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Wildlife commissioners seek to end loophole that allowed Pensacola gunman to buy weapon

Foreign citizens are allowed to buy guns if they first get a hunting license
An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN | AP]
Published Dec. 11, 2019
Updated Dec. 11, 2019

Florida wildlife officials are seeking to close a “loophole” that allowed a Saudi national to obtain the gun used in a shooting spree last week at Naval Air Station Pensacola that left three dead and eight wounded.

People from other countries are generally not allowed to buy guns in the U.S. But there is an exception for people who obtain a valid hunting license, which the shooter did, wildlife officials said.

Although the exception is in federal law, state wildlife commissioners hope to find a way to adjust their hunting licenses to make sure something like the Pensacola shooting never happens again.

During Wednesday’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting in Panama City, Commissioner Rodney Barreto said he had been talking to Gov. Ron DeSantis about closing the loophole, and called for the commission staff to explore what the state can do.

“We need to close that loophole to make sure foreigners cannot get guns and kill American soldiers,” said Barreto, a Miami developer.

The commissioners agreed with Barreto, directing the staff to bring back legal options. Their meeting adjourned late Wednesday without commissioners bringing the issue up again.

An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN | AP]

The gunman, Mohammed Alshamrani, was a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force. He was in the U.S. as a student naval flight officer at Naval Aviation Schools Command at the Pensacola navy base. He had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, a U.S. official told the Associated Press.

RELATED: Base shooter watched videos of other shootings.

As a result of last week’s shootings — in which Alshamrani was himself shot and killed — the Navy has grounded all the other Saudi students who were in the U.S. undertaking flight training. Meanwhile the FBI is investigating whether the attack was connected to any terrorist organization.

Among the victims killed during the attack was a St. Petersburg man, Mohammed Haitham, 19, a onetime Lakewood High track star who was on the verge of completing flight crew training. Friends and family members say Navy officials told them he was killed while trying to stop the shooter.

RELATED: Former track star among victims of shooting

The shooter used a 9 mm Glock model 45 pistol, which he bought from a licensed Florida gun dealer.

Federal law says any foreign national who is "admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa is prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing a firearm or ammunition unless he or she falls under one of a few exceptions. The exceptions include having “a valid hunting license or permit.”

Alshamrani obtained his Florida hunting license on July 11, according to the Navy Times, and bought his gun from a licensed Florida dealer nine days later. At this point there are no indications he used the handgun to go hunting, but the investigation is continuing.

The exception was put into federal law for the benefit of Canadians, not any other nationalities, according to David Chipman, a former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who serves as a senior policy advisor for Giffords, an anti-gun violence group. It allowed Canadian hunters to buy firearms here as opposed to traveling with their own, and for Olympic teams to train here for biathlons, he said.

“What I don’t think anyone envisioned was people coming to the United states, getting a hunting license and using it to buy handguns," Chipman said.

Times political editor Steve Contorno contributed to this story.

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