Florida Questions Gun Rules After Deadly Shooting At Pensacola Naval Base

Dec 13, 2019
Originally published on December 13, 2019 6:09 pm
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In Florida, officials are questioning firearm regulations that allowed a Saudi national to buy a gun in the United States. The gunman who killed three people and wounded eight others at Naval Air Station Pensacola a week ago was able to legally purchase a handgun because he had a hunting license. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Nonimmigrant foreigners are generally prohibited from buying guns in the U.S., but the FBI says a Saudi flight student legally bought a Glock pistol on July 20 from a Florida gun dealer. NPR has learned that just nine days earlier, he obtained a Florida hunting license, and that's what allowed him to get around the ban.

RODNEY BARRETO: With either a duck stamp or a hunting license, you can procure a gun. And wow, that's scary - stop and think about that.

ELLIOTT: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Rodney Barreto. A hunting license can be bought online and doesn't have a photo to identify the hunter. At a meeting this week in Panama City, Barreto called for a review of the state's hunting license requirements.

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BARRETO: 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.

ELLIOTT: Barreto says there's every reason to believe the gun dealer followed federal law when he sold the gun. The Saudi national would have needed to show proof of residence in Florida and the hunting license, and he would undergo a background check. All of this has taken both state regulators and gun rights advocates like Clover Lawson by surprise. Lawson works in gun sales.

CLOVER LAWSON: The .22 is going to be your best option for .22 LR...

ELLIOTT: Yesterday in Pensacola, she was helping a client choose a rifle suppressor. Lawson is no fan of gun restrictions, but she believes the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola reveals a flaw in the system that threatens homeland security.

LAWSON: I don't think that the Second Amendment needs to be in a circumstance where we cover people who are not U.S. citizens - period. If you're not a citizen, you don't get a Second Amendment right.

ELLIOTT: But as officials reexamine the rules, Lawson says, they should consider that international tourists come to the U.S. to hunt and for shooting competitions.

LAWSON: Do I think they should be barred from doing that? No. But most of the time they bring their own gun or they borrow a gun. You don't - they don't purchase a gun when they come here, you know? And hunters that would purchase a gun are not normally going to be purchasing only a Glock, a handgun.

ELLIOTT: Hunters would typically use a rifle. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says the gunman exploited what he calls a loophole in federal gun laws.

RON DESANTIS: 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.

ELLIOTT: Wildlife Commissioner Barreto says there are 654 nonresident foreign nationals with a hunting license in the state of Florida.

BARRETO: Our Florida Department of Law Enforcement, our Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement and the FBI have vetted all those names, and I think we're very confident that no one slipped through the cracks here.

ELLIOTT: He says the commission is looking at what options the state has, for instance, requiring a hunting guide for foreigners seeking a hunting license. But he says there's not a simple or quick fix.

BARRETO: We certainly don't want to punish those who come to the United States for hunting, but yet we don't want, you know, someone to procure a gun and kill American citizens, either.

ELLIOTT: While the hunting license exception is raising alarm, foreign nationals could still acquire a gun legally without a background check through a private sale. Barreto says Florida will do what it can, but the broader fix will have to come from the federal government.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Pensacola.

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