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Where'd They Get Their Guns?

An Analysis of the Firearms Used in High-Profile Shootings, 1963 to 2001

Date: February 23, 1997

Location: Empire State Building, New York, New York

Alleged Shooter: Ali Hassan Abu Kamal

People Killed: Two (shooter committed suicide)

People Injured: Six

Firearm(s): Beretta .380 pistol


Less than two months after arriving in the U.S., Abu Kamal traveled from New York to Florida to buy a gun. After acquiring a Florida picture ID, he bought the gun, returned to New York, and shot seven people in the Empire State Building. Family members described Kamal as "unbalanced" after having lost his life savings in a failed business venture. According to a note found in his pocket, he may also have been motivated by anger at the U.S. for using Israel as "an instrument" against Palestine.

How Firearm(s) Acquired

Abu Kamal illegally acquired the gun. Kamal went to Florida to purchase a firearm, taking advantage of Florida's more lenient gun laws. Although federal law restricts immigrants from buying a gun if they have been in the country fewer than 90 days, Kamal was able to evade this law because there was no record of his residency status in the federal computer database when he went through a background check. Kamal needed a picture ID issued by the state of Florida to purchase the gun. To get the picture ID card, he merely needed proof of residency and immigration papers. He stayed in a motel for a couple of weeks and then used that address as proof of his residency.


  1. Clifford Krauss, "Rampage at the Empire State Building: the Weapon; Loophole Let Gun Buyer in Florida Evade Waiting Period for Foreigners," The New York Times, 25 February 1997, sec. A, p. 23.
  2. Blaine Harden, "Shooter Bought Gun By Using New Florida ID," The Washington Post, 25 February 1997, sec. A, p. 1.
  3. John M. Goshko, "Death Atop Empire State Building," The Washington Post, 24 February 1997, sec. A, p. 1.

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 All contents � 2001 Violence Policy Center


The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.