TALLAHASSEE — Florida wildlife officials moved quickly Wednesday to try to close a "loophole" that allowed a citizen of Saudi Arabia to legally buy a handgun and ammunition used to kill three people last Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission directed staff members to immediately provide a proposal that would end the ability of such foreign citizens to buy handguns if they hold Florida hunting licenses.
Commissioner Rodney Barreto said he spoke to Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier in the day and wanted immediate action.
"There’s been a terrible issue that happened here in Florida, where a foreigner was able to get a hunting license. Then he was able to buy a gun and he was able to kill some American soldiers," Barreto said. "We need to close that loophole. We need to close it right away. We need to look at all our rules and regulations. We’ve got to make sure foreigners cannot get guns and have the ability to kill American citizens. We need to figure that out today."
DeSantis criticized the law during a news conference Sunday in Pensacola.
"That's a federal loophole that he took advantage of," DeSantis said. "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. It does not apply to Saudi Arabians. So, he had no constitutional right to do that, for sure. Why the federal law has that, I'm just not sure. I was not aware of that. I always thought that federal nationals except for some law enforcement … yeah, I think they should definitely look at that."
Shooter Mohammed Alshamrani, who was killed by an Escambia County sheriff’s deputy, was a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force studying at Pensacola's Naval Aviation Schools Command.
Federal law generally prevents people in the United States on non-immigrant visas from having guns, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But an exception allows them to have guns if they have valid hunting licenses.
The Pensacola shooter, in the U.S. since August 2017, had obtained his Florida hunting license in mid-April and in July bought a 9 mm Glock 45 pistol, with an extended magazine, from a gun shop in the Pensacola area.
Besides a valid hunting license, people with non-immigrant visas can buy guns if they are certain official representatives of foreign governments or if they are law-enforcement officers from friendly governments in the U.S. on official business, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website.