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Why Maryland’s strict gun control laws couldn't stop the Madden 19 shooter

Maryland has had some of the toughest gun laws in the country — the sixth strongest, to be specific.

by Tess Owen
Aug 28 2018, 9:38pm

Some time in the last month, David Katz legally purchased two handguns from a licensed firearms dealer in his home state of Maryland. He’d later show up with those guns to a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, and kill two of his fellow contestants and wound 10 others before turning the gun on himself.

Since former Gov. Martin O’Malley signed an omnibus gun control bill in 2013, Maryland has had some of the toughest gun laws in the country — the sixth strongest, to be specific. To purchase a handgun in Maryland, the “Madden 19 shooter” (as he’s become known) would have first had to complete training and testing to obtain a license issued by the Maryland State Police. And when he bought the gun from a licensed dealer in the Baltimore area, he would have also had to provide his fingerprints.

Maryland law also contains a provision on keeping guns out of the hands of those deemed mentally ill.

But none of these safeguards stopped Katz, 24, from opening fire on the tournament Sunday — despite having a history of mental health issues that resulted in two hospitalizations in psychiatric facilities and frequent encounters with the police.

The shooter was hospitalized twice as a teenager in psychiatric facilities: once in 2007 for 12 days, and then again for 13 days, according to the Associated Press. He was also prescribed antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.

From 1993 to 2009, the Howard County Police Department in Maryland received 26 requests for service from the shooter’s family home, according to records obtained by CNN. The issues reported ranged from mental illness to domestic disputes.

In divorce filings from several years ago, Katz’s father described an incident where police handcuffed his son because he locked himself in his mother’s car and refused to go to a mental health appointment, AP reported.

Under Maryland state law, anyone who has been voluntarily admitted for more than 30 consecutive days to a psychiatric facility, or involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility, are not eligible to possess firearms. State law also prohibits anyone who suffers from a mental disorder and has a history of violent behavior from buying or owning a gun.

On the form for the federal background check, which anyone legally purchasing guns in the U.S. has to undertake, prospective gun buyers must disclose whether they’ve been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution.

Jacksonville Sheriff Michael Williams, in a press conference Monday, did not say whether Katz disclosed his past hospitalizations on the background-check form, and it’s not clear whether those hospitalizations were involuntary.

Read: A history of violent threats didn't stop the Maryland shooter from buying a gun

In April, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also added a supplementary element to Maryland’s already tough gun control: He signed a “red flag law” to keep guns away from people who may do harm to themselves or others. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, lawmakers in a dozen states scrambled to pass their own versions. Maryland’s law doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1, but the regulation wouldn’t have barred the Jacksonville shooter from owning a gun anyway.

Had the law been in effect, Katz’s family, a police officer, or a doctor, would have had to make the case before a court for why he shouldn’t be able to own guns, according to Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Read: 30 states wants to take guns away from people with troubling behavior

But those proceedings take time — and the Maryland shooter only legally purchased his guns less than a month before the shooting. In that span, someone would have to know that he purchased a gun and filed a petition with a court, before the guns could have been temporarily seized.

“Red flag laws are intended to target people who already have the gun, for people who own them and go on to become dangerous,” said Aaron Kivisto, a clinical psychologist with the University of Indianapolis who studies gun violence prevention. “In terms of whether the red flag law would have had an effect on his ability to purchase it, I would say no.”

Cover image: A police officer stands by where an active shooter was reported Sunday, Aug. 26, 2017 in Jacksonville, Fla. after a gunman opened fire Sunday during an online video game tournament that was being livestreamed from a Florida mall, killing multiple people and sending many others to hospitals. (AP Photo/Laura Heald)