About 9 a.m. Monday, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was on her way to Southampton, N.Y., for a day off when a call came in from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s office. Could she turn around and come to City Hall - right now - to appear with the mayor at an 11 o’clock news conference and help make the case that gun control might have prevented the Empire State Building shootings?
Of course she could. Two and a half hours later (they waited for her), the new congresswoman was standing beside the mayor on the podium with 10 other gun-control advocates from the region, all hastily assembled by the administration to high-light lax federal gun regulation.
“He just shows up in Florida,” Giuliani said, “gets a residence in a motel, walks in and walks out with a gun that could kill 14 people in three or four seconds. That’s just absurd.”
Federal agents have just begun to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 30 purchase, but it is already clear that Abu Kamal broke a 1994 federal law restricting the sale of guns to foreigners who have been in the country fewer than 90 days.
He could do this because there was no record in the federal gun computer database stating when Abu Kamal arrived in the United States.
Officials said Abu Kamal established residence in Florida by using a motel address shortly after he arrived on Dec. 24 from Cairo. He obtained a temporary identification card on Jan. 30 - the same day he bought the gun.
With McCarthy at his side, the mayor said the gunfire was not the fault of poor security at the landmark tower or of anything else related to New York. Rather, it could be blamed on a far-reaching national issue well beyond his jurisdiction.
“I don’t think that any of the responsibility lies there,” he said, referring to the Empire State Building. “I think a much better place to look are to lawmakers who fail to pass sensible gun control laws. It’s mind-boggling to most people that someone can come in from a foreign country on a visitor’s visa and buy a gun in the United States.”
And suddenly, the subject was no longer the possible damage to New York’s image, but rather the difference between the rest of the country and New York, a city with strict gun laws the mayor said were partly responsible for the drop in crime here.
For McCarthy - a Democrat who became a gun-control advocate after her husband was killed in a 1993 commuter train attack that killed six - and other activists, the Empire State Building shooting offered an opportunity to press their case.
“The whole idea of the press conference was to bring this tragedy onto the national level,” said McCarthy.
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