in 2013, in which correspondent John Oliver went to Australia to learn about how gun control had prevented any further mass shootings there.

“So how can America take this valuable lesson and ignore it?” asked then-host Jon Stewart. A recap here:

 

WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images