Mark Witaschek never had a firearm in the District of Columbia, but he is now on the city’s Gun Offenders Registry.
This bizarre case has drawn national attention because an upstanding citizen was tried and convicted of possessing unregistered ammunition for muzzleloader bullets, which are simply pieces of lead and copper.
On Friday afternoon, I accompanied Mr. Witaschek and his wife, Bonnie, to Metropolitan Police Department headquarters to abide by the terms of his sentence, which meant registering within 48 hours.
Immediately inside the front doors and metal detectors is the Gun Offenders Registry Unit, which has suddenly appeared in the same office space as what was the Firearms Registry Unit. A white piece of paper taped over the existing painted sign indicated the office switch.
“They label it ‘gun-offender registry’ to sound like a sex-offender registry,” Mr. Witaschek noted.
There were five uniformed officers and one plainclothes cop manning the unit. We were the only civilians. Mr. Witaschek quietly gave his name and said why he was there.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” said Officer Flores, which startled the Witascheks.
“We have emails about who is coming. We check off a list,” explained Officer Robinson.
The cops gave Mr. Witaschek forms to fill out, including the “initial gun-registry unit form” which asked for information such as name, address, height, weight, race, work, contact name and parole officer.
He had to sign into an old, thick hardbound book that was inscribed on the front “Gun Offenders Registry.” It sat on the counter between the cops and the public. I asked Officer Flores what the book was used for and where it was stored.
“You’ll have to file a Freedom of Information to know that,” she replied. I told her that I would.
Next, it was time for a mugshot.
Officer Robinson told Mr. Witaschek to stand against a white wall while she took three pictures with a point-and-shoot camera on a tripod.
During the registration process, Mr. Witaschek was repeatedly told by the police that the requirements of the registry didn’t apply to him, since he now lives in Virginia.
That’s why he filled out a form “Gun Offender Registry Requirements for Non-Residents,” that says that the District of Columbia Gun Offender Registry Law does not apply to people who don’t work, live or attend school in the city.