How the Capital Gazette shooter obtained his gun

Maryland has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. In this case, it didn't matter.

Andrea Chamblee (center), wife of Capital Gazette shooting victim and reporter John McNamara, marches in the vigil held in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. (CREDIT: Kessler/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Andrea Chamblee (center), wife of Capital Gazette shooting victim and reporter John McNamara, marches in the vigil held in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. (CREDIT: Kessler/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Jarrod Ramos pleaded guilty to criminal harassment in 2011. Seven years later, he allegedly took a shotgun and fired through the glass door of the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, attacking the people inside.

Ramos allegedly injured two people and killed five others, editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; reporter Wendi Winters, 65; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; editor and sports writer John McNamara, 56; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34.

In the intervening years, Ramos was accused of threatening Capital Gazette employees a number of times, upset that they had reported on his earlier harassment conviction. As Vice noted Friday, many of his tweets were out-and-out death threats.

“Why didn’t God take you instead, Evil Tom?” Ramos tweeted in 2013, apparently referring to then-Capital editor Tom Marquardt. “Because your place is in Hell, no matter how big and special they print your name @capgaznews.”


In 2015, he threatened Marquardt again, as well as another Capital reporter, Tom Harltley, writing, “I’ll enjoy seeing @capgaz cease publication, but it would be nicer to see Hartley and Marquardt cease breathing.”

The threats prompted an Arundel County Police Department investigation in 2013, and the next year, CNN reported, Ramos was fired from his job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics over “security suitability concerns.”

None of that mattered when Ramos wanted to buy a gun.

According to police, Ramos legally bought the pump-action shotgun he allegedly used to kill five people in the last 18 months, despite his history of threats and harassment. Even in Maryland, a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, he passed a background check, as he had no conviction serious enough to raise any red flags.


Long guns like the shotgun Ramos used in last week’s shooting are less tightly regulated than handguns, as David Chipman, a former ATF agent and current senior policy adviser at Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told the New York Daily News.

“There’s a real gap in Maryland law in that it treats semi-automatic rifles and handguns fairly comprehensively, but not shotguns,” Chipman told the News. While handguns sold even in private sales in the state require background checks, shotguns and rifles do not.

Had Ramos been convicted of a felony, he still would have been able to obtain a long gun through a private sale.

Maryland also recently passed a new law known as a “red flag” law, which will take effect in October, as the Capital noted Monday. The law will allow a judge to take guns from a person deemed a danger to themselves or others, but, as the outlet noted, only a select group of people can file for such a petition.

In Maryland, only spouses, dating partners, and close relatives can file for a red flag petition, meaning that even if the law had taken effect before Thursday’s shooting, neither the Capital Gazette employees Ramos was openly threatening to slaughter nor the woman he pleaded guilty to harassing would have been able to file in an effort to get the state to seize Ramos’ firearms.


Ramos is not the only alleged shooter to obtain their weapons legally. Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, legally obtained the AR-15-style rifle he used to slaughter his classmates, as did Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas, Nevada last fall. So, too, did Omar Mateen, who murdered 49 people at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2016.

Maryland Democrats told the Capital Gazette they aim to tighten gun laws and improve mental health services in the wake of the shooting.

“If someone is intent on doing something like the tragedy that occurred, maybe we can’t prevent it,” one, Del. Dereck E. Davis, told the paper. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.”