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Navy issues new rules on foreign military students and firearms

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly released new guidance late last week that will prohibit foreign military students training in the United States from owning personal firearms.

The policy change comes after Royal Saudi Air Force Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani opened fired at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6, killing three sailors and wounding eight other people.

Investigators later found that he had espoused anti-American rhetoric and bought the murder weapon legally in Florida through a hunting license loophole.

While Pentagon leaders previously had announced that international military students would face new firearms restrictions, Modly’s Jan. 31 order offers more information about how the sea service will bar the possession and use of the weapons.

International military students and accompanying family members who are admitted into the United States under a Pentagon-sponsored visa or on invitational travel orders will be prohibited from possessing, using, transporting or storing privately owned firearms and ammunition on Navy installations or property, “regardless of their country of origin,” Modly’s message states.

As a condition of their acceptance into any Defense Department-sponsored training program, students must agree to not bring privately owned firearms into the country or purchase such weapons and ammo while here.

They also must promise to never possess or use another individual’s privately owned firearm.

Within 90 days, all current international military students and adult family members must sign agreements barring their possession of private firearms. and those who fail to agree to the new terms will be booted from the training programs and the United States, according to Modly’s message.

Students with family members who turn 18 while residing here also must sign the agreement.

Students and their relatives already in the United States must transfer all personal firearms to someone who legally can possess them or they must surrender the weapons to Navy officials for safekeeping until training is completed or otherwise dispose of the weapons in a lawful way, the message states.

An Air Force detail transfers the remains of Navy Ensign Joshua Watson on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including 23-year-old Watson, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy from Enterprise, Ala., in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (Cliff Owen/AP)
How did the Pensacola gunman get the pistol he used to kill 3 sailors?

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials told Navy Times the dead Saudi officer held "no permits or licenses in our systems.” Hours later, they said they did issue him a hunting license. It's unclear which version is correct.

The international students will be allowed to use government-provided firearms for official training on or off Navy installations “under the control” of the sea service.

Navy and Marine Corps leaders retain the option to “approve one-time, short-term exceptions allowing an (international military student) or accompanying family member to possess and use, but not own,” another person’s firearm outside of a Navy installation.

What those exceptions entail remains unclear. Navy officials did not provide clarification to Navy Times on Thursday.

The Pentagon paused international military student training after the Pensacola mass shooting and ordered a security review of the program.

In a Jan. 17 memo, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist indicated that non-classroom training could resume once the services met key conditions, including banning the private ownership of firearms and ammunition by students.

Four days later, Garry Reid, the Pentagon’s director of defense intelligence, told reporters federal officials would begin expelling 21 Saudis who had been found with “derogatory material."

But there is no evidence that those 21 citizens assisted Alshamrani in the attack or had any prior knowledge of his plot, Reid added.

Dustin Walters, center left, hugs his brother Mason, during a funeral service for their brother Naval Aircrewman Mechanical 3rd Class Cameron Scott Walters, at the Compassion Christian Church in Savannah, Ga., on Dec. 16. (Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Dustin Walters, center left, hugs his brother Mason, during a funeral service for their brother Naval Aircrewman Mechanical 3rd Class Cameron Scott Walters, at the Compassion Christian Church in Savannah, Ga., on Dec. 16. (Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Other Pentagon-mandated reforms include using the Defense Biometric Identification System to restrict access to bases, or parts of bases, unless a trainee has an authorized reason to be there.

Officials also are required to continuously monitor their students’ social media and other activities after the initial State Department and Homeland Security Department background screenings.

Trainees also face new limits on how far they can travel off base without receiving prior written approval by military leaders.

How the other services will comply with the Defense Department’s prescribed policy changes remains unclear.

Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said in a statement that her service is working to implement procedures outlined by the Pentagon but declined to detail what they are.

“Due to law enforcement sensitive information, we cannot discuss the specifics of the new procedures, but we are aligned with national as well as DOD standards, and our procedures are continuously reviewed,” she said.

Audricia Harris, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of the Army, did not respond to requests for comment.

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