Concealed carry, banned. Assault weapons, banned. A background check, online training and gun safety testing — all required before purchasing a firearm. According to ABC News, the gun laws in the District of Columbia and the DMV area are among the strictest in the nation, forcing area residents to jump through hoops in order to purchase and own firearms in the city.

Until 2008, D.C. law prohibited possession of a handgun in the District — even in a private citizen’s home — unless it had been registered prior to 1976. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller invalidated that provision of D.C. law, ruling that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right for D.C. residents to possess handguns.

Following the court’s ruling, the D.C. Council passed a series of regulations for owning a handgun in the District, including a 10-day waiting period for all purchases, a minimum ownership age of 21 and the requirement that all gun licenses be renewed every three years with the Metropolitan Police Department.

Despite these tightened regulations, MPD still estimates that there are around 30,000 registered gun owners in the city. At the same time, homicide rates in the District have been steadily decreasing since the 1990s, although 2013 saw a slight rise to 104 reported homicides from 88 in 2012, according to data from MPD.

To understand the intricate rules and regulations of the District’s firearms laws, many D.C. residents turn to Charles Sykes Jr. As operator of CS Exchange, the District’s only Federal Firearms Licensed dealer permitted to transfer guns into D.C., for 20 years, Sykes provides information and assistance to individuals and armed security companies completing the firearm registration process in D.C.

“When I obtained my license in 1994, there were several other people that had licenses to do the same thing. Over the years, those individuals stopped doing it, and I continued to keep my license updated,” Sykes said. “When the law was overturned in 2008, I happened to be the only licensed person in the District that could perform the services I can perform, helping people get their firearms registered in the District.”

Sykes now operates out of the D.C. police headquarters in downtown Washington. He said that while the stream of customers isn’t constant, he continues to offer his services to those who want his help.

“There are not a lot of people in the District going out and buying firearms to register them in the District. It’s a little sparingly that they need my services. There might be anywhere from maybe three to six a week sometimes,” Sykes said.

Despite his expertise and up-to-date license, Sykes does not sell guns in the District, and as of today there is no physical location where consumers can go to purchase firearms in the city — the nearest location is Atlantic Guns in Silver Spring, Md.

Even with people like Sykes helping District residents register firearms, those seeking to purchase firearms in Maryland and Virginia face further restrictions, adding another layer to an already complex system.

Dan Floyd, assistant manager of Atlantic Guns, which operates less than a mile from the D.C.-Maryland border, said the current system has changed drastically since the shop he works at opened in 1950.

“It’s interesting to note that in Virginia, you can walk into any Wal-Mart with a handgun strapped to your side without a permit, no problem. In Maryland, the same thing will get you in jail. In the District, not only will you be facing jail time, but you get a felony on your record and can never purchase a gun again,” Floyd said.

When Atlantic Guns first opened, Floyd said the store mainly revolved around hunting, but as the population has increased over the years, that customer base has dwindled, leading most people to purchase their guns for either target shooting or self-defense purposes.

“There aren’t a whole lot of places to go hunting around here anymore unless you want to drive at least three hours. As suburbia has expanded, the number of customers coming in to buy guns for hunting purposes has definitely diminished,” Floyd said.

In May 2013, Maryland enacted among the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, banning the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms that the state defines as assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds and requiring handgun purchasers to be fingerprinted and pass a training course before obtaining the proper licensing.

While advocates like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who signed the bill into law, praised the laws as a step in the right direction toward curbing gun violence in the state, Floyd and others say the laws have created a process too arduous for most Maryland residents looking to purchase a handgun.

“Before they even look at the guns for sale, they have to go through the process of getting a license, getting the proper training, making sure they have the proper paperwork. The new handgun laws have certainly hurt our business and discourage people who look at the process and say, ‘This just isn’t worth my time to go through,’” Floyd said, “After these laws I would say the process is actually easier in the District when it comes to purchasing handguns and getting them registered.”

Sykes concurred with Floyd’s judgment, saying he believed that despite what many may think, the laws in the District are not as restrictive as those recently passed by Maryland.

“A lot of the laws that Maryland has imposed since Oct. 1 were a lot like the District laws when the District first had to start letting people register handguns. Since then, the District laws are a lot easier — the requirements are a lot easier than it is to get firearms registered or purchase firearms in Maryland,” Sykes said.

Despite these uneven regulations, according to Sykes, his most frequent customers are new gun owners that purchase firearms outside the District.

“I elected not to sell guns in the District even though I’m licensed to sell guns here. So people will purchase firearms out of state, and by federal law those guns have to be transferred from the dealers that they purchase them from outside of Washington to me,” Sykes said.

Chairman of the D.C. City Council Phil Mendelson, who authored many of the regulations passed after the Heller decision, said that he doesn’t foresee any major changes in gun regulation, noting that the council’s approach to gun laws in the District both pre- and post-2008 has been to focus on individuals whose past history indicates they should not possess a firearm.

“Looking at what types of behavior are indicators, based on evidence, of a higher risk of violence, those are the people that would be restricted or prohibited from possessing a firearm,” Mendelson said.

Gwendolyn Crump, director of the MPD’s Office of Communications, concurred when it came to the police’s two main goals in enforcing the District’s gun laws.

“The Department’s priorities are twofold: first, to ensure that any illegal firearms are taken off the streets and, second, to provide District residents with a streamlined process to register their legally owned firearms,” Crump said.

According to Crump, the punishment for possession of an unlicensed firearm is a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. Going forward, Sykes said he will continue to monitor any changes to D.C.’s gun laws, and ensure that he remains the city’s one-stop shop for assistance.

“I can explain these laws to people a lot easier probably than what they can find on the police department’s website. I can simplify the process and show them that it’s not a very hard process. It’s not as difficult as people make it out to be,” Sykes said. “People have a tendency to want to find out how to do something the easiest way. The easiest way is to hear it from someone else, instead of investigating it for themselves.”


One Comment

  1. 2008 registered non law enforcement firearms in DC: 87
    Jan 2014 registered non law enforcement firearms in DC: 32,482 among over 26,000 owners (DC Council FOI). Most of those are brand new modern semi automatics

    Hoya: “waning gun culture”


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