A couple of weeks ago, all New Yorkers and people throughout the world were appalled by the senseless and horrifying act of violence that occurred at the Empire State Building.
The Empire State Building is such an important landmark... such an important symbol of America that, like so many other places in New York City, when a tragedy happens there, it receives a great deal of attention in the media.
However, with this latest incident, we saw something rather remarkable happen, because perceptions about New York City have finally changed.
Thanks to our historic reductions in serious crime, we have been able to get the message out that New York City is just about the safest large city in America.
People throughout the world no longer see New York City as a national symbol of the plague of crime and violence. Now people see New York as a safe, decent place, and as a leader in fighting crime.
Because of this transformation of perception, when this latest tragedy occurred, instead of having to defend New York City, we were able to focus national attention on the real problem, which is gun control.
And even as we grieve for those who lost their lives, and our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their loved ones, we may be able to find some sort of meaning in this tragedy by using it as a catalyst to revive national gun control efforts.
The man who committed this despicable act of hatred and violence came to the United States on December 24th. First, he arrived in New York and then traveled to Melbourne, Florida, where he checked into a cheap hotel.
Using the hotel address, he was able to obtain a photo ID card, and that was all he needed to buy a gun, a .380 Beretta, capable of firing 14 rounds in 4 or 5 seconds.
Because in Florida, although they have relatively strict regulations to obtain a gun license, gun licenses are only necessary for carrying concealed weapons. A license is not required to buy a gun. To buy a gun all that is required is a photo ID.
And that is when buying from a retailer. In private transactions at gun shows, or purchasing a gun from a private individual, there is nothing required whatsoever.
Ironically, if Mr. Hassan Kamal had wanted to buy a car, or even drive a car legally, he would not have been able to, because in Florida obtaining a drivers license is much more difficult than buying a gun.
In fact, getting a drivers license is more difficult than buying a gun in most places. A drivers license requires several forms of official identification proving residency.
It requires a written test and a road test, and a thorough background investigation is done to determine if the applicant has a history of driving recklessly, or unlawfully.
And these drivers license requirements are fairly uniform from state to state, which demonstrates that from region to region, a vast majority of Americans accept that driving an automobile is potentially very dangerous and requires sensible regulations.
However, guns kill many more people than automobiles do, even though there are many more cars than guns, and cars are used much more often than guns.
In New York City, in 1996 there were 414 fatalities caused by traffic accidents, but there were 987 fatalities involving firearms.
I think one of the reasons that the procedures for obtaining a drivers license and buying and operating a car have become uniform and sensible is that insurance is required for automobiles.
And the insurance industry has standardized what is necessary to get insurance. Cars must be registered and trackable.
Cars are required to undergo periodic safety inspections in many states. Driving records are computerized and traceable, and drivers licenses must be periodically renewed.
Perhaps, we should require insurance for handguns. If liability insurance were required to purchase and own a handgun, you better believe that the insurance industry would promulgate a pretty rigorous licensing and purchasing process to control the risk.
As a private citizen, as a prosecutor, as a Mayoral candidate and as Mayor, I have advocated for more regulated and more uniform gun licensing regulations, similar to those for a drivers license.
But as it stands now, although some localities like New York City have relatively stringent rules for purchasing a gun, many other states require next to nothing, and without a uniform policy, we all lose.
In fact, a recently released study indicates that of 2,225 guns confiscated in New York City, more than 92 percent of the guns were originally purchased out of state--and more than 60 percent of them came from 5 states, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
When looking at the FBI total index crimes list, which shows number of crimes on a per capita basis for cities with population more than 100,000, it is not a coincidence that 4 (t.b.v.) of the top 10 are in Florida, and 6 (t.b.v.) are in the South, where gun control laws are very lax.
New York City on the contrary, where the requirements for purchasing a gun are more rigorous, ranks 144th on that list.
Yesterday, President Clinton outlined his proposals for more stringent, federal gun licensing requirements.
His proposals include:
I only hope that he is right, and that Congress is finally ready to recognize that the vast majority of Americans want more gun control. It makes sense. It is time. And we can no longer let special interests dominate this vitally important issue.
We in New York and other places are working very hard to control crime and especially to reduce criminal incidents involving guns.
Here in New York, we have seen more than a 50 percent decrease in shootings since 1993, but to complete the job we've started, we need the help of other states, and of the Federal Government to promulgate more rigorous gun purchasing requirements nation wide.
Then we won't have 90 percent of our city's guns being brought in from other localities to commit heinous crimes like the tragedy on the Empire State Building.
I know many people argue that keeping and bearing arms is federally guaranteed right as stated in the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
But even in the Second Amendment, it refers to firearms in the context of a well regulated militia, and well regulated is what we're trying to accomplish.
Just as unimpeded interstate travel is Constitutionally guaranteed, but we reserve the right to regulate driving automobiles, so too must we sensibly regulate gun purchases to preserve the safety of all Americans.