WASHINGTON — In the wake of last month's deadly Empire State Building shooting spree, President Clinton wants to make it more difficult for non-US citizens to buy guns.
The reason: the man who apparently carried out the New York rooftop rampage, Palestinian Ali Abu Kamal, had bought a 14-shot Beretta handgun in Florida despite being in the US only three weeks at the time of the purchase.
Mr. Clinton's effort to tighten this gun control loophole is likely to earn wide support, say analysts. So will other firearm-related regulations proposed by the White House on Wednesday, they say.
But it is unclear how effective they will actually be in the end.
"They will do practically nothing" according to Clifton Bryant, a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech. "They will do nothing for crime but make politicians look like they are doing something," he says.
Federal law already bans the sale of guns to noncitizens who have not lived for a string of 90 days in the state where they are trying to make the purchase. What the White House proposal attempts to do is to tighten enforcement of this existing restriction.
Under the new guidelines, aliens will face tougher questioning before making a firearms purchase.
Specifically, they'll have to meet more stringent proof-of-residency requirements. They'll need photo identification, as well as another form of identification such as a utility bill to show that they have been in the United States for the required three months.
Analysts noted that even with this change, keeping guns out of the hands of unqualified noncitizens depends largely on the actions of gun dealers themselves. The strictness of the nation's 124,000 federally licensed weapon dealers in this regard will surely vary.
Clinton announced this proposed tightening of the law at a White House ceremony. He said that he also planned to cajole Congress to pass legislation aimed at banning so-called "cop-killer" armor-piercing bullets. Such a bill was introduced last year in Congress, but went nowhere.
In addition, the president said he would sign a directive requiring that all guns carried by federal law enforcement officers be equipped with child-safety locks. Clinton has already said that he'd like such locks installed on all weapons sold in the country.
But federal officers' guns are "the only guns we control," noted White House spokesman Barry Toiv. So the limited directive is meant to "set an example for the country."