On Dec. 3, a Saudi Arabian flight student arrived on NAS Pensacola with a pistol. This student had special permission from the U.S. government to be in the country and to train alongside the U.S. Navy at the base.
The gunman went to the classrooms where he trained with other students, both U.S. citizens and international visitors. He opened fire, killing three and injuring eight others before law enforcement arrived to take him down.
One of the students killed, Airmen Apprentice Cameron Walters, just 21, was on guard duty that day. But he had no gun. He was not allowed to have a gun on his person per base policy. None of the students were allowed a firearm while on base.
Let us repeat that. None of the trained U.S. military personnel on base, save a few exceptions, were allowed to have a gun.
NAS Pensacola is in a unique position compared to some other military installations. The base is frequented nearly every day by the public. Between the museum, the lighthouse, the fort, the graves, the flight academy for area students and the famous Blue Angels, the base serves the public as much as it serves the Department of Defense.
That means security works a little differently.
Still, why would we deny access to a firearm for the men and women we have vetted and hired to defend and protect us? Our military members serving and training on NAS Pensacola have agreed to lay down their lives for us, and we have given many of them the heavy burden of fighting and killing our enemies.
We have trained them to carry and operate a weapon safely and effectively on a field of battle. But we deny them access to that weapon, even while on “guard duty?”
Walters paid with his life. We can never know if Walters would have been able to stop the shooter. We will never know if his training, combined with the proper equipment, could have saved additional lives that day.
And what about Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson who heroically ran to alert first responders with essential information about the shooter though he had been shot multiple times? This passionate man of just 23 died from those injuries while ensuring others would not.
Watson was an expert marksman according to local newspapers, having competed at a high level for years in rifle marksmanship. Would he have been able to take down the shooter with that expertise, had he been armed to do so? Could he have saved lives, spared injuries, saved himself?
Then there’s the issue of the loophole that allowed the cowardly shooter to get a gun in the first place. Terrorist or not, why was a foreign national with no intention of becoming a U.S. citizen allowed to obtain a firearm, reportedly with an extended magazine?
We agree with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s assertion that the Second Amendment is not for visiting Saudi Arabians. The Second Amendment is put in place to protect the rights of U.S. citizens. That is not to say that we as human beings do not have certain inalienable rights, but the Bill of Rights to our Constitution is meant to protect our citizens.
Why was a hunting license all that it took to allow someone to circumvent our federal protections? Take a quick online hunter safety course and shell out about $17 and anyone can have a gun in the state of Florida? Well almost anyone.
One of the shooting victims was 19-year-old Airman Mohammed Haitham. Despite being a citizen of this country and swearing to protect and defend our rights in the Navy, there are laws on the books in our state that would have prevented him from owning a personal firearm.
In the state of Florida, a teacher with only minimal training can be made responsible for carrying a gun into an elementary school classroom, but our trained military were denied that protection for themselves.
And a foreigner bent on harming others was able to legally buy a gun from a shop, then stroll onto base in an unknown fashion, enter a classroom and commit an atrocity, taking three young lives.
Our hearts break over the loss of these brave young men and the pain and trauma of the others impacted by this tragedy.
Our hearts break more wondering if this could have been avoided. Dwelling on what ifs can drive a person to dark places, but we can’t help but wonder, what if the gunman had been met by trained, armed military men and women? What if?