Pensacola shooting reveals ‘troubling’ exception in US gun policy


The shooting at a Florida air station that left three dead and eight injured last week highlighted federal guidelines that leave Americans vulnerable to attacks in their own country from a foreign source.

Investigators said Saudi aviator Mohammed Alshamrani launched a shootout at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday with a Glock 45 handgun legally purchased from an authorized dealer when he was not a U.S. citizen or resident.

This is because the shooter obtained a Florida hunting license, a relatively easy procedure that qualified him for one of the exceptions to federal law that prohibits foreign nationals from purchasing firearms in this country. .

Alshamrani, who was shot dead at the scene by sheriff’s deputies responding to the assault, was a Royal Saudi Air Force officer training in aviation at the base.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website states that foreigners entering the United States on a nonimmigrant visa are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition unless they are respect one of these exceptions:

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“(Have) a valid hunting permit or license, (be) admitted for lawful hunting or sporting purposes, certain officials of a foreign government or a foreign law enforcement officer of a foreign government friend entering the United States on an official law enforcement mission. ”

Gun policy experts say this leaves too much wiggle room, especially the exclusion of the hunting license, which does not establish what type of guns are allowed.

“This is a good example of a gun law that is worded loosely,” said Robert Spitzer, a gun policy authority who teaches at the State University of New York. York-Cortland.

“It’s troubling because it doesn’t specify the type of weapon. And it’s troubling because there doesn’t seem to be any record, no data, no information on how many people are taking advantage of this federal rule about obtaining these guns. In the abstract it’s a potential security issue, but of course now we know it’s a real security issue given this Pensacola shootout. ”

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“Who would take a Glock to go hunting?” “

Shortly after the incident, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called for the closure of what he called a “loophole” in federal law that allowed a foreign national to have access to firearms.

But the reality is that the Pensacola shooter could have purchased such a gun even without a Florida hunting license, where private sellers are not required to do background checks or ask questions about the purchaser or the intent of the gun. ‘purchase.

According to the advocacy organization Everytown for Gun Safety, last year there were more than 93,000 listings on the Armslist Marketplace for guns sold by private sellers in Florida.

Even a background check, which pulls information from a national database, may not have served much purpose in this case, as it does not include records of possible violations to the government. foreigner.

A file photo made available by the US Navy shows the main gate of Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida.

But Spitzer said a more focused federal law could have prevented the assailant from obtaining the gun he used in his murderous rampage and raised red flags about him.

“Who would take a Glock to go hunting?” ” he said. “If the objective is hunting, you could easily have written these provisions to specify long guns, not handguns, to specify certain types of hunting weapons.

On Tuesday, Yahoo News reported that the FBI had expressed concerns about the hunting license exception as early as May, warning that it could be exploited by extremists and criminals to commit violence. Bureau officials said they were investigating the Pensacola attack as a terrorist act.

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Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University who has studied gun policy, said the death toll could have been worse. With a hunting license, the assailant was allowed to purchase a more powerful weapon, although it is not known how he allegedly got it into the base undetected.

“He could have gotten an AR platform gun,” Reeher said. “There are AR platform guns that fire legal hunting cartridges, starting from a .308. I don’t know what it would do if we think about the lethality it gives to someone. ”

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Reeher agrees with Spitzer that the law should be strengthened, but says it will cause a curious conflict of ideologies, with conservatives defending guns but restricting foreigners’ access to the country and liberals opening up the doors but restricting access to firearms.

There is also the problem of great variability between states in their requirements to obtain a hunting license, and the possibility that holders of more restrictive state licenses will have access to firearms in those with fewer limitations.

Either way, Spitzer is succinct in his assessment of the hunting license exception:

“Someone has to defend why this provision has to exist,” he said.

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