Sun Investigates: Want to get around state gun limits? Become a 'collector'

When police raided Neil Prescott's Crofton apartment last month, after the 28-year-old allegedly threatened in a phone call to shoot up his former workplace, they found two dozen firearms and accessories, including a night scope and thousands of ammunition rounds — all of it legal and properly registered.

There are no limits on how many guns a qualifying person can own in Maryland, and Prescott, who has been charged with misusing a telephone, is something of a hobbyist. The man police say called himself a "joker" like the Aurora, Colo., shooter — holds a collector's designation that allows him to amass regulated firearms, including handguns and certain assault-type weapons, at a faster rate than other buyers.

State police records, obtained through a Public Information Act request, show that Prescott bought two handguns and five receivers — parts that typically house the trigger and are considered separate firearms themselves — on a single day in April this year. He bought five more pistols and a rifle during the next three months.

A non-collector would have been limited to four firearms in the same period, or one per month.

The collector status came into being as part of the state's Gun Violence Act of 1996, which restricted firearm purchases to one every 30 days but nullified the requirement for collectors — generally defined as those who devote "time and attention" to acquiring regulated firearms and are not dealers.

Nearly anyone who is eligible to buy and own a firearm (over 21, not a fugitive or habitual drunkard, not convicted of a disqualifying crime, not significantly mentally ill, etc.) can get the designation if willing to fill out a single-page form and get it notarized. It never expires.

It is unclear how many active collectors there are in Maryland. Gregory M. Shipley, a spokesman for the state police, which oversees gun regulation and permitting, could not immediately provide an answer.

But he said purchases of regulated firearms, which require a seven-day vetting period, are taxing state police. An average of 200 purchase applications come in daily.

"Our licensing division feels the crunch every day," Shipley said.

Tricia Bishop

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