Accused Poway synagogue shooter didn’t have valid hunting license when gun was purchased


The 19-year-old man accused of opening fire on Chabad of Poway in April, killing one person and injuring three others, should not have been able to purchase the firearm he allegedly used in the shooting because his hunting license was not yet valid, according to information provided by state officials.

John T. Earnest bought his AR-15 rifle from a San Diego gun store the day before the attack. The purchase raised questions because a state law that took effect this year prohibits people under 21 years old from buying firearms.

For the record:

12:16 p.m. Aug. 14, 2019A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when Earnest purchased his gun. He picked up the AR-15 the day before the shooting.

There are some exceptions. For example, a person older than 18 with a valid hunting license can legally buy a gun.

An official with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday that a hunting license had been issued to Earnest but that it was not slated to go into effect until July 1. The information was first reported by KGTV Channel 10 in San Diego.


Earnest picked up the firearm from San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road in Grantville for $963.41. A person who did not give his name at the store said in a brief phone conversation Tuesday, “That is not something we’re interested in commenting on at this time.”

In July, an unsealed batch of previously secret court records revealed that investigators found that Earnest had a “hunting certificate,” which shows he completed a hunting education course — a necessary step in acquiring a hunting license. However, officials would not say then whether Earnest had a valid license. Such records are generally confidential under state law.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, who authored the bill that prohibited people younger than 21 from purchasing firearms, said he plans to close the exception for young hunters.

“I am in the process of adding amendments to [the law] that would prohibit the sale of a Semi-Automatic Center Fire Rifle to anyone under the age of 21,” Portantino said in a statement.

Earnest is facing charges in state and federal court that make him eligible for the death penalty in connection with the shooting if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities said he attacked the Poway synagogue just before 11:30 a.m. on April 27, during a Passover service. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed and three others were injured, including the rabbi and an 8-year-old child.

Earnest fired up to 10 rounds, then had trouble reloading the weapon, according to court records. A congregant, armed with a handgun from another congregant, then chased the gunman out of the synagogue and fired four rounds, missing him. Minutes later Earnest called 911, where authorities said he admitted to the shooting, and he was later arrested by San Diego police.

Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.