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Delaware Attorney General's Office announces dozens of charges in straw purchasing case

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson Jr.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson speaks at Wendesday's press conference.

Delaware’s Department of Justice announces nine Dover-area residents have been indicted for alleged involvement in a straw-purchasing operation to provide guns to people who couldn’t legally purchase them.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings says most gun violence in Delaware involves guns obtained in-state through a straw purchaser, a person with a clean criminal record who buys a gun on behalf of another person.

“I have said it before and I will say it again: This is where crime guns come from in the state of Delaware," she said. "Of all crime guns that are recovered in our state, the majority originate in our state, and straw purchases are one of the main mechanisms that are used.”

Three of the people charged allegedly organized the group, convincing friends and acquaintances to buy at least a dozen handguns for them which they resold to others who couldn’t legally purchase firearms. One gun was later used in a shooting. The three key defendants face a combined maximum sentence of more than 240 years; the last of them was taken into custody on Wednesday.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson says the other six defendants - the straw purchasers - may have been unaware of the charges they could face.

“A lot of people involved in straw purchase indictments are walking into the justice system for the first time because they had no recognition of the consequences if they got caught," he said. "Several people are finding that out in a really big way right now.”

Mike Brickner, the executive director of the ACLU of Delaware, says that punishing the six first-time offenders harshly may not have the desired effect.

"Throwing the book at people without prior offenses is not the solution to ending gun violence," he said. "Harsher penalties lead to more people in prison but do little to deter gun crimes. Six people who had no records prior to this are now facing an incredible amount of prison time with records that will change the course of their lives and drastically impact their ability to ever recover from this one mistake... We build safer communities with second chances, resources, and education — not incarceration.”

Police say they recovered most of the guns purchased, and they plan to conduct more crackdowns on straw purchasing in the near future.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.