Australians handed in nearly 60,000 guns in a three-month period during a nationwide firearms amnesty, authorities there said this week.
Automatic rifles, handguns and even a rocket launcher were among the 57,324 weapons handed in between July 1 and Sept. 30 last year, according to the National Firearms Amnesty report, published Wednesday.
The report comes as the United States reels from a mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of murder. The massacre on Valentine’s Day reignites the long-running gun debate in the U.S.
Australia’s first national gun amnesty since 1996 was in response to an influx of illegal weapons and the ongoing threat of terrorism.
Almost a third of the weapons were destroyed and the remainder were registered and given back to owners, or handed to licensed dealers to be resold.
Australia’s gun laws were drastically changed 22 years ago when the country suffered its worst — and last — mass shooting.
Thirty-five people were killed with a semi-automatic weapon by gunman Martin Bryant in Port Arthur, a popular tourist area on the island of Tasmania in April 1996.
“I would dread the thought that this country would go down the American path so far as the possession of firearms,” then-prime minister John Howard said at a gun rally.
Bryant is serving 35 life sentences at a prison in Tasmania’s capital, Hobart.
Weeks after the tragedy, the country and its states began banning rapid-fire guns and offered to buy the firearms.
Since then, about 1 million semi-automatic weapons — a third of the country’s firearms — have been sold back to the government and destroyed, according to the BBC.
Law Enforcement Minister Angus Taylor said the guns handed in during the amnesty had been taken off the “gray market,” referring to weapons that should have been handed in or registered following the 1996 reforms.
“It’s critical to get them off this gray market … so they don’t end up in the black market,” he said, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Taylor said Man Haron Monis, a gunman who took 18 people hostage during a 17-hour siege at the Lindt chocolate café in Sydney with a shotgun in 2014, had used a “gray market” weapon.
Three people died in the incident including Monis, who was shot dead by police.