Pensacola shooting exposes ‘troubling’ exception in US gun policy

Pensacola shooting exposes ‘troubling’ exception in US gun policy


The shooting at a Florida air station that left three people dead and eight wounded last week has put the spotlight on federal guidelines that leave Americans vulnerable to attacks in their own homeland from a foreign source.

Investigators have said Saudi airman Mohammed Alshamrani launched a shooting spree Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola with a Glock 45 handgun purchased legally from a licensed dealer despite not being a U.S. citizen or resident.

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

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

The website for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says foreigners who enter the U.S. with a non-immigrant visa are forbidden from possessing firearms or ammunition, unless they meet one of these exceptions:

The remains of Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, fatally shot at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, are transferred at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Dec. 8, 2019.

“(Having) a valid hunting license or permit, (being) admitted for lawful hunting or sporting purposes, certain official representatives of a foreign government, or a foreign law enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the United States on official law enforcement business.’’

Experts on gun policy say that leaves too much wiggle room, especially the hunting license exclusion, which doesn’t establish what kind of weapons are allowable.

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

“It’s troubling because it doesn’t specify the kind of gun. And it’s troubling because there seem to be no records, no data, no information about how many people are taking advantage of this federal rule about obtaining these weapons. In the abstract it’s a potential security problem, but of course now we know it’s a real security problem given this shooting in Pensacola.’’



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