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Firearms Freeway - Remembered

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It was a cold February afternoon on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, musician Matt Gross and his band-mate were enjoying one of New York's most popular tourist sites. Shortly before 5pm - a gunman wielding a 380 Beretta handgun began firing into the crowd. The gunman killed one person and wounded six others before he turned the gun on himself.

The sole fatality, other than the gunman, was 27 year-old musician Christoffer Burmeister. His band-mate Matt Gross was gravely injured.

The year was 1997, and my office was just blocks away on 5th Avenue. I remember the sirens. The city was outraged. And then Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke out passionately about the need to control guns and create national laws to make states safe from interstate gun traffic.

That day changed things for Matt Gross - and turned his brother Dan from a rising Madison Avenue marketing wiz into an overnight leader in the gun control movement.

I remember the first time Dan and I talked. He was angry, and frustrated that the gun that had so injured his brother had been purchased legally in Florida and driven without any risk up I95 from Miami to New York. He urged me to follow the ceaseless stream of guns as they traveled up what quickly became known as Firearms Freeway.

I decided then that understanding where guns came from, and how they were bought and sold would be worth exploring - and together with A&E we set out to track guns to their source.

What we found in Miami was a bazaar of weapons, for sale.

The gun show that we videotaped, using hidden cameras as we weren't allowed to enter as reporters, was a massive gymnasium full of high power guns and ammunition. There was no background checks, no concern at all. Criminals, the mentally ill, underage- anyone could buy a gun without an ID or any questions asked.

The shooter that day on the Empire State Building was 69 year-old Palestinian English Teacher Ali Hassan Abu Kamal. Kamal was angry - had a political motive - and little to lose by 1997.

Unable to buy a gun in New York, he traveled to Melbourne, Florida, where he purchased the semi-automatic firearm. Florida law requires people to provide a Florida address and a picture ID before purchasing a firearm. Kamal gave Florida hotel room as his address - but no one checked. He could have gone to a gun show and purchased without ID, but in Florida the background check at the licensed firearms dealer turned out to be just as toothless.

Said Mayor Giuliani of Kamal's purchase: "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."

In comparison, New York required 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, explained Giuliani at the time. Kamal had been in the country just a year, and would have failed the NY purchase requirements.

In 1997 - the Empires State building closed for two days after the attack to install airport style metal detectors. Steven Tole the General Manger of the Empire State Building said he hoped the tragedy would spur uniform gun control laws nationwide that would make other cities safe. "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 would be as safe as New York."

The film exposed not just the issue of Florida's guns being driven into New York, but what was then a little known but massive loophole in gun laws nation-wide. Gun shows, which somehow I thought of as small local affairs where fathers and sons went to buy or sell a shotgun, were exposed has a massive industry of unregulated gun sales - the place that a criminal would logically go to buy a gun to commit a crime.

The film was well received, and I felt like we'd done our job and let Dan and his brother tell their story and lobby for change.

Of course, we know now that what we found 15 years ago - remains unchanged today. And, perhaps most disturbingly, the advent of the internet has created an even larger network of virtual swap meets for illicit gun sales. As reported by the New York Times in front page investigation, the online gun market has created one stop shopping for felons in need of firearms.

Today Dan Gross is the President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, after running his own gun safety group PAX for the past fourteen years. Said Dan after the Newtown massacre, he hoped it would be a "catalyst to demand the sensible change."

And 90% of Americans seem to agree that now is the time to reign in the sale of guns without universal background checks.

Back when I made Firearms Freeway, it was unclear who to hold accountable for the lack of a national gun registration requirement. Today, with the public support and the Newtown tragedy fresh on our minds - we know who to hold responsible.

1. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
2. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
3. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
4. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
5. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
6. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
7. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
8. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
9. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
10. Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
11. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
12. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
13. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
14. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
15. Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID)
16. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
17. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
18. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
19. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
20. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
21. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
22. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
23. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
24. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
25. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
26. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
27. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
28. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE)
29. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
30. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
31. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
32. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
33. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
34. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
35. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
36. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
37. Sen. James Risch (R-ID)
38. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
39. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
40. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
41. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
42. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
43. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
44. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
45. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)