Officials say a 19-year-old gunman used a rifle he legally bought in Nevada and illegally brought into California to kill two children and a man at a food festival before he was killed by police.
But police initially named a weapon that would be legal under California law, only later clarifying that he used a military-style rifle that he purchased in Nevada but could not legally bring into California under the state’s assault weapons ban, which is among the nation’s toughest.
It’s the details that make the difference in whether the rifle could have been lawfully imported to California.
Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee initially described the weapon as an “SKS,” which is a semi-automatic rifle designed by the Soviet Union during World War II and later widely manufactured in Eastern Europe and China. It has a traditional wooden stock with a fixed magazine that holds 10 bullets.
While it looks superficially similar to the better-known and more modern AK-47, the standard SKS does not have a pistol grip or detachable high-capacity magazine that would make it illegal under California’s assault weapons definition. A variation with an attached grenade launcher would be illegal.
“The SKS is generally legally in California if it has a 10-round magazine … and it’s got a full-length wooden stock. It looks like a hunting rifle,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. “It’s pretty much an antique rifle. There are hundreds of thousands of them in private possession in California, all legal.”
Officials later clarified that the gunman used a semi-automatic variant of the AK-47, which appears to have a detachable magazine and wooden stock with a pistol grip.
“Under the configuration of that gun, it would be illegal for him to import it into the state,” Paredes said.
Ammunition magazines in California are generally restricted to holding no more than 10 bullets, though that is being challenged in court. That plus the pistol grip would qualify it as an assault weapon that would have to be registered if it was owned in California and would be illegal to bring into the state.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that investigators believe the gunman used a WASR-10, which is a Romanian variant of the AK-47, selling for about $700 at Big Mike’s Guns and Ammo in Fallon, Nevada, where he picked up the weapon.
“That weapon could not be sold in California. That weapon cannot be imported into the state of California,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “The reach of the California law ends at our borders, and so we cannot control what other states do, and that’s what makes it so tough.”
Under a California law that went into effect Jan. 1, residents younger than 21 are barred from buying rifles or shotguns unless they are in the military or law enforcement. Those 18 and up can buy rifles in Nevada.