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News Maryland Sun Investigates

Mall shooter could have bought shotgun legally in most states

When Darion Marcus Aguilar of College Park fatally shot two store employees at The Mall in Columbia and then killed himself, authorities said he did so with a Mossberg 500, a Connecticut-made pump-action shotgun that has been on the U.S. market since 1961.

A 19-year-old with no criminal record, Aguilar bought the weapon in a legal December transaction from a Montgomery County gun store. The incident has caused some to take second look at the effectiveness of the high-profile gun control measures the state passed last year.

Maryland's new restrictions centered on the kinds of arms that enable multiple shots to be fired in quick succession, barring the sale of assault-type weapons (semiautomatic rifles with certain features) and high-capacity magazines. It did nothing to regulate shotguns, which the state categorizes as hunting arms. Aguilar completed the transaction within 30 minutes.

Did the state's new laws prevent him from claiming even more victims? Not likely. Even when assault-type weapons were legal, Marylanders had to be 21 to buy them. For Aguilar, such a purchase would have been unlawful.

Still, the circumstances have led some to wonder: How unusual is it for a 19-year-old — even one with a clean background — to be able to enter a gun shop and leave with a shotgun that day?

Gun laws vary from state to state, but Sam Hoover, an attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it's not unusual at all.

With few exceptions, Hoover said, it is unlawful for individuals under 18 to acquire a "long gun" (a shotgun or rifle) in the United States. (Maryland and a few other states allow a parent or guardian to give consent, but federally licensed firearms dealers are barred from transferring such guns to minors.)

Above the age of 18, there are few age-related restrictions. Only Illinois, Hawaii and the District of Columbia explicitly require a buyer to be 21 to acquire a long gun.

Six states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — and the District of Columbia ban assault-type weapons. Several of those jurisdictions define certain types of shotguns as assault-type weapons, which means they are banned for buyers of any age.

"No state generally bans the sale or possession of standard rifles and shotguns," Hoover said in an email.

In 48 states, individuals 18 and over without criminal backgrounds can generally get their hands on a Mossberg 500 or similar shotgun within the law.

Can they do so within a day, as Aguilar did? In most cases, yes. Only California, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have waiting periods of more than 24 hours for long-gun transfers. (Hawaii's is the longest, at 14 days.)

Such a delay, though, probably would have had little effect on what happened in Columbia. Aguilar killed his victims and himself 46 days after his purchase. His motive remains unclear.

erin.cox@baltsun.com

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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