SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- More than two years after the Poway synagogue mass shooting, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to shore up the loophole that allowed the underage shooter to buy the assault weapon used in the attack.
Shooter John Earnest, who pleaded guilty in state and federal court earlier this year, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of one congregant and injuring three others. He was 19 when he carried out the attack, two years below California's minimum gun purchase age of 21.
Still, Earnest was able to buy an assault weapon from San Diego Guns in April 2019 by claiming an exemption for a state-issued hunting license, which reduced the minimum age to 18. The problem was that Earnest's hunting license was not to be valid until July 1, 2019, two months after the attack. But the gun shop sold Earnest the weapon anyway, and the state Department of Justice approved the purchase.
An ABC 10News investigation uncovered that the DOJ allowed the sale to Earnest because it does not verify hunting licenses with state Fish and Wildlife during its 10-day background check.
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In response, State Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced legislation to require those checks through an online system. The bill passed the state Legislature in 2020, but Gov. Newsom vetoed it over concerns it would disrupt other technology upgrades at the DOJ.
Portantino revised the bill and reintroduced it during this year's session, delaying the implementation of the interdepartmental verification system to July 1, 2025. The bill, SB 715, passed the legislature and got the signature of the governor last week.
"This has been a two-year effort and hopefully this can help victimized families have a moment of healing," Portantino said in a statement. "It is an important step toward combating the gun violence epidemic in our country and improving public safety for all Californians. I strongly believe that if the provisions of in this bill were in effect in 2019, the tragedy that took place in the Poway synagogue would have been prevented."
The bill also clarifies that a hunting license is only valid in between its start date and end date.
"As used in this part, a valid and unexpired “hunting license” means a hunting license issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife pursuant to Article 2 (commencing with Section 3031) of Chapter 1 of Part 1 of Division 4 of the Fish and Game Code, for which the time period authorized for the taking of birds or mammals has commenced but not expired."
Under that definition, the sale to Earnest would have been void.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Newsom eliminated the hunting license exemption for semi-automatic center-fire weapons. But the exemption can still be used for other firearms. State Fish and Wildlife says 12,426 people between the ages of 18 and 20 bought a hunting license valid during the 2020 fiscal year.
San Diego Guns was closed Monday but workers there have repeatedly declined comment. The shop is now being sued over the sale. ABC 10News has reached out to the shop's attorney for a statement.