New California law tightens gun buying loophole exposed by Poway synagogue shooting


Like the many gun safety bills that preceded it, the one just signed by Governor Gavin Newsom was born out of tragedy.

In 2019, John T. Earnest, a then 19-year-old student from Rancho Peñasquitos, opened fire on a Poway synagogue with a rifle he bought from an armory in Grantville.

It did so under a restrictive provision that allows young people between the ages of 18 and 20 to buy firearms as long as they have a hunting license.

Earnest had one – the license just wasn’t valid yet.

A measure promulgated Thursday evening tightens this loophole.

The legislation is the latest reminder that even in a state with some of the country’s toughest gun laws, ambiguities – and ways to exploit them – remain.

The new laws are a common ripple effect of modern mass shootings and other random gun violence that grab national headlines. Often they are tightly tailored to fill a specific, and perhaps previously ignored, gap in existing law.

In response to the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting, California banned “bullet buttons” – or a button on a rifle that allows the shooter, using a small tool, to release a magazine and attach a new one. The feature was intended as a way to circumvent another law, the California ban on assault rifles, including those with removable magazines.

After the Las Vegas Music Festival massacre in 2017, the Trump administration banned “bump stocks” – a device that increases the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon, mimicking automatic fire. Bump stocks were already illegal in California, but the federal ban was a rare national response to gun violence.

The latest law, SB 715, drafted by Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino de La Cañada Flintridge, requires the California Department of Justice to verify the validity of a hunting license for anyone under the age of 21 trying purchase a firearm, as part of the already mandatory 10-day background check. The law comes into force on July 1, 2025. It also requires firearms vendors to visually verify the validity of a hunting license and document it.

“This situation was a tragedy that exposed a loophole in the gun purchasing system,” Portantino said in a recent interview. “It’s a loophole that must be closed. “

Portantino’s bill is about a much smaller population than some previous gun laws. According to Fish and Wildlife, about 12,000 people between the ages of 18 and 20 bought annual hunting licenses in California last year.

San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road in Grantville.

(The San Diego Union-Tribune)

License questions

Earnest purchased the Smith & Wesson M & P15, an AR-15 style rifle, on April 13, 2019 from San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road for $ 963.41, according to court records. He presented a certificate attesting that he had taken a hunting education course, a necessary step in obtaining a hunting license.

We still do not know if he presented a hunting license when he bought it. Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that a permit has been issued to Earnest, but it was not expected to come into effect until the official start of the season, July 1, 2019.

Almost two weeks later, on April 26, he picked up the gun. He stormed Chabad de Poway the next day. Equipped with tactical gear, with several loaded magazines, Earnest opened fire in the lobby. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed. Three other people – founding rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan, 8, and his uncle, Almog Peretz, 34 – were injured.

Earnest struggled with a second magazine and caught fire from another loyalist, an off-duty border patrol agent. Earnest raced in his car, called 911 to report what he had done, and waited for the police to stop him.

Earnest has pleaded guilty to several counts in state and federal courts related to the shooting and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The shooting led some victims to sue the armory for sale to Earnest. The vast litigation, which includes several other defendants, is in its early stages in San Diego Superior Court. The company has denied any wrongdoing in court records.

NRA: “No impact on crime”

Gun rights advocates have criticized the ability of such laws to have a significant impact against gun violence and say they add to the state’s confusing matrix of gun laws.

“SB 715 makes a number of changes to existing law that will ultimately have no impact on violent crime and will simply make it more difficult for law-abiding people to understand what is allowed and required by the law,” wrote the National Rifle Association to lawmakers.

The NRA also questioned the importance placed on the validity of a hunting license, noting that the underlying educational component only needs to be completed once in a hunter’s life.

“This restriction only increases and imposes our rights,” the NRA concluded.

Gun safety advocates say the measure ensures full background checks “so the same mistakes don’t happen again.”

“This legislation is an important step in protecting the public safety of communities in California,” Everytown for Gun Safety wrote to lawmakers.

It is impossible to know whether the law, if in place, would have totally prevented the shooting in Poway, or would have simply delayed it. Portantino has said that such debates are a “zero-sum game”.

“You can never plan what is preventive,” he said. “We know that, overall, states with more stringent gun regulations have fewer of these shots. We know that the volume of our efforts makes the difference.

Portantino has focused much of its recent gun legislation on the under-21 group.

Federal crime statistics show that 18 to 20 year olds commit firearm homicides at a rate four times the rate of adults 21 and older, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety.

A California law that came into effect on January 1, 2019 raised the age limit to 21 years for the purchase of long guns without a hunting license, which meets the requirements for the sale of handguns. This was prompted by the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Another law prohibited those under the age of 21 from purchasing semi-automatic centerfire rifles – like the one used in the Poway shooting – even with a valid hunting license. This law was passed in the fall of 2019, but came into force earlier this year.

Meanwhile, as new legislation is introduced, old gun laws continue to be challenged by gun owners in court, including the federal ban on bump stockpiles.

Large parts of California’s strict gun regulatory regime – including its ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – have been dismantled in recent court opinions by a San Diego federal court judge . These cases are now on appeal, as are others awaiting determination by the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals.

Unprepared state

This is the second time that Portantino has tried to have a law enacted to validate hunting licenses. Newsom vetoed a similar proposal last year.

In his letter of rejection, the governor did not challenge the purpose of the law but instead blamed logistics for its failure. He said it would take 30 months for the DOJ to update its technology to include checks with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and that other projects were already underway to align with seven related laws. firearms already promulgated.

“I am concerned that the addition of an information technology project will hamper the ability of the DOJ to do the work already assigned to him,” Newsom concluded.

Portantino said the legislature was working closely with the agencies involved to resolve logistical issues. The delayed coming into force date of the law will give the Department of Justice’s Firearms Office time to prepare for the new background check requirement.

The bill also includes a separate section that allows the attorney general to conduct an independent investigation into a police shooting when there is a viable dispute over whether or not the person shot by law enforcement was armed.

In total, the Justice Department predicts the measure will cost between $ 4 million and $ 14 million per year, largely depending on the number of police shootings it could investigate. The bill would also require 13 to 56 new positions, as well as computer system upgrades. The costs also take into account the possibility of litigation surrounding the law.

The Department of Justice has repeatedly struggled to implement or maintain certain gun monitoring programs. When gun owners were required in 2018 to register guns with bullet buttons so that they could continue to be legally possessed, widespread problems in the state’s computer system prevented many from doing so. to do. A subsequent trial ended with an agreement to reopen the registry window for 90 days, effective January 13, 2022.

Nor has the Justice Department been able to continue its efforts to recover thousands of firearms from people who are registered owners but who have since lost their right to possess them under the United States Act. state due to criminal convictions, mental health issues or active restraining orders, according to a recent investigation by the nonprofit journalism association CalMatters.


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