The District of Columbia has cleared the way for its lone licensed gun dealer to set up shop in police headquarters, an unusual short-term fix to a problem that has left the city with a de facto ban on handguns and vulnerable to lawsuits by gun rights groups.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday that the city's zoning commission approved an emergency proposal that allows Charles W. Sykes Jr., the city's sole federal firearms licensee, to open his CS Exchange business at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters on Indiana Avenue Northwest.
Mr. Gray said the city worked closely with Mr. Sykes, who lost the lease on his Southeast building in April, to find a new location. The offer would allow residents again to legally transfer existing and newly purchased handguns from outside the District, as they had in the past, through Mr. Sykes.
Federal law prohibits the sale of handguns across state lines. The state in which a gun is bought must transfer it to the federal firearms licensee in the purchaser's state.
Without a federal firearms licensee, the city runs the risk of flouting the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled that the city's long-standing ban on handguns was illegal.
But D.C. law prevents firearms dealers from opening shop within 300 feet of a residence, school, playground, public library or place of worship.
Mr. Gray said Mr. Sykes' difficulty in finding a location "seems to have more to do with the cost of the space in the District and the relatively low demand for firearms than with the zoning regulations themselves."
The zoning commission's green light allows Mr. Sykes to open shop at the Metropolitan Police Department building, even though it is within 300 feet of Trinity Church on the corner of Fourth and E streets Northwest.
The offer would provide the space for the "nominal" rent of $100 per month, the mayor said.
"In short, it's really on Mr. Sykes at this stage," Mr. Gray said. "We hope that he will accept this as a solution, certainly to the problem immediately, and it will give us at least a year to be able to find a permanent solution."
Mr. Sykes could not be reached for comment on the arrangement.
A federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by three individuals and the Second Amendment Foundation, citing the efforts to accommodate Mr. Sykes and preliminary signs that he would accept the offer.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Alan Gura, who also handled the Heller case, said he plans to appeal.
Mr. Gray said about 1,200 people have taken advantage of the licensing program since it began. The bulk of them transferred firearms they already owned into the District, he said.
"I'm not sure what the demand should be," Mr. Gray said. "I believe one is too many, but that's my own personal view on this."
Paul Quander, deputy mayor for public safety, said Mr. Sykes will be processing paperwork and will serve as a secure conduit for the guns and not put them on display for sale.
"He will conduct the same kind of business that he conducted previously," Mr. Quander said. "A lot of it is by paper."
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier's remarks on the arrangement mirrored those of the mayor, particularly regarding the efficiency of housing all firearm procedures under one roof.
"If this is the best solution," she said, "then it makes sense to locate the business close to MPD's Firearms Registration office here at headquarters, at least temporarily, where anyone purchasing a firearm must come anyway to register the guns."
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