An Illinois couple was busted at a motel for allegedly trying to sell a cache of firearms—including three homemade assault weapons.
Authorities cuffed Cara L. Anderson and Shawn C. Holland last week at the Motel 6 in Caseyville, about 10 miles east of St. Louis.
The lovebirds stayed at their lodging-turned-gun show for three weeks before a tip led to their arrests, according to St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson.
On Oct. 11, deputies executing a search warrant discovered multiple assault rifles and handguns, along with silencers and a copy of the “AR-15 to M-16 Conversion Book.” They also found a bulletproof vest, thousands of rounds of loose rifle ammunition, and 38 fully-loaded 30-round .223 magazines.
Holland, 33, is charged with four counts of felony unlawful possession of a firearm without a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card, and one misdemeanor count of unlawful possession of ammunition without a FOID card.
Anderson, 32, faces four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and one count of unlawful possession of firearm ammunition by a felon. (Court records show Anderson was convicted of aggravated battery in 2005.)
The duo is being held on $750,000 bond.
But Watson says they’ll likely be charged federally, too, as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has taken over the case.
“In light of everything else that’s been going on, with Vegas, with various shootings across the country, this was highly unusual for them to be in a motel room on the third floor with all these guns and ammunition,” Watson told the Belleville News-Democrat.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Watson said the suspects obtained “80 percent” receivers—meaning the frame for the DIY weapon is 80 percent complete and requires some drilling and assembly before it’s a working semi-automatic rifle.
“When he actually purchases those parts, [it is] not a legal gun,” Watson said, referring to Holland. “He has to do the mill work on it, drill some holes to finish it up.”
The homemade weapons, often referred to as “ghost guns,” don’t require background checks or traceable serial numbers. While federal law allows hobbyists to make their own unregistered guns using 80-percent kits, it’s illegal to sell the finished product.
This year, two House Democrats introduced the “Ghost Guns Are Guns Act,” which would require federal background checks for unassembled firearms purchased online. After the Las Vegas massacre, they renewed their call for the bill.
Earlier this month, Wired reported on one manufacturer’s tabletop machine, called the Ghost Gunner, that can finish a metal handgun frame in an hour. It allows someone to make a gun at home without identification, background check, or waiting period.
Watson said he wanted to “get the word out” about the do-it-yourself guns, because buying unregistered weapons is a felony. “And I have to look at it from this standpoint, if a crime is committed with these guns, there’s no way to trace these back to anybody,” the sheriff told The Daily Beast.
“You can go purchase these parts, put the guns together and no one would ever know you have them,” he said.
The suspects “sent out some inquiries about selling the guns,” Watson said, resulting in the sheriff’s Drug Tactical Unit probe. He declined to comment further on where the couple allegedly peddled their rifles, citing the open investigation.
It’s unclear if the sweethearts successfully sold any of their motel stash; investigators didn’t find any luggage or gun cases in the room, according to Watson.
“They were wanting to sell some guns but, then again, I don’t know what else they were going to do either,” Watson said. “Why do you go to a motel room to do this and stay for three weeks and happen to get a third-floor vantage point? There’s just a lot of indicators here that doesn’t look good to me or anyone else.”
Still, days before the arrests, Anderson complained about her and Holland losing their housing in Belleville, Illinois.
“Come tomorrow morning we will be on the streets thanks for nothin I’ve called everyone and every charity’s but got shot down,” Anderson wrote on Facebook Oct. 7.
Hours later, Holland commented, “I no [sic] were fucked.”
Anderson had sought money from her Facebook friends just two weeks before.
On Sept. 22, she created an online fundraiser for Holland, whom she refers to as her husband, but didn’t collect any money. The title of the effort was “a dying mans wish.”
“My husband and I lost everything due to having to leave our home that was full of espestist [sic] and mold. We’ve been living in our truck and motels. Our parents have tried to kill us so for what reason I still don’t kW,” Anderson wrote.
She added, “He had four seizures last night bc of all the bs he had to go through yesterday. We’ve both been laid off of work for nine months now I just finally got me one last week. We’re waiting to be seen for his disability hearing next month but here soon we’re gonna be sleeping on the streets.
“He’s deathly ill and I hate seeing my husband suffer like this. Thanks for your time and God bless you if you have it in your heart to help my husband and I,” Anderson concluded.
Holland and Anderson are represented by the St. Clair County public defender’s office, which could not be reached by The Daily Beast.