Less than five months after he bought a pistol from a licensed Florida gun dealer, Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani opened fire on Naval Air Station Pensacola classroom, killing three sailors, the FBI confirmed Tuesday.
Under federal law, a foreigner holding a nonimmigrant visa can obtain a firearm under certain exceptions, and now officials want to know why the gunman behind Friday’s shooting spree was allowed to buy a pistol in the first place.
The 21-year-old qualified to purchase the Glock Model 45 9mm pistol because he had obtained a state hunting license.
However, FBI spokeswoman Amanda Warford Videll said Alshamrani “may have qualified under other exceptions as well,” without specifying which waivers might have applied.
According to the statute, Alshamrani might have qualified for exemptions as a representative or an official of a foreign government or if he had been designated a distinguished foreign visitor by the U.S. State Department.
Alshamrani obtained his hunting license on July 11, according to Susan Neel, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
He purchased the handgun nine days later, according to FBI.
Florida allows hunters to use pistols to kill otters, rabbits, wild hogs, raccoons, opossums, skunks, nutrias, beavers, coyotes and other creatures, depending on the season.
“The preliminary investigation into the firearm purchase has not revealed any information to suggest that the sale was unlawful,” Neel said in an emailed statement.
Alshamrani died in a shootout with law enforcement officers responding to reports of gunfire on Friday.
During a Sunday press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decried the “federal loophole” that allowed Alshamrani to buy a gun.
“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.”
DeSantis’ office did not respond to Navy Times questions Tuesday asking whether he would push for statutory changes to prevent similar purchases in Florida in the future.
Alongside the gun debate are growing questions about how well federal agencies screen foreign students before admitting them into military training programs inside the United States.
A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist provided to Navy Times on Tuesday calls for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence to complete a review of those policies and procedures within 10 days and to “take immediate steps to strengthen personnel vetting for International Military Students.”
“These efforts will seek to more closely align (International Military Student) vetting procedures with those we apply to U.S. personnel,” the memo states.
Accompanying the review is a “security and safety stand-down” that stops any operational training for other Saudi students currently in the United States while the review is underway.
They instead will be restricted to classroom instruction until the review wraps up, according to the memo.
There are about 5,000 international students training at U.S. military facilities, and about 28,000 Saudis have been trained by U.S. forces, officials said.
Under orders from Riyadh, the Saudi students in Pensacola already have been restricted to their residences and told to cooperate fully with U.S. investigators.
Saudi Arabian defense attaché Maj. Gen. Fawaz al-Fawaz visited those students Monday evening, according to FBI’s Videll.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly on Tuesday posthumously awarded Wings of Gold to Ensign Joshua Watson, Airman Mohammed Haitham and Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters, the three sailors killed Friday by Alshamrani.
Modly proclaimed Watson a naval aviator and Haitham and Walters as naval aircrewman, according to a Navy release.
“Although this authorization pales in comparison to their immense bravery in the line of fire, this winging represents the symbolic achievement of the coveted goal that all three came to Pensacola to accomplish,” Modly said.
Eight others were injured in Friday’s shooting, but the Navy announced Monday that five of them have been released from the hospital.
Members of the Navy’s Pensacola community grappling with the aftermath of the shooting and need to talk to a counselor can contact the local Fleet, Family Service Center at 850-452-5990.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.