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Thousands of guns handed over in Australia amnesty

AFP-JIJI

More than 6,000 guns have been surrendered in Australia’s most populous state in just one month, police said Tuesday, after fears of terrorism and an influx of illegal firearms sparked a national amnesty.

The government said in June it believed there were as many as 260,000 illicit weapons on the streets, and with the threat of extremist attacks and a spate of gangland shootings, it wanted to minimize the danger.

Among the weapons handed over in New South Wales were four SKS assault rifles, a 9 mm homemade submachine-gun, a Colt AR-15 rifle, M1 carbine and a .44 calibre magnum revolver, state police said.

In total, some 1,700 rifles, 460 shotguns and nearly 200 handguns were surrendered to police and dealers, while thousands of others were handed in for registration.

“We’ve also received more than 110 prohibited weapons including samurai swords, knives, and other edged weapons,” Detective Chief Inspector Wayne Hoffman said.

No official figures have been announced yet for other states and territories.

The amnesty runs from July 1 until Sept. 30, allowing people to hand in unregistered or unwanted firearms with no questions asked. Outside that period people face fines of up to 280,000 Australian dollars ($222,000) or up to 14 years in prison.

Gun control measures continue to have strong public support in Australia.

The national firearms amnesty is the first since the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting that claimed 35 lives.

More than 600,000 weapons were destroyed in the aftermath of that attack, during a gun buy-back in which compensation was offered.

Then-Prime Minister John Howard also enacted tougher gun laws, including bans on certain weapons such as rapid-fire rifles and shotguns, a minimum ownership age and licenses.

All guns in Australia must be registered, but many arrive illegally from overseas through organized syndicates.

Australian officials have grown increasingly concerned over the threat of extremist attacks and have prevented 13 on home soil since September 2014.

Several terrorist attacks have taken place in Australia in recent years, including a Sydney cafe siege in 2014 that saw two hostages killed.