Chabad of Poway
Chabad of Poway Reuters

John Earnest, the 19-year-old nursing student accused of opening fire at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in April didn't have a valid hunting license, the only way someone under 21 who isn't in the military or law enforcement can legally buy a weapon under state law, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The California Fish and Wildlife Department said that Earnest was issued a hunting license, but it had not gone into effect yet.

It remains unclear how Earnest bought the gun. The hunting license was not set to go into effect until July 1, said California Fish and Wildlife Department spokesman Peter Tier.

Authorities say Earnest opened fire on April 27 at the Chabad of Poway, killing a 60-year-old woman and injuring three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi and an 8-year-old girl. He picked up the weapon the day before from a San Diego store, according to court records.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said on Wednesday it is believed Earnest bought the weapon legally but has not provided details on how or when that occurred.

Earnest picked up his AR-15 rifle from a San Diego gun store the day before the shooting, according to investigators. Earnest paid $963.41 to San Diego Guns for the rifle. The store has declined to comment when contacted by reporters.

California bars anyone from buying a rifle under the age of 21 unless the person has a hunting license, is a member of the military or law enforcement. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation in response to the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people.

California hunting licenses run on the state's fiscal year and do not go into effect each year until July 1, Tier said, though they can be obtained ahead of time so hunters can enroll in competitions and prove they will be licensed in time for such events.

In May, Earnest pleaded not guilty to federal hate crimes and other charges.

Earnest also faces charges of murder and attempted murder for the attack, in which one person was killed and three were injured, including the rabbi of the synagogue.

He has already pleaded not guilty to 108 federal hate crime charges and civil rights offenses.

Prosecutors have said Earnest could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder charges.