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Giuliani blames weak gun laws for shooting

Empire State Building

Empire State Building gunman carried 'rambling, angry' note

February 24, 1997
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Monday blamed Florida's "absurd" gun control laws for a Palestinian man's fatal shooting spree atop the Empire State Building.

Giuliani said Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, 69, used a .380-caliber Beretta handgun that he apparently bought in Florida at the end of January. Seven tourists were shot Sunday, one fatally, before Kamal turned his gun on himself, officials said.

Gun purchase 'mindboggling'

According to police, Kamal, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, came to New York City on December 24, 1996 from Cairo.


He then traveled to Melbourne, Florida, where he purchased the semi-automatic firearm. By Florida state law, people who wish to purchase firearms must provide a Florida address, and a picture ID. Kamal gave an address that turned out to be his Florida hotel room.

"It's mindboggling to most people that somebody can come in from a foreign country on a visitor's visa and buy a gun in the United States. ... He just shows up in Florida, gets a residence in a motel, walks in and walks out with a gun that could kill 14 people in 3 or 4 seconds. That's absurd," Giuliani said in a press conference Monday.

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By comparison, New York requires a finger-printing, a criminal and psychological record check, and -- for resident aliens -- a good conduct certificate. Immigrants must be residents for seven years before they're even eligible to buy a gun, Giuliani said.

As family mourns, police seek motive


In the Gaza Strip, relatives of Kamal prepared Monday for a wake at the home of his daughter and son-in-law. His family said he had come to he United States for a business opportunity, and had been cheated out of his savings.

His son-in-law, Marwan Abu Samra, said Kamal was despondent after losing his life savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And his daughter, Marfat Abu Kamal, suggested that he was unable to return home after losing his money. "We don't know until now," she said.

But a note found in Kamal's pocket contains "rambling, angry stuff," and appears to contradict the family claims that the shooting had nothing to do with politics, a high-ranking police source said Monday night.

The letter expressed anger at France and England for using Israel as "an instrument" against Palestine, and indicated that Abu Kamal planned to vent his anger at the Empire State Building, the source said.

The gunman's widow claimed her husband was not politically motivated. "My husband is not a terrorist, he was just hopeless," Fathiya Abu Kamal, 55, said. "He was aged, he had nothing to do with politics, or terrorism, or crime."

Landmark building addresses security


The observation deck at the Empire State Building was closed Monday while metal detectors and an airport-style baggage scanner are installed, and will reopen to the public Tuesday.

Visitors have not routinely gone through metal detectors or searches there, although the building had metal detectors in place for about three months after the World Trade Center bombing.

Critics of building management said such security measures should have been permanently in place since the World Trade Center attack, but general manager Steven Tole told a news conference that such measures had previously seemed unnecessary. "The Empire State Building has been host to more than 95 million visitors without one serious incident," he said.

Giuliani agreed. "The Empire State Building has no history like this, no background like this; it's very safe," he said, and additional levels of security "should not suggest that this is an unnecessarily dangerous place."

However, he said, he hoped the tragedy would help make other cities safer in the long run, by spurring uniform gun control laws nationwide. "It should be as difficult to get a gun in Florida as it is in New York City," he said, "And if that was the case, then maybe Miami and Fort Lauderdale and about six other cities in Florida would be as safe as New York City."


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