Alleged College Park Shooter Underwent Background Check for One Gun Purchase

Dayvon M. Green did not have to undergo a background check for a second gun under Maryland gun laws that Gov. Martin O'Malley would like changed.

By Rashee Raj Kumar, Allen Etzler and Kelyn Soong, Capital News Service

Under Maryland law, Dayvon M. Green, the University of Maryland graduate student identified as the shooter in last week's apparent murder-suicide in College Park, had to undergo a state background check to purchase the 9mm handgun used to kill his roommate.

But Green, who was schizophrenic, according to reports, did not have to undergo a state background check to purchase the semi-automatic Uzi .22 caliber rifle police found fully loaded next to his body.

The tragic events in College Park have raised questions about the effectiveness of state gun laws in preventing the sale of deadly firearms to those suffering from mental illness.   

Before the College Park shooting, Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed changes to the state's gun laws that could prevent mentally ill people from obtaining firearms. But it's not clear that those changes would have stopped Green from purchasing the 9mm handgun and Uzi rifle.  

Currently, state law treats the purchase of the two guns Green owned differently.  The Uzi rifle, an "unregulated firearm," does not require a state background check. The 9mm handgun, a "regulated firearm," requires a state background check that reviews limited mental health information. Police said Green purchased both guns legally.   

Under state law, people with certain mental disorders who also have a history of violent behavior are prohibited from buying guns.

People who have been hospitalized for more than 30 consecutive days in a mental health facility—including public or private clinics, hospitals or institutions—are also prohibited from buying guns.  But the state background check system run by the Maryland State Police only checks mental health records at public facilities, not private ones.    

The state background check begins when a customer buys a "regulated firearm" from a licensed gun dealer and fills out a Maryland State Police form that asks about criminal history, drug use and mental health problems.

The form asks, “Have you ever spent more than 30 consecutive days in any medical institution for treatment of a mental disorder or disorders?”  

If the customer answers yes, the sale is blocked, though the customer can still get the gun if he or she submits a note from a doctor saying clearance to own a firearm had been processed within the last month.   

The customer's word is not good enough for state police. As part of the background screening process, they run the customer's name against 17 databases that check things like criminal history.  

One court database provides information about people who were determined to be mentally unfit to stand trial in Maryland. They only non-judicial database police check that includes mental health information is maintained by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, according to Maryland State Police Sgt. Marc Black.

That database provides the state police information on people who were hospitalized for a mental health issue in a public state institution in Maryland for more than 30 days, according to Patrick Dooley, chief of staff for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  People who were treated at a private institution -- or were treated in a public institution for less than 30 days -- will not show up in the portion of the database the state police can see, he said.     

Black said that state police do not check any other state databases that provide mental health information.  

“We check the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and anything in that database we utilize,” he said.

Details of Green’s mental health history and treatment are slowly coming to light. The Prince George's Police Department said earlier this week that Green had suffered from an unnamed mental illness for at least a year.  

Unnamed police sources told The Washington Post that Green had schizophrenia. The that Green “self-admitted to a mental facility in 2009 and had a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder." It's unclear whether Green went to a public or private mental health facility and how long he stayed. A Prince George's police spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation Friday.   

The Maryland State Police also process the federal background check, which is conducted by the FBI when a customer purchases a regulated firearm. The FBI background screening checks the customer's name against three databases, two of which review criminal and court information.     

The third database is called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Index. The database was created specifically for the NICS and maintains information supplied by local, state and federal agencies on those prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, said Stephen G. Fischer, Jr., of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, WV.  

The database includes some mental health information provided by states, but the level of detail varies from state to state.   

Fischer said that if a prospective customer’s background check hits on one of three databases, police conduct a follow up investigation to determine whether to allow the sale to go through.

Under Maryland law, Green only needed to pass a federal background check to purchase the semi-automatic Uzi .22 caliber rifle.  He did not need to pass a state background check.   

One of the weapons Green had was a variation of the original Uzi submachine gun, developed by Israeli Army Capt. Uziel Gal. Uzis earned an outsized reputation as a dangerous gun when they were featured in Hollywood blockbusters like "The Terminator," "Robocop" and "Die Hard with a Vengeance."

The Uzi .22 caliber rifle is designed to look like traditional Uzis, but it does not pack the same punch. It uses a .22 Long Rifle cartridge, a popular caliber of ammunition among small-game hunters.

"It's the least powerful gun you can buy," said Michael Faith, marketing director at Hendershot's Sporting Goods in Hagerstown. “It’s suitable for hunting squirrel or groundhog.”

In response to a trend of gun manufacturers dressing up less powerful weapons to look like assault weapons, the Maryland State Police released a memo in November 2010 stating that guns like the semi-automatic Uzi .22 caliber rifle owned by Green did not require a state background check to purchase.

“A firearm that is cosmetically similar alone does not make it a 'copy' of an assault weapon,” the memo said. “Therefore, the Maryland State Police Firearms Registration Section will no longer require an individual to complete an Application to Purchase a Regulated Firearm...for a semiautomatic .22 caliber rim fire rifle that is only cosmetically similar to an assault weapon.”

Under O'Malley's proposed gun control legislation, the classification of the semi-automatic Uzi .22 caliber rifle as an unregulated firearm would not change. Mentally ill people would still be prohibited from owning the weapon if they had a history of violent behavior or had been confined to a public or private mental health facility for more than 30 consecutive days. They would still not be required to pass a state background check to obtain it.    

The governor has proposed several changes that could limit access to guns by the mentally ill, though it’s unclear if those changes would have prevented Green from purchasing the handgun or the Uzi rifle.

Under his proposal, both private and public mental health facilities in Maryland would have to report to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System patients who were voluntarily or involuntarily admitted -- and stayed for more than 30 consecutive days.  

The facilities would also have to report if someone was involuntarily committed—for any length of time—if a court determined he or she could not safely possess a firearm. If that person already owned firearms, he or she would be forced to turn their weapons over to authorities.

Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who helped shape the mental health aspects of the legislation, said lawmakers were "seriously considering" amending the proposal to prevent people who were involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from owning a gun, regardless of whether a judge determined they could safely own a firearm.   

State lawmakers debating O'Malley's gun control legislation said they were examining the 30-day threshold for mental health reporting.

"There’s certainly people who spend a lot more than 30 days in a mental hospital who pose no threat whatsoever, and then there are people who never set foot in a mental hospital and (have) no criminal record but are a great danger," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, a co-sponsor of O'Malley's gun control legislation. "So, really what I think the Judicial Proceedings Committee is focused on is figuring out methods of identifying people who do pose a threat to others regardless of whether they have spent time in a hospital or not."

Delegate Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, who co-sponsors the legislation, said that he was worried that people would avoid psychiatric treatment if the threshold were lowered.  

"If the law were to lower the threshold to five days would it be effective? Maybe you would capture people with short stays but the system would internalize itself for people to avoid treatment," he said. 

Capital News Service reporters Mary Tablante, Julia Maldonado and Lucas High contributed to this report.

radarradar February 23, 2013 at 12:18 PM
'preventing the sale of deadly firearms'. Oh, as opposed to NON-deadly firearms. It is truly amusing (yet sad) to see liberals write about guns...
radarradar February 23, 2013 at 12:20 PM
Well stated!...
Pru Miller February 24, 2013 at 04:32 AM
The people are the government and the majority want to see universal background checks. Be constructive people; make suggestions on how to do them right or better. There is more freedom in this country than most others. But rights come with responsibilities so think about how you can work with your fellow citizens. Gratitude, participation, tolerance and hard work are needed. Ask not what your country can do for you ...
Buck Harmon February 24, 2013 at 04:38 AM
Good point Pru...I don't want my country to do anything for me...including advise or direction with regard to my personal choice of protection...no intrusion what so ever would be the American way of my country.
tom February 24, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Hopefully, Pru, your common sense approach actually does reflect the majority, regardless of which side of the issue you embrace. Buck Harmon expresses a desire for no government involvement. His response indicates he doesn't care about food and drug safety, regulations of banks or credit institutions, courts and law enforcement, transportation safety, education, etc. I'm sure the young men and women putting their lives at risk to defend this country would be gratified by attitudes like his. He would probably be more content in a country like Somalia, where there is no effective government. As teenagers, many of us had the same attitude towards our parents. We wanted them to provide food and shelter and clothing, but didn't want them telling us what we could and could not do. Most of us grow out of that self-centered lifestyle by the time we are adults. Some never acquire that maturity.


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