Background

In March 2009, the New South Wales Police Force and New South Wales Government implemented a three-month gun amnesty urging Australians to surrender or register illegal firearms. The crackdown on illegal firearms was propelled by a need to lower the number of unregistered weapons in New South Wales (there are many firearms in New South Wales that are not registered by a licensed gun owner and cannot be handed in without repercussion) and remove the threat of illegal guns in the community.

The 2009 gun amnesty, which ran from 1 March to 31 May, sought to remove unused or unregistered firearms from the community by encouraging people to surrender their unregistered firearms without fear of prosecution. In addition, licensed gun owners with unregistered weapons were also allowed to register them without repercussion.

The 2009 gun amnesty was the third conducted in New South Wales over a period of 10 years. During the 2001 and 2003 operations, 63,000 handguns were handed into police. With so many unregistered guns surrendered in the first two amnesties, New South Wales Police anticipated they would receive fewer via the 2009 amnesty.

DDB Sydney was briefed by New South Wales Police and New South Wales Government to develop and implement an integrated advertising campaign to raise awareness of the 2009 gun amnesty and compel people to take action. As the exact locations of these guns are unknown unless they are used in a crime, the New South Wales Police briefed DDB Sydney to develop an integrated advertising campaign that would motivate Australians to do the right thing: either hand over or register these guns. In addition, the New South Wales Police were fully aware that an element of education, motivation and government assistance was required to remove the threat of these illegal guns.

Client: NSW Police Force and NSW Government
Creative agency: DDB Sydney
Media agency: Mediacom

Objectives

The overarching objective of the New South Wales Police and the New South Wales Government’s gun amnesty was to build a safer community and lower the fear of crime. In doing so, the three-month, state-wide amnesty was conducted with the aim of allowing for the surrender or register of illegal guns.

For DDB Sydney, the communications objective was two-fold:

  • Communicate the occurrence of the New South Wales gun amnesty to the public, and
  • Compel as many members of the public as possible to get involved without the offer of financial reward.

Strategy

Past reward-based amnesties conducted on a national level have proven to be very successful in encouraging people to surrender illegal firearms. With this in mind, DDB Sydney created the ‘Take Guns out of the Equation’ campaign – a targeted public education campaign that communicated the occurrence of the gun amnesty, convinced people to act without a buy-back scheme and motivated the owners of illegal guns who felt they were exempt from prosecution.

In order to drive this approach, DDB Sydney created the positioning statement, ‘No questions asked’ to motivate and urge people to adopt the opportunity to hand in unregistered and unwanted guns.

Deciding who to target was a challenge. DDB was aware that the majority of guns exist in rural areas, but how could a campaign convince the general public to act without a buy-back scheme, particularly when many owners of these guns feel as though they would never get caught anyway?

For many, DDB knew that simply telling them about the amnesty would be enough – they may have been waiting for the opportunity to hand their weapons in without retribution, or this would be all the motivation they needed to clean out their back shed. For others, they simply forget why the laws are in place. Many of them have a mixture of registered and unregistered guns, and they often feel that unregistered guns pose no threat to the safety of the community. These target audiences needed to be motivated and convinced about why they should act.

Target audience:

  • Members of the public waiting for the opportunity to hand their weapons in without retribution and who simply needed to be told that the amnesty was on, and
  • Members of the public in possession of a mixture of registered and unregistered guns – this audience often feel that unregistered guns pose no threat to the safety of the community and needed to be motivated and convinced about why they should act.

A dual strategy was created for the campaign that spoke to both target audiences:

  • Raise awareness about the amnesty, and
  • Remind the public why unregistered guns are illegal.

There was a role for Mediacom (media agency) to be extremely targeted in its approach. The campaign was targeted at regional centres and suburban press using half-page print ads. Radio consisted of 30-second radio spots to raise awareness of the amnesty and a series of live reads by identifiable radio personalities to reinforce the messages of the campaign. Posters were displayed throughout police stations, law courts, libraries and government agencies. Public relations played an essential role in communicating the campaign’s key messages, with the minister for police releasing a number of press releases on the amnesty, which were picked up by metropolitan and local media. The Firearms Registry also distributed a personalised letter to every current firearms licence holder outlining their responsibilities as a gun owner.

Execution

The ‘Help take illegal guns out of the equation’ campaign was launched on 1 March as a three month, state-wide gun amnesty. The main insight for the campaign was that unregistered guns are illegal because they are untraceable and in the wrong hands can place the community at risk. By handing in their unregistered guns, community members can help remove the threat of illegal guns from society.

The print and radio executions each depicted real-life scenarios in which illegal guns are typically involved (a real incident was the motivation behind one scenario). Each execution portrayed a threatening situation with nothing remaining where a gun once existed. This was brought to life by showing how much safer the community could be if guns were taken out of the equation, while raising awareness of the gun amnesty and compelling people to take action.

The campaign launched simultaneously with the start of the gun amnesty and ran until its completion on 31 May. The 2009 gun amnesty was launched by Tony Kelly, the minister for police, and was followed by the integrated campaign; including print, radio, posters and direct mail. The campaign concluded with a final press conference where Kelly announced the results of the New South Wales campaign.

Results

The 2009 gun amnesty was a huge success for the New South Wales Police and New South Wales Government. As a result of the public education campaign, the New South Wales Police received:

  • 4,323 firearms, including 3,173 rifles, 937 shotguns and 213 handguns
  • 90 replica firearms
  • 1,034 pieces of ammunition
  • 219 firearm parts, and
  • 153 telescopic sites.

Meanwhile, the Firearms Registry received a total of 21,615 applications for firearm registration. Nearly 6,000 calls were fielded by the New South Wales Police Force via the Amnesty Information Line.

Strath Gordon, director public affairs, New South Wales Police, commented: “The ‘Take guns out of the equation’ campaign was a new and innovative approach for [us] and the New South Wales Government and far exceeded all our expectations. Not only were we able to educate the public about the amnesty, but also further compel people to take the necessary action to remove the threat of illegal firearms from the community.”