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State Senator aims to eliminate hunting license exemption for assault style weapons

Posted at 10:52 AM, Sep 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-09 20:53:54-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Major changes are proposed to an exemption in state law that allows for a person under 21 to buy an assault-style rifle with a state-issued hunting license.

The senator pushing behind the legislation also says he could author bring about more changes next year, including addressing an issue 10News uncovered in the wake of the Poway synagogue shooting in April.

On Jan. 1, the state of California raised the legal age to buy all firearms - including long-guns - to 21. There were, however, exceptions for those over 18 who are military, law enforcement, or possess a valid, state-issued hunting license.

Accused Poway synagogue shooter John Earnest, 19, purchased an AR-15 style weapon from a dealer in San Diego.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, has amended current legislation, Senate Bill 61, to eliminate the hunting license exemption for "semiautomatic center-fire" rifles for those under 21.

"This is the weapon of choice that is finding itself into the wrong hands and, frankly, killing children,” Portantino said in an interview. "From our perspective we want to make sure we have a bill that gets signed into law that solves a problem.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed support for this change.

Portantino also said he would continue to seek out changes during next year's legislative.

That includes potentially installing better verification practices when it comes to exemptions. That's because Earnest, a college student, did not have a valid hunting license when he purchased the firearm allegedly used in the attack, Fish and Wildlife has confirmed.

10News reported that under current law, the Justice Department leaves the responsibility to individual gun shops to verify hunting licenses. It does not verify them again with state Fish and Wildlife during the 10-day mandatory background check.

Portantino said this is on his radar for the 2020 session.

"This issue certainly highlights these legitimate questions," he said. "So yes that’s one of the things we’re looking into for next year is ensuring that when you collect data you want to make sure it’s used for the right purpose. We're definitely looking to make that system better without a doubt."

The gun dealer, San Diego Guns, has insisted it did everything properly in the transaction.

Earnest is accused of fatally shooting Chabad of Poway congregant Lori Kaye and injuring three others on April 27. He is now facing more than 100 federal hate crime charges.