NewsPoway Synagogue Shooting


New bill aims to correct error that allowed Poway suspect to buy gun

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Posted at 5:50 AM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2023-08-02 15:57:17-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- New legislation introduced Monday in Sacramento aims to correct the flaw in a state law that allowed the accused Poway synagogue shooter to buy the AR-15 style weapon used in the attack despite being too young to make the purchase.

Senate Bill 914 comes after a 10News investigation uncovered that shooting suspect John Earnest was able to buy the gun at a shop in San Diego using an invalid hunting license. Earnest, 19 at the time of the shooting, used that invalid hunting license to claim an exemption to a state law that raised the minimum purchase age to 21.

On April 27, 2019, prosecutors say Earnest entered the Chabad of Poway Synagogue armed with an AR-15 style weapon. He fatally shot congregant Lori Kaye and injured three others.

Questions began immediately after the shooting as to how a 19-year-old was able to buy a gun when the age limit in California was 21.

SECTION: Poway Synagogue Shooting

California's age limit law, a bill State Sen. Anthony Portantino authored in 2018, kept the minimum purchase age at 18 for military, law enforcement, and those with valid state-issued hunting licenses.

Earnest was a nursing student at CSU San Marcos. The hunting license he did obtain from State Fish and Wildlife was not to become valid until July 1, 2019, more than two months after the attack.

"The thought that he did not have a valid hunting license and was still able to get a gun shows that that particular part of the system failed," Portantino said in an interview.

Earnest was able to use that license to buy the AR-15 style weapon from San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road. A worker at the gun shop declined to comment.

Last year, 10News revealed that the system failed in part because the state Justice Department does not verify the validity of hunting licenses with state Fish and Wildlife during the 10-day waiting period and background check.

RELATED: Questions about how the synagogue shooting suspect got the gun

The bottom line - if the gun shop accepts the license, the exemption is granted.

Portantino's new bill will require either the dealer submit a copy of the hunting license, or its identification number and valid dates to the state Department of Justice for verification. The agency would then communicate with state Fish and Wildlife to check its validity, before giving the gun shop the clearance to sell the gun. As of now, no such verification process exists.

"The system should have been better, and that's what we're coming to grips with," Portantino said. "How do we make it better, so these things have protections so that it doesn't happen again?"

In the wake of the shooting, the state eliminated the hunting license exemption for centerfire semi-automatic rifles. However, people under 21 can still use the hunting license exemption for weapons such as semi-automatic rimfire long guns and bolt-action rifles.

“Sadly, no one can undue the tragedy that occurred in Poway. I pray for the families and hope the lessons learned can be used proactively for a better and safer place for our Californians to worship and for families to raise their children in safety,” said Portantino in a news release Monday.

Danielle Jaymes, who directs sales at Poway Weapons and Gear Range, which was not involved with Earnest, said California already has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation and that people who want to commit crimes will do so regardless.

Still, after the synagogue shooting, James said she attempted to contact the state Justice Department to clarify requirements for hunting licenses, but never heard back.

Jaymes noted Earnest's hunting license was to become valid on July 1, 2019, right in time for hunting season, creating a confusing situation for a gun shop.

RELATED: Process to get a hunting license in California

"What is valid? It wasn't expired, but you have to have the hunting license before hunting season, and if you want to buy a gun for hunting season, you have to have the hunting license ahead of time," she said.

Portantino said, however, that the law's intention is to require those under 21 to wait until the license is within its valid dates to make a purchase.

"You don't get to fly a plane until you have a valid pilot's license," he said. "You can't game the system."

The bill, if passed in the legislature, could reach Governor Newsom's desk by August.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Justice said the agency would review the legislation when it's available and work with the author on any outstanding issues.