State and law enforcement officials announced charges Wednesday against five Sussex County residents accused of straw purchases of more than 60 guns. The cases are not related, aside from the nature of the charges and regional law enforcement cooperating in the investigations.
Straw purchases are when people illegally buy guns on behalf of someone else, often because the other person is not allowed to buy guns.
Altogether, the accused face around 90 felony charges in the cases. One is in prison and the rest are out on unsecured bond. Mat Marshall, spokesman for Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, noted in an email that she is lobbying the legislature for tighter rules on pre-trial release in cases like this.
The guns were purchased at gun shops around southern Delaware including in Milton, Milford, Laurel, Seaford, Selbyville and Delmar. They ended up around the region, some as far away as New York.
The arrests were made after a joint investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Delaware State Police, Dover Police, Laurel Police and local police in Maryland.
One of the guns was used in a killing in Dover, and another in a suicide in New Castle County, Jennings said. Many of the rest of them are still missing.
Keyon Eley, 24, of Laurel, who investigators say admitted to being a member of the Piru 700 Blood gang, accounts for many of the charges. He faces 36 felony counts related to straw purchases and 29 counts of making a false statement. Eley is being held in Sussex Correctional Institution. Police said he bought 38 guns from five different gun dealers in Sussex County, some of which turned up in Dover and Maryland.
Karen Morris, 33, of Georgetown, bought eight guns for a man who evidence showed was her heroin dealer, investigators said. One of the guns was found in the possession of another man who is a convicted felon.
Investigators have also brought charges against Shane Willey, 32, of Georgetown, saying he was an accomplice of Morris and also made straw purchases.
Malik Jarvis, 28, of Laurel, is accused of making false statements to buy 15 guns, one of which was used in a suicide and two of which were found in New York during the execution of a warrant against a street gang. Twelve of the guns are still missing, officials said.
Paige Morris, 31, of Ellendale, illegally bought two guns for her boyfriend and another person, investigators said. One of these was used in a Dover homicide.
Officials would not comment on whether the stores that sold the guns are accused of any wrongdoing or will face any consequences. But Jennings said gun sellers help report suspicious activity to the ATF, which helps them start connecting the dots.
"The simple truth is that anyone purchasing a gun for someone else cannot know with any certainty where that gun may go, or how it may be used," said Andre Miller, assistant special agent for the ATF in Baltimore. "While ATF does recover a number of straw purchased firearms at crime scenes and during investigative searches, many of these weapons are never accounted for and continue to pose a threat to the safety of our communities."
Jennings, who clarified she was only speaking for the attorney general's office, said Delaware should enact a "permit to purchase" law to allow for better tracking of straw purchases.
"We need to be able to have a database, that other states around us have, to get at these straw purchases in a much more concerted and effective way," she said.
The attorney general has advocated for this kind of legislation before. In 2021 she listed it as one of her priorities, writing, "You need a license to drive a car; you ought to have one to buy a gun."
This is not an idea that's likely to go uncontested in Delaware. Gun rights advocates have long argued that people should not have to get a license to exercise what they say are constitutional rights.