Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday called for increased vetting of foreign nationals training on U.S. military bases following the shooting Friday at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola that left three dead, including a student airman from St. Petersburg.
While DeSantis praised the response of law enforcement and called the victims of the shooting “heroes” during a Sunday news conference, he said there is a “frustration” with the circumstances behind the incident, which the FBI said is being investigated as an act of terrorism.
“You have foreign military personnel coming to our base. They should not be doing that if they hate our country,” DeSantis said. “I talked with Secretary (of Defense Mark) Esper on Friday and they’re doing a big review about how all this stuff is done in terms of the vetting. But my sense is that more needs to be done, and I think that this is something that should not have been allowed to happen.”
A U.S. official said Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone when he shot three people in a classroom building Friday before he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy. One of the victims was identified as Mohammed Shahed Haitham, a 19-year-old graduate of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg.
The official said the gunman had apparently gone on Twitter shortly before the shooting to blast U.S. support of Israel and accuse America of being anti-Muslim.
DeSantis responded with a bit of sarcasm when asked what information DeSantis had to indicate the accused shooter had hatred toward the U.S.
“Have you read any of the reports? I mean, come on,” DeSantis said. “Obviously he had a major social media trail. This guy was somebody who had a deep-seeded hatred for the United States. My view is that for us to be bringing in these foreign nationals, you have to take precautions to protect the country. The fact of the matter is, bringing in people from Saudi Arabia, you need to be on guard on that.
“To have this individual be able to take out three of our sailors, to me, that’s unacceptable. I think it could have been prevented with better vetting.”
Rear Admiral Gary A. Mayes, commander of Navy Region Southeast, said the Department of Defense vets foreign nationals who come into the country for training. He also said guns are not allow on base without prior permission.
DeSantis said Alshamrani “took advantage of a federal loophole” that allowed him to purchase a gun.
“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,” DeSantis said. “He had no Constitutional right to do that for sure. Why the federal law has that, I’m just not sure. I was not aware of that. I always thought that foreign nationals, except for certain law enforcement, were not allowed to have firearms. They should definitely look at that.”
DeSantis said that while Saudi Arabia has “pledged cooperation” in the investigation, he urged officials to not take “lip service.”
“This is a really big deal,” DeSantis said. “We can’t control every little thing that happens. When you have somebody that comes from a foreign military that we’re training on one of our bases, this iconic base … and you do something like this, 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.”
U.S. Senator Rick Scott of Florida echoed DeSantis' concerns on Sunday during an appearance on 'Fox & Friends.'
Mayes also read a statement addressing “Friday’s senseless act.”
“I just came from the funeral procession and the remains of our three fallen shipmates are currently on their way to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware,” Mayes said. “Violence took these young men from us, physically wounding eight others and the hearts of countless more.
“On behalf of the entire Navy, I express my sincere and deepest sympathies to the families of the sailors whose lives were taken during this heinous act.”
Mayes also credited the actions of security forces and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, who “worked seamlessly” in response to the shooting.
“This team honed skills and they hoped they would never have to use,” Mayes said. “But when called upon, they responded with such expertise and determination that they most certainly saved the lives of many others”
Mayes said grief counselors will be on hand as the base returns to routine access on Monday while working with law enforcement to “investigate, review, and guard against future vulnerabilities and to safeguard the security of our service members and their families. Their safety is paramount.”
“Know that the security forces are doing what needs to be done to make NAS Pensacola, and bases and installations around the world, as safe as possible,” Mayes said.