Validity of Poway Synagogue Shooting Suspect's Hunting License in Question - NBC 7 San Diego

Validity of Poway Synagogue Shooting Suspect's Hunting License in Question

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    Validity of Poway Synagogue Shooting Suspect's Hunting License in Question

    NBC 7's Rory Devine explains the question marks surrounding the suspect's hunting license and the legality of his rifle purchase. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019)

    A California lawmaker claims the teenager who opened fire inside a Poway synagogue did not have a valid hunting license at the time he purchased the rifle he used in the attack.

    A valid hunting license would have allowed him to legally purchase a rifle from a San Diego gun dealer.

    Senator Anthony Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge) released a statement Tuesday saying he has been notified by members of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that Earnest "did not have a valid hunting license at the time of his gun purchase."

    Here is the full statement:

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    “The Department of Fish and Wildlife communicated with my and other offices within the Capitol that the shooter in Poway did not have a valid hunting license at the time of his gun purchase. I do not know how the shooter acquired the weapon. I am in the process of adding amendments to SB 61 that would prohibit the sale of a Semi-Automatic Center Fire Rifle to anyone under the age of 21.”

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife clarified the lawmaker's statement, telling NBC 7 the teenager did in fact have a hunting license but one that was not valid until July 1, 2019.

    The department also told NBC 7 a resident can buy a hunting license in advance that would be valid from the beginning of the fiscal year to the end of the fiscal year. 

    John Earnest, 19, faces multiple criminal charges for the April 27 attack inside a packed synagogue on the final day of Passover. He has pleaded not guilty to hate crime and dozens of other state and federal criminal charges.

    He opened fire with an AR-15-type assault weapon which was purchased from a local gun dealer the day before and picked up within hours of the shooting, according to court documents that were unsealed after a court challenge by NBC 7 and other media outlets. 

    A new state law that took effect January 1, limits firearm purchases to adults age 21 and older. That legislation includes two exceptions: if you're over 18 and have a valid hunting license, you can buy a rifle. Law enforcement and active or honorably discharged military members aged 18-20 can also buy rifles.

    San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was asked by NBC 7 and other media outlets how the suspect legally obtained a rifle when she spoke in April. 

    She indicated but did not confirm that Earnest might have a hunting license. 

    NBC 7 was unable to check the status of any hunting license issued to Earnest because the list of state residents who have hunting and/or fishing licenses is confidential. 

    Earnest is accused of killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three others including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan and her uncle, Almog Peretz.

    According to the search warrants obtained by NBC 7, Earnest had admitted to arresting officers that he had opened fire inside the synagogue in what he described as an attempt to "defend my country nation against the Jewish people."

    The warrants also revealed San Diego Police officers found an AR-15 rifle on the front seat of Earnest's car and a Go-Pro camera attached to a helmet. Officers also found a “hunting certificate” and a receipt for the local gun store when they searched Earnest’s car and home.

    Earnest had purchased the gun used in the attack at San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road.

    The owner of San Diego Guns, Dallas Martensen, declined to comment on the new details.