Three days after he killed three sailors and wounded eight others at a Florida Navy base, questions remain about how Saudi Royal Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani got a handgun in the first place.
Rachel Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Field Office, told reporters Sunday that the 21-year-old student at Naval Air Station Pensacola had “legally and lawfully” obtained the murder weapon — a Glock Model 45 9mm — in Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed a gun ownership “federal loophole,” during a Sunday press conference, but did not elaborate on which exemption Alshamrani might have exploited to obtain the firearm.
Michael Knight, a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives spokesman, declined to specify the exemption Monday, but said officials likely will provide more information in the coming days.
Alshamrani died in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers on Friday.
During a Friday press conference, Naval Air Station Pensacola base commander Capt. Timothy Kinsella said that even sailors assigned to the air station “cannot bring your weapon on base."
Investigator said the murderer “legally and lawfully” obtained his weapon — a Glock Model 45 9mm — in Florida.
Alshamrani would have been allowed to obtain a gun under a narrow set of qualifications, according to U.S. law.
The statute allows foreigners admitted to the United States under nonimmigrant visas to ship, transport, receive or possess firearms if they have valid hunting licenses or permits, are official representatives of a foreign government or are law enforcement officers from a friendly foreign government on official police business here.
In a Monday afternoon email to Navy Times, officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said its records showed Alshamrani "holds no permits or licenses in our systems.”
Then in the evening, the agency reversed itself: “In accordance with Florida statute, a resident Florida hunting license was issues to Al-Shamrani,” according to commission spokeswoman Susan Neel.
It remains unclear which answer is correct. If the gunman was issued a hunting license, officials did not indicate when they granted it or, if so, whether it was processed online or through another form.
DeSantis questioned Sunday why any statute would allow Alshamrani to obtain a handgun there.
“I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment applies so that we, the American people, can keep and bear arms,” he said. “It does not apply to Saudi Arabians.”
In 2017, federal and state agents cracked down on Chinese students at University of Arizona who used the hunting license loophole to obtain firearms in Tucson.
Fresh out of boot camp, Cameron Walters proudly told his father in Georgia during their nightly video chat that he had passed the exam qualifying him to stand watch and help secure building entrances at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
Questions also continue to mount about whether Alshamrani became radicalized by a global terror organization before carrying out the mass shooting.
SITE Intelligence Group, a company that tracks and analyzes extremist groups, released images from a social media post that Alshamrani allegedly posted hours before the attack.
“O American people, I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your (sic) freedoms,” the post states. “I hate you because every day you supporting (sic), funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.”
FBI officials did not immediately respond to questions Monday afternoon about the social media post but took to Twitter on Friday evening to concede agents "have received information that the shooter was active on social media, but we cannot yet release any specifics.
“A suspect’s digital footprint, to include use of social media, is pursued in these types of investigations,” the agency tweeted.
Twitter has suspended Alshamrani’s account for violating the social media company’s rules but did not respond to questions from Navy Times about why it was taken down.
“I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil,” the social media post states.
“What I see from America is the supporting of Israel which is invasion of Muslim countrie (sic), I see invasion of many countries by it’s (sic) troops, I see Guantanamo Bay. I see cruise missiles, cluster bombs and UAV.”
Also Monday, the Navy announced that five of the eight people injured in the shooting have been released from the hospital, and that the remaining three are in stable condition.
Navy Times editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Florida’s two different statements on whether the gunman obtained a hunting license there.
Joshua Watson had just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and looked forward to a military career as a pilot.