02/03/2018 12:13 AM AEDT

As The U.S. Debates Gun Control, Australians Turn In Their Firearms

Citizens handed in tens of thousands of guns, accessories and rounds of ammunition.

As mass shootings continue to plague the U.S., Australia has called upon its citizens to voluntarily hand in their firearms.

A gun amnesty program that ran last year from July to September compelled people to turn in 57,324 firearms and 2,432 parts and accessories, plus more than 80,000 rounds of ammunition, the country’s Department of Home Affairs announced Thursday.

The program enabled people to register their firearms, sell them to a licensed dealer or have them destroyed, according to the department. It also provided protection from prosecution for people who aren’t criminals but still had unregistered firearms from what Australia calls the “grey market.”

“It’s critical to get them off this grey market … so they don’t end up in the black market,” said Angus Taylor, the country’s federal law enforcement minister. “Taking these unregistered firearms off the streets means they will not fall into the hands of criminals, who might use them to endanger the lives of innocent Australians.”

Robert Cianflone via Getty Images
Leading Senior Constable Steve Batten destroys a rifle at the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre in Melbourne, Australia, as Police Minister Lisa Neville watches on Aug. 11, 2017.

Some grey market weapons have been found to have been passed onto the black market and used in several recent attacks in Australia, including a siege on a cafe in Sydney in 2014.

But the country hasn’t experienced a mass shooting since 1996, when a gunman wielding AR-15 and L1A1 rifles killed 35 people during the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania. Then-Prime Minister John Howard implemented a series of gun control measures, which banned certain types of firearms and created a registry for gun owners. He also introduced the idea of a government buy-back program, in which gun owners handed in hundreds of thousands of firearms between October 1996 and September 1997.

Australia has been cited as a potential model for the U.S., where calls for gun reform typically go unheeded. 

“I have no doubt that a debate will be raised again about United States gun laws,” foreign minister Julie Bishop told “Sunrise” morning show in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas last fall. “Each state has different laws. What Australia can do is share our experience.”

Yet gun control advocates in Australia are concerned about the hundreds of thousands of firearms that remain in the hands of private citizens, as well as about insufficient enforcement of gun laws. A 2017 review of the National Firearms Agreement, the law put in place following the Port Arthur shooting, determined that most states had significantly loosened their gun laws since 1996.

“Were getting closer to a U.S. system, where the gun industry has increasing influence,” Howard said in October.