Delaware officials establish new gun unit [video]

 (Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

Less than 12 hours after four people were shot in two separate shootings in Wilmington, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced the formation of a new gun unit. 

“The wave of shootings we’ve seen in Wilmington is heartbreaking,” Markell said at a Wednesday morning news conference held in Wilmington. “Far too often, gun violence is committed by shooters prohibited from owning guns. It’s critical that we more effectively trace the source of these weapons and punish those involved in illegal gun sales.”

Markell said the newly-formed gun investigation unit, to be overseen by the Delaware State Police and the Dept. of Safety and Homeland Security, will crack down on straw purchasers, or individuals who buy guns for those who can not legally purchase firearms.

In addition, the unit will investigate both weapons trafficking and illegal sales and develop a strategy to enforce the state’s gun-buying laws more effectively.

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“The one thing we do know is that these guns are not manufactured in the state of Delaware,” said Lewis Schiliro, DSHS Secretary. “Today, we are adding a resource that will begin to answer the question as to how a 15-year-old ends up with a firearm to commit a felony, and when an innocent woman is leaving a grocery store, the gun that was used to end her life, where did it come from.”

Schiliro was referencing a July 6 incident in which two stray bullets killed 43-year-old Crystal Brown after she left a convenience store near W. 7th and N. Adams streets in Wilmington.

“It is my firm belief that having a statewide unit dedicated to truly understanding the illegal trafficking of firearms used in the commission of a crime will go a long way in cutting it off,” Schiliro added. 

Originally proposed by the governor in his State of the State address, $265,000 of the state’s fiscal year 2015 budget will fund the task force.

Members of the five-person gun unit will be full-time and include an officer from the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, a state trooper, an intelligence analyst and one representative each from the Wilmington and New Castle County police departments.

They will operate statewide in cooperation with ATF and other municipal police departments. 

“There’s no quick fix and it takes all of us doing our part: all levels of government, neighborhood leaders, faith communities, businesses; all of us to tackle this imposing challenge,” Markell said.

Focus on Wilmington

Tasked with finding the source of firearms involved in violent crimes statewide, it’s expected that a good portion of the unit’s attention will be paid to the gun violence plaguing Wilmington, the state’s largest city.

The city has recorded 63 shootings to date, according to Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings.

“We’re collecting about a weapon a day off the streets easily. There seems to be two or three that replace it in a matter of minutes,” said Cummings, whose officers are confiscating mostly handguns. “Hopefully we can get to that individual who’s providing these weapons. So we think that’s going to be a great help to the city, if we can slow down these weapon purchases.”

The Wilmington Peacekeepers is a community group that promotes peace in communities riddled with gun violence. The activists have long been pushing for a homicide unit within the city’s police department.

While the task force is not exactly what the group wanted, Director Lamotte X said it’s definitely a step in the right direction. 

“I think this is a good adjustment to fighting crime in the city because if we can find out the origin of where these guns are coming from, that would have a big impact in the communities,” Lamotte X said. “Our motto is one hour doing something is better than 24 hours of doing nothing. So anything is better than nothing.”

“Together, united front, sticking together, working together, coming up with solutions – that’s the way we’re gonna save our city and turn our city around,” Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams said.

Root causes of crime

Markell acknowledged that gun investigations are only one part of what it takes to make neighborhoods safer.

Along with the state’s pre-existing gun laws, the state has taken an important step towards stopping the shootings through various social programs, which include efforts to get ex-offenders back to work after serving time and increased investments in after-school and summer programs designed to keep young people out of trouble

“We can’t meaningfully address violence in our communities if we don’t pay attention to the poverty and lack of quality job and education opportunities that make people more likely to get involved with violence in the first place,” Markell said.

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