Nine days after I gave the police department my application to register my gun in Washington, D.C, I called to find out whether the application had been approved. It had- yes! This meant that I could soon take possession of a gun that, though I technically own it, has been sitting in a locked safe in the offices of the city’s only gun dealer.
Yet things are still never as simple as they seem when it comes to District gun regulations. I had to delve further into the convoluted and undocumented laws and rules before I could actually bring my gun home.
To get to this point, I had to complete a number of steps at the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Last Wednesday, I took and passed a written test on District gun laws. Then I gave the registration office a complete set of my fingerprints, $60 in cash and a stack of papers.
The documents included: a signed certification that I completed the mandatory 5-hour gun “safety” course; an eligibility form signed by a notary public; an application form filled out by D.C. gun dealer Charles Sykes; a form accepting the $35 fee to take my fingerprints; and an approval for the city to do a background check on me.
It doesn’t take over a week to go through the documents. The city has a 10-day waiting period for, which Officer Hall in the registry office calls, “the cool down laws.”
But there’s an unwritten policy that lets you use a receipt showing the day you purchased the gun (before having it transferred by Mr. Sykes) to subtract the elapsed days off your waiting period.
Since my credit card was charged the previous Monday, they took two days off my cool down period. It is unclear, but perhaps registrants can skip a second trip to MPD by buying the gun and then waiting ten days before registering it.
I knew better than to go down to the registry office without calling first to check on every possible missed detail. The first woman who answered the phone put me on hold. A second woman then picked up. I asked if my application had been approved. She put me on hold again.
“Yes ma’am,” she said when she picked up again.
“You need to call Mr. Sykes and see when you can meet up with him. And once you meet up with him, he’ll send you upstairs to the gun registry office to wait for your ballistics,” she told me. So what do I do now?
There seemed to be some missing pieces in this explanation. How do I get the registration certificate to Mr. Sykes so he can release the gun? And then how does my gun get to wherever the ballistics test is done?
“Once you come to our office, an officer will go down to Mr. Sykes’s office and pick it up and take it down to the ballistics office,” she said.
I wondered why I needed a police escort to bring an unloaded gun up one floor. Did the police think I’d take my gun and make a break for it without the final test? Or did they think I’d hit someone over the head with my gun in the elevator?
Instead I just asked her where I have to go while my gun is being shot for the very first time in some vague office at police headquarters.
“You will sit in gun registry, room 2169 until the ballistics test has been completed,” she answered. It didn’t sound optional. The process is supposed to take 20 to 30 minutes.
“And then I can just leave with my gun?” I asked, having become all too familiar with the gun regulations in the District that aren’t actually in law.
“That’s correct,” she answered.
“Are there any regulations in my leaving? I mean do I need to bring any kind of transportation?” I asked. She said she didn’t understand my question.
“Can I just walk out and down the street with my gun? Are there any rules on how I leave?” I said to make it very clear.
“You can leave any way you want as long as it’s in a lock box. We’ll give you the registration forms which will be notarized. ” she responded.
Wait, a lock box? I don’t have a gun, much less a “lock box” yet.
“I read the entire registration packet and didn’t see anything about a lock box. Does it say it in there?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know it verbatim,” said the woman working in the police registry office of the 22-page instructions given out there.
“Is this the law?” I asked.
“I’m not going to say it’s the law to have a box,” said the woman working at the police department tasked with enforcing the gun law. “But normally when you are transporting, it has to be in some kind of locked container - a box or a back pack.”
Ah, I got it. Buried in the packet in Part IV, Section 9, the third bullet point says, “When transporting a firearm in a manner other than in a vehicle, it must be unloaded, inside a locked container, and separate from any ammunition.”
“The weapons usually come in a box,” she told me. I said mine did. “We’ll give you a lock.” I thanked her for being helpful, and said I’d be there next week.
As an added precaution, I called Mr. Sykes for his advice. He said my Sig Sauer box comes with a lock. He explained that in “emergency situations”, when a customer’s gun comes in a cardboard box, he keeps some boxes for sale in his office.
Problem solved, I just needed to spend another weekday at police headquarters. I asked my editor to be relieved for one day next week of writing my daily editorial on politics. We decided next Wednesday will be gun day.
I’m so close to the end. Let’s hope the city doesn’t come up with any more curve balls.
Up next in the series: Emily Got Her Gun!