Rutherford, Crist, Demings Renew Bipartisan Push to Close Pensacola Loophole

May 5, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. John Rutherford (FL-04), Charlie Crist (FL-13), and Val Demings (FL-10) have reintroduced the Foreign National Firearms Background Check Enhancement Act to close the ‘Pensacola loophole’ that allows foreign nationals who acquire a hunting license to legally purchase firearms.

Two years ago, a Saudi foreign national exploited the ‘Pensacola loophole’ to legally purchase a gun that he used to attack Naval Air Station Pensacola, injuring eight and killing three. One of the victims, airman Mohammed “Mo” Haitham, was only 19 years old and lost his life heroically trying to stop the shooter, who reportedly had ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“In 2019, a terrorist killed three American sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station,” said Rep. Rutherford. “He was able to purchase a firearm without a proper background check due to a loophole in federal gun laws for foreign visitors. This legislation would close that loophole by holding foreign individuals to the same standard background check requirements as U.S. citizens, requiring them to be vetted both here in the U.S. and in their home country. I'm proud to join a bipartisan coalition working to prevent an attack like this from ever happening again.”

“The Pensacola Loophole allowed a terrorist to attack American heroes on our own soil. Some Floridians may not know that foreign nationals can legally buy guns in America simply by acquiring a hunting license, but al-Qaeda knows it. ISIS knows it,” said Rep. Crist. “That’s why I’m renewing my push to close this loophole to keep foreign terrorists from legally buying guns. I thank my friends and colleagues Representatives Rutherford and Demings for their leadership, and I thank our allies who have been advocating for common sense, gun violence preventions measures for decades.”

“Every reasonable person agrees that people shouldn’t be able to get any gun, anywhere, anytime, with no oversight and no background checks,” said Rep. Demings. “We have seen that guns in the wrong hands leads to tragedy. This legislation will close the loophole that allowed a tragic shooting at NAS Pensacola, and bring some sanity and common sense into our gun laws. I thank my cosponsors for their support on this important legislation and look forward to taking real action to end America's epidemic of gun violence.”

“Far too many incidents of gun violence can be attributed to weaknesses in the law. The shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola tragically underscored how many states issue hunting licenses freely because there is no minimum nationwide standard,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, Giffords Federal Affairs Directors. “We thank Representatives Crist and Rutherford for introducing this legislation to ensure that federal authorities vet foreign nationals who wish to obtain or possess a gun and prevent the hunting license loophole from being exploited in this way.”

“MCSA thanks Representatives Crist, Rutherford, and Demings for their leadership on the Foreign National Firearms Background Check Enhancement Act,” said Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, President of Major County Sheriffs of America. “This legislation would strengthen homeland security by implementing stronger vetting procedures for foreign nationals who are seeking to purchase a firearm in the United States. MCSA looks forward to continuing to support efforts to advance this critical legislation.”

Additional Background on the Foreign National Firearms Background Check Enhancement Act:

This legislation was first introduced in the 116th Congress, with the bipartisan support of Reps. Rutherford, Crist, and Demings, following the tragic shooting that took place December 6, 2019, at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, a foreign national is allowed to purchase and/or possess a firearm in the United States if they first obtain a hunting license. If enacted, this legislation would require a rigorous background check for all foreign nationals wishing to purchase or possess a firearm with a hunting license by requiring the individual to petition the U.S. Attorney General for a waiver that would last no more than one year. The background check would trigger vetting both in the U.S. and in their home nation.