Gov. Carney signs law increasing Delaware sentences for gun crimes

Delaware Gov. John Carney signs legislation Wednesday that raises the maximum sentence for the illegal purchase, transfer or possession of a firearm. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Delaware Gov. John Carney signs legislation Wednesday that raises the maximum sentence for the illegal purchase, transfer or possession of a firearm. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

It was one down and several more to go Wednesday as Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a law targeting the straw purchase of weapons — the ruse in which a buyer legally acquires a weapon for someone who is prohibited from possessing a gun.

Sponsored by state Rep. John Mitchell, D-Elsmere, and state Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, the new statute raises the penalty for illegally purchasing, transferring or possessing a firearm from three years to five.

It’s one of several measures aimed at preventing gun violence that the governor supports. Other legislation before the General Assembly include banning bump stocks, large capacity magazines and assault weapons; raising the minimum age for owning a firearm; and preventing those deemed a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a gun.

“None of the bills, by themselves or even the package together, will completely solve the problem. But taken together, they provide different tools to make our streets safer and to give law enforcement the tools they need,” Carney said.

“If those individuals are going to be able to get their hands on lethal weapons through straw purchases, then your prohibitions don’t mean much,” he said. “That’s why this bill and the enforcement are so important.”

Flanked by members of Moms Demand Action and the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, Carney said the legislation will act as a deterrent as it raises the maximum sentence from three years to five.

The governor said the law will improve enforcement. Between 2013 and 2017,  the state filed charges against 38 alleged straw purchasers. Twenty-two of those cases ended in a conviction or guilty plea, according to the attorney general’s office.

However, many of those charges were not straw purchase charges.

State prosecutor Sean Lugg said the new law will allow prosecutors to use the illegal transfer of firearms as a lead charge.

During Wednesday’s bill signing, Lisa Summers spoke of her 19-year-old Niece Keshall Anderson, who was shot and killed in 2016. The weapon used in the crime was obtained through a straw purchase.

“There’s a reason they’re asking someone else to purchase these weapons, and you have to think, ‘Why are they asking me?’ So, we, as a community, have to come together to prevent tragedies such as this,’ ” Summer said.

“The gun violence has to stop.” she said. “We have to learn to start taking care of each other and not allowing those in a position to do us harm to be able to do so.”

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