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"How The Hell Is That Possible?": The Banned Rifle Used In The California Garlic Festival Shooting Came From Nevada

Like thousands of others every year, the gun used in the garlic festival shooting came from a neighboring state with less oversight over who can buy a firearm.

Posted on July 29, 2019, at 10:58 p.m. ET

Noah Berger / AP

The 19-year-old gunman who killed three people and injured 11 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival could not have purchased the AK-47-style rifle used in the shooting in California, exposing the limits of the current patchwork of gun laws in the US.

Like thousands of others every year, the gun used in Sunday's crimes came from a neighboring state with less oversight over who can buy a firearm. Gunman Santino William Legan had recently been living in Nevada, and authorities said Monday he legally purchased the WASR-10 rifle there. Getting the gun to California was then as easy as driving across the border.

“The reach of the California law ends at our border,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, “and so we cannot control what other states do, and that’s what makes it so tough. We may have progressive gun laws, but if other states don’t match us, we have to rely on the ability to catch [a person].”

The revelation drew anger from California Democrats, who called for action on the federal level to prevent future tragedies. Even the owner of the gun shop that sold the rifle to Legan wondered what more could be done to keep firearms from dangerous people.

"We feel so sorry for the Families of the CA shooting. May the POS rest in Hell," the owner of Big Mike's Gun and Ammo said in a Facebook post that was later edited. "Maybe people need to be 21 to buy?"

When Legan bought the rifle earlier this month, there was no indication he sought to hurt people, the retailer added in an updated version of the post, saying he was mourning the victims and praying for their families.

Facebook

The shop did follow the law, which in Nevada and many other states allows teenagers to buy semiautomatic rifles, though handguns are off-limits. An analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety of federal crime statistics found 18 to 20 year olds commit gun homicides at four times the rate of adults 21 and older.

In January, California raised the minimum age to buy a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21 in response to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“I feel it is imperative that California leads when Washington refuses to act," California state Sen. Anthony Portantino said in a statement after introducing the measure.

But California's decades of leadership on gun safety laws, including an assault weapons ban that outlawed unmodified AK-47s and similar rifles, has only taken the state so far. A 2017 study found that in the two weeks after a gun show in Nevada, gun-related injuries and deaths jumped in nearby California cities. The same year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives successfully traced 23,716 guns connected to crimes in California; more than a third came from outside the state.

"California has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, but because of the patchwork of gun laws state to state, we still see horrific shootings like what we saw in Gilroy," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told BuzzFeed News. "You’re only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws."

Jae C. Hong / AP

Illegally possessed California firearms seized by authorities are shown at a press conference in Los Angeles in 2018.

Watts praised recent legislation in Nevada that will mandate background checks for all gun sales starting in 2020, as well as requiring safe storage and creating a "red flag" provision to take guns away from people considered a threat to themselves or others.

"Progress is happening and Nevada has made tremendous progress, but they’re making up for lost time," she said, adding the National Rifle Association for years had a "stranglehold" on local lawmakers. "You can buy guns in Nevada that you can’t buy in California, and you can buy them at a younger age."

A spokesman for Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak did not answer questions Monday from BuzzFeed News on whether the governor supported additional gun laws, such as raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle. In a statement, Sisolak offered his condolences to the families of the victims and said his state's Department of Safety has been in contact with Gilroy and federal law enforcement to provide any assistance necessary.

In addition to getting more candidates committed to gun safety into office, Watts said her group wants to see mandatory background checks nationwide. A bill has passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, but no vote has been scheduled in the GOP-led Senate.

That prompted sharp criticism from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Monday.

“Enough is enough. Congress has a responsibility to every family torn apart by gun violence to act, and help advance a future that is finally free from this senseless violence,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Every day the Senate refuses to act is a stain on the conscience of our nation.”

A frustrated California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state was doing its part to end gun violence, but blamed Republicans and pro-gun advocates for blocking nationwide changes.

“It’s just an outrage. I can’t put borders up — speaking of borders — in a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally. How the hell is that possible?" Newsom said. "I have no problem with the Second Amendment. You have a right to bear arms but not weapons of goddamn mass destruction."

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