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After California gun laws failed to stop Poway gunman, lawmakers act to close a loophole

Chabad of Poway members hug after a 19-year-old gunman shot multiple people inside the synagogue.
While talking to a police officer, Chabad of Poway members hug after a 19-year-old gunman shot multiple people inside the synagogue, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, on April 27, 2019, in Poway, Calif.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

California lawmakers approved legislation Monday that would close a loophole in state gun control laws that surfaced after a mass shooting at a suburban San Diego County synagogue last year. The Senate sent the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.

The state currently prohibits the sale of rifles to people under age 21 unless they have a valid hunting license, but the 19-year-old Poway shooter was able to buy a semiautomatic rifle for the attack despite his age and though he did not posses a valid hunting license.

The bill by Sen. Anthony J. Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge) would require gun dealers and the state Department of Justice to confirm that rifle purchasers under age 21 have a valid hunting license.

“We have a gun violence epidemic in our country and it sadly has become all too common to see senseless violence in the news,” Portantino said. “It is even more appalling that these shootings, including the Poway tragedy, have increasingly targeted houses of worship.”

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The state has enacted numerous other gun restrictions following mass shootings in recent years, including deadly attacks in Gilroy and San Bernardino.

Portantino’s measure, SB 914, had previously been approved by the Senate but heads back there for concurrence on amendments that included delaying the implementation date until July 1, 2021.

The loophole was discovered by the investigation into the April 2019 shooting attack on the Chabad of Poway that left one person dead and three injured. The shooter had paid for a hunting license but it was not yet valid at the time he bought the rifle. Nobody checked its validity.

The bill requires the seller of rifles to visually inspect a purchaser’s hunting license to make sure it is valid during the 10-day waiting period for buying a gun, and to record the document number and dates during which time it is valid. The state Department of Justice, which reviews gun purchases, would be required to verify the validity of the license with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A letter to lawmakers from the San Diego city attorney’s office said that Portantino’s legislation “would close that loophole.”

The measure is opposed by advocates for firearms owners including the group Gun Owners of California.

“This legislation will eliminate most, if not all, youth shooting programs throughout the state by making it virtually impossible for youth to shoot a firearm provided by anyone other than parents,” the group wrote to lawmakers. “This includes youth camps, and high school shooting teams that have become very popular throughout California.”

The Portantino bill was one of several gun control measures approved over the last few days of the session.

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The Legislature also sent the governor a bill that requires semiautomatic pistols to be equipped with chamber load indicators, magazine disconnect mechanisms and microstamping technology that allows law enforcement to better track firearms. The bill would take effect on July 1, 2022.

“This is a bill that will assist law enforcement in solving gun-related crimes via using microstamping technology and reduce the number of accidental gun deaths and injuries,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill.

Lawmakers also approved a bill that would require the state to honor gun violence restraining orders issued by other states. The orders temporarily remove firearms from people a court decides are a danger to themselves or others.

Another measure approved by the Legislature gives the state Department of Justice new powers, beginning July 1, 2021, to impose civil fines on firearms dealers who violate state regulations.

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The actions came just days after a study by gun-violence research experts at UC Davis Health said there has been a significant drop in firearm injuries in recent years in California, but there has been a substantial increase in the state’s overall death rate among those wounded by firearms.


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