PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Saudi military pilot who killed three people and wounded several others at the Naval Air Station here took advantage of a gun ownership “loophole” for foreign nationals that must be closed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
DeSantis, speaking at a news conference late Sunday, said he had believed that only foreign law enforcement officers could legally possess or purchase firearms while in the United States. The FBI, however, said the shooter had legally purchased in Florida the 9 mm handgun that he used for Friday’s rampage at the sprawling base that is home to more than 23,000 military and civilian personnel, including the iconic Blue Angels aerobatic flight team.
The governor said he would urge President Donald Trump and other federal decision makers to change policies that allow foreign nationals to arm themselves.
“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,” DeSantis said. “It does not apply to Saudi Arabians.”
It is not clear under what criteria the shooter could legally purchase the gun. Federal law does allow some foreign nationals to possess and purchase guns in the U.S., including official representatives of their government who are accredited with the U.S. government.
Rachel Rojas, FBI special agent in charge, said authorities were still investigating the motive for the attack by a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was studying at Pensacola’s Naval Aviation Schools Command. But she said the attack was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism.
Investigators were interviewing the gunman’s friends and colleagues, trying to determine whether he acted alone or was part of a network, she said.
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The Navy identified the victims as Airman Mohammed Hathaim, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee, Alabama; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia. The bodies were flown Sunday night to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where a solemn transfer ceremony took place.
“The Blue Angels are here, and you do something like this,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to get the answers, and there’s going to be accountability. And I’m going to do whatever I can as governor to make sure that happens.”
DeSantis also cited a problem with the vetting process of foreign military members training in the U.S. Hours before the Pensacola shooting, tweets purportedly written by the suspect railed against the United States for its support of Israel and for stationing troops at bases in Saudi Arabia.
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Rojas declined to confirm the tweets came from the Saudi military trainee. However, Rita Katz, director of the U.S.-based SITE intelligence group that tracks jihadist activity, said there was no reason to believe the tweets were not from the shooter.
The now-deleted Twitter account was created in 2012 and amassed more than 2,700 tweets, Katz said.
“I think there’s a frustration with this,” DeSantis said. “You have foreign military personnel coming to our base. They should not be doing that if they hate our country.”