Over the past couple months, I've been trying to get a legal gun in the District. I always knew this would be a challenge, but I had no idea how time-consuming it would be to complete all 17 steps the city requires. I'm not even halfway done.
My quest started in October at the D.C. Gun Registry at the police department. I met with Officer Brown, who put piles of paper on the desk between us. "Here's everything you need to know," she said, pointing to a stack about a quarter-inch thick.
I asked where I could buy the gun. "You can go to any licensed dealer in another state - or on the Internet," she said. "Then give this form to Charles Sykes downstairs, and he'll go pick it up for you and transfer it." I glanced through the registration packet and saw no reference to Mr. Sykes or transferring a gun. So I figured while I was there, I should track down this man, who seemed to play a key role.
By luck, Mr. Sykes was in the office, where he works about four hours a day, by appointment, as Washington's only legal gun broker. While gun sales have been skyrocketing in the rest of the country, D.C. residents have been buying at a rate of about 250 a year, so Mr. Sykes isn't getting rich. He charges $125 to pick up the gun and do the transfer.
I told Mr. Sykes that I'd recently asked D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown whether he supported the Second Amendment. "I don't support having more guns in the District of Columbia," Mr. Brown had replied, "I don't think we need more guns in our streets."
Mr. Sykes shook his head when he heard this. "In all other cities, you can have guns. Why do they say, 'We don't want guns in the nation's capital?' They are here. And you can go a lot of different places and get them just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.
That day, I went home and started poring through the 22-page registration packet. Overwhelmed by the confusing forms and instructions, I started with the eligibility form. After answering the nine questions and feeling that I'd accomplished something, I noticed that it required a signature by a notary public. At this rate, I would be an owner of a legal handgun about the same time I'd be eligible for Social Security.
Next, I read the section about the requirement to take a gun-safety class from a D.C.-certified instructor. Whether you have owned your guns in one of the states for 20 years or never touched one before (like me), you still have to take four hours of classroom instruction and one hour at the shooting range to register a gun.
To help me find a certified instructor, the city provided two pages listing 47 random names and phone numbers. The list did not give an instructor's address, background information, website or certification.
I decided to call all of them.
On the bottom of the police phone list, it says, "Revised on September 9, 2009." This two-year lag was apparent when seven of the 47 numbers I called were out of service. More than half of my calls - 27 - went straight to voicemail. From all this effort, I quickly learned that the instructors were not allowed to teach the course in the District. How can it be constitutional for D.C. residents to be forced to go outside city limits to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms?
Finally, I found four instructors - all in Maryland - willing and able to teach the class. I would have to drive 30 minutes to an hour each way to take the class, as none was near a Metro stop. I don't know what a D.C. resident without a car would do. The cost ranged from $130 to $250.
All the instructors teach out of their own homes or, more specifically, as one said, "in my basement." The police do a criminal-background check on each of them, but I still didn't feel safe going alone to an armed stranger's basement.
It seemed to me the D.C. politicians who came up with this requirement never considered the impact this would have on a woman trying to register a gun. Forcing us to go to a strange man's house in another state to take a gun-safety class is not something the police should do. I called the National Rifle Association to see if I could take the class at its headquarters, but it didn't have any D.C.-certified instructors.
On a tip from a local gun store, I called Donna Worthy in Millersville, Md., who wasn't on the city's official list. When I went to her business, Worth-A-Shot, to take the course, she told me the police at the registry office had promised to add her. "That was last year," she said. She has called repeatedly to ask to be included, to no avail.
A retired Baltimore police firearms trainer, Mrs. Worthy spent the required four hours going through the gun-ownership rules, restrictions and laws from the registry packet. This was nothing I couldn't have read myself, but this is what the city required. As my eyes glazed over at the end, it was time for the shooting range.
The District tells instructors they need to verify that the resident can safely handle a gun. "That means you can basically hit the paper," Mrs. Worthy told me, "but I want more for the people I teach. I want you hitting bull's-eyes."
Training certificate in hand, my preliminary tasks are completed. Now I must decide which handgun to buy. I've narrowed it down to four full-sized 9 mm semiautomatics that I've been able to handle well and shoot accurately. Once I complete this purchase, I will have 13 more steps to go before the city will allow me to protect myself.
"Emily gets her gun" is a series following senior editor Emily Miller as she legally tries to get her hands on a gun in the nation's capital. You can also follow her on Twitter @EmilyMiller.
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