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Melbourne bishop calls for mandatory gun-buyback program

Bishop Philip Huggins has called upon the Australian government to introduce a gun amnesty and buy back program to reduce the number of firearms in circulation.

The Bishop of Oodthenong of the Diocese of Melbourne, the Rt. Rev. Philip Huggins, has called upon the Australian government to introduce a gun amnesty and buy back program to reduce the number of firearms in circulation. Speaking in the wake of the Paris ISIS attacks Bishop Huggins, who is secretary of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and chairs the diocese’s social concerns committee, said an amnesty was needed due to the “heightened fears of terrorist attacks and vastly increased gun crime in Australia.” In 1996 the government of Prime Minister John Howard introduced the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. It also instituted a temporary gun buyback program that took some 650,000 assault weapons (about one-sixth of the national stock) out of public circulation. The law was introduced twelve days after the Port Arthur massacre, where Martin Bryant went on a killing spree on 28-29 April 1996 that left 35 people dead and 23 wounded. Bishop Philip Huggins said the gun amnesty had been “immensely successful” but that “the number of guns in the community has been rising steadily” since then. “One way to minimise the risk of a Paris massacre in our places of recreation is to gather the guns and destroy them,” Bishop Huggins said. “There is a deep fear in the community about events like Paris last week. Each day there are reports of gun violence, people shot and dying. Gun amnesties and positive moves to re-engage those at risk of religious extremism have worked in other countries. We have to all be convinced again that Paris will never happen here in our beautiful, multicultural Australia. That requires confidence-building measures such as active community disarmament. Otherwise fear of the other will take over, impacting too on incoming refugees and migrants.” Bishop Huggins thesis the 1996 gun buy-back programme led to a reduction in crime is at odds with recent studies on gun ownership and gun violence in Australia. In a 2008 study University of Melbourne researchers Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi concluded: “There is little evidence to suggest that [the Australian mandatory gun-buyback program] had any significant effects on firearm homicides.” “Although gun buybacks appear to be a logical and sensible policy that helps to placate the public’s fears,” the reported continued, “the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths.” A 2007 report, “Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?” by Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedran also found the amnesty programme had no significant long-term effect on the Australian homicide rate.

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