On July 1, Australia begins National Firearms Amnesty 2017, the country’s fourth federal firearms buyback (more accurately termed turn-in) or amnesty program since 1987. According to the Australian government, officials hope to capture some of the country’s estimated 260,000 unregistered firearms. The Australian government has also cited the threat of terrorism, and in particular the December 2014 siege on the Lindt Café in Sydney, as justification for the new turn-in. The amnesty period runs to September 30.
Unlike the confiscatory scheme that followed Australia’s 1996 National Firearms Agreement, which banned most ownership of semi-automatic and pump action rifles and shotguns, the 2017 amnesty is not coupled to any new restrictions on the types of firearms an individual may own. Further, under the current amnesty, firearm owners will not receive any compensation for the firearms they relinquish. To participate in the amnesty, gun owners will have to bring their unregistered firearms to a drop-off point designated by state and territorial authorities.
In an improvement over the 1997 confiscatory turn-in, gun owners in many cases will be able to choose the final disposition of their unregistered firearms. An individual that has an irrational animus towards guns can choose to have their former firearm destroyed. Those turning in firearms eligible to enter the lawful stream of commerce may also be able to sell the firearm to a licensed dealer.
Firearms license holders who turn over a firearm they are eligible to own will be allowed to register and retain possession of their gun. Of course, given Australian history, some gun owners might prove justifiably reluctant to make the government aware of their unregistered arms, lest they be targeted in some future confiscation effort.
[To learn more about the details of Australia’s National Firearms Amnesty, including the specific rules for each state and territory, visit https://firearmsamnesty.ag.gov.au.]
In the U.S., researchers and gun rights advocates have long agreed that turn-ins are ineffective policy. This fact is not lost on all Australian politicians. Liberal Democrat Senator from New South Wales David Leyonjelm, recently said of the 2017 amnesty, “It’s purely for appearance purposes. It won’t do anything to address guns on the street, they’ll end up with grandma’s rusty old shotgun or rifle. Which was never going to be used in crime in the first place.”
However, that the current amnesty provides an avenue for some unwanted and illegally held firearms to re-enter the lawful stream of commerce is a minor beacon of common sense in Australia’s otherwise misguided gun policy. The Australian government did not come to this sensible policy on its own. According to a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia lobbied the government for this measure.
Of course, this minor concession to reason has been attacked by Australia’s anti-gun community.
In a radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Gun Control Australia Vice-President Roland Browne lamented that some illegally held firearms might find their way into the hands of licensed gun owners. The gun control lobby representative told the interviewer, “This amnesty started off as a public safety measure. In fact, in reality, it is appearing now to be a profit-making venture for firearms dealers.” According to Browne, the ability to move illegally held firearms into the hands of law-abiding gun owners undermines “the integrity of the registration system,” and he would rather “take these guns out of circulation.”
Australia’s experience with gun control continues to provide important lessons for American gun owners. In the end, the gun control movement is not about getting guns out of “the wrong hands,” or banning certain types of firearms. Despite repeated national turn-ins, gun registration, background checks, gun owner licensing, a ban on semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns, and the abolition of gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense, groups like Gun Control Australia continue to target Australia’s law-abiding gun owners. Gun Control Australia’s response to the 2017 National Firearms Amnesty further proves that as long as there remain firearms in the hands of private citizens, gun control advocates will continue to work towards their goal of total civilian disarmament.