Mental disorder alone doesn't preclude handgun sale under Maryland law, like in case of Aberdeen shooting

The woman who fatally shot three co-workers at a Rite Aid distribution center was diagnosed with a mental illness in 2016, the Harford County sheriff said Friday. But that’s not enough to disqualify a person under Maryland law from buying a handgun such as the 9 mm Glock that authorities said the shooter purchased.

The law says handgun sales must be blocked if the prospective buyer has both “a mental disorder” and “a history of violent behavior” against themselves or another person.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler did not release details about Snochia Moseley’s diagnosis. While she had a mental illness when she bought the handgun in March, she did not meet the other condition that would have prohibited the purchase, the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities said Moseley, 26, shot and killed three co-workers and injured three others before shooting herself Thursday morning at the distribution center near Aberdeen. Moseley was a temporary employee at the center, police said.

Requirements for handgun applicants include completing a form asking if they suffer from “a mental disorder” or “have a history of violent behavior against yourself or another.” Applicants get fingerprinted, take a firearms safety course, and there is a seven-day waiting period. The state’s background check is intended to reveal not only a disqualifying criminal record, but a history of violence, officials said.

“The state police know what criminal codes they are looking for in background checks and are looking to see if the individual comes up,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Learning about mental disorders is more complicated.

“The hard truth is it would be incredibly difficult to identify individuals unless they had been involuntarily committed,” Webster said.

There are legally required privacy protections in place, he said, and “these are important protections. We want people to seek treatment.”

The state’s form asks if the applicant has ever been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, or committed themselves to such a facility for more than 30 consecutive days. A “yes” answer to either of those questions will cause a person to be barred from buying the handgun.

State police spokesman Ron Snyder declined comment on the state’s procedure. “The law speaks for itself,” he said.

Maryland has among the toughest gun laws in the nation.

Andrew Patrick, spokesman for the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said it would be too restrictive to preclude handgun purchases solely on the basis of a mental disorder.

“It’s too wide of a net,” Patrick said. “There is not a link between mental illness and violent behavior toward others in the vast majority of cases.”

Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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