Governor, defense secretary meet on Pensacola attack

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed support Wednesday for actions the federal government has taken in response to the deadly shooting at a Pensacola naval base last month.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at Naval Air Station Pensacola, DeSantis called post-attack steps -- from increased screening to the removal of 21 Saudi military students, including 12 at NAS Pensacola -- “very, very significant.”

“Look, there's a great thing with relationships we've built throughout the world, with different countries,” DeSantis said. “We've got some incredible allies. That's obviously a good thing. You look at a country like Egypt, a lot of the people that came through and then trained in America are some of the people now in positions who are very pro-American. At the same time though, you know, we cannot be bringing people over here who want to do things like this with our country.”

Esper was making his first appearance at the base since Dec. 6, when accused shooter Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was a pilot trainee in Pensacola, killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight people before being fatally shot by local authorities.

After the shooting, operational training for Saudi servicemen was halted for an indefinite period.

Esper noted the shooting led to several directives, from enhanced screening of foreign students to new weapons policies.

“We discussed some other possible things that we may do in the future,” Esper added.

Neither DeSantis nor Esper responded to a question about a federal “loophole” used by Alshamrani in obtaining a Florida hunting license and legally buying a handgun.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Pentagon has given the military services conditional approval to resume training Saudi nationals in the U.S. The AP reported that non-classroom training can resume once military services have met conditions such as prohibiting the possession of privately owned firearms and ammunition by international military students.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has directed staff members to determine actions the state could take to address foreigners using state hunting licenses to buy handguns.

Federal law generally prevents people in the United States on non-immigrant visas from having guns. But an exception allows them to have guns if they have valid hunting licenses.

Before going to Pensacola on Wednesday, DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee he intended to ask hard questions during his meeting with Esper about how the shooter was screened before getting in the country.

“This was a really significant incident,” DeSantis said. “Pensacola is a great military town. You know they’ve welcomed a lot of these foreign folks there. They’re kind of part of the community, and I think a lot of them felt like they really got stabbed in the back, you know, to have someone there who we’ve opened our arms to ... then do that.”

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