In all my struggles so far with the red tape the District requires before I can get my hands on a legal gun, the safety class requirement was the most time-consuming, expensive and difficult to fulfill. I finally took a class and have the signed form. But the more I dig into this regulation, the more I wonder: How can it be constitutional for D.C. residents to be forced to go to another state to exercise their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms?
In order to register a gun for self defense in the home, the city requires residents to take four hours of classroom instruction and one hour on the shooting range with one of the firearms instructors they have certified.
But, here’s the kicker: the instructors aren’t allowed to teach any part of it — even the classroom — within the city limits.
Therefore, residents must go to another state - at their own expense - in order to fulfill the requirements of D.C.’s gun laws. Also, D.C. citizens have to take a day off work to do it since the whole trip and class time takes at least seven hours to complete.
The District also makes finding an instructor as difficult as possible. At the gun registry office, the police give out a two-page sheet listing the 47 firearm instructors approved to teach this class. I called them all.
Over half — 27 — went straight to voice mail. Most were individual cell phones and not a company that could set up the appointment. For the voice mails that were corporate sounding, none gave an option to get in touch with the instructor listed on the D.C. forms.
On the bottom of the police phone list, it says “Revised on September 9, 2009.” This two-year lag was apparent when 7 of the 47 numbers I called were out of service. Two instructors, Michael Morgan and John Cutler, told me that they no longer teach the course and shouldn’t still be listed on the form. Going through the list, three said they don’t have a class scheduled for the next few months.
The most absurd conversation I had was with instructor Stuart Asay, whose cell phone number begins with a Colorado area code. He said that his company taught the class in the Rocky Mountain State and Atlanta, but he had no plans to teach the class in D.C. any time soon.
I was utterly confused and asked why he would teach a class for D.C. residents to register a gun only in those far away states. He told me that the classes were “in demand” in those places.
Since less than 500 guns are registered a year in D.C., I can’t imagine how there would be a demand for flying so far to take a class that is available in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. I asked him repeatedly to explain his rationale to me, but to no avail. If I happen to be in Georgia or Colorado and want to take the class with him, he charges $150 for it.
I finally found four instructors — all in Maryland — who were willing to teach the gun class. I would have to drive anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each way to take the class.
I’ve yet to find a class offered near a Metro stop. I don’t know what a D.C. resident without a car would do to take the class.
Of these four, the cheapest class I found cost $130. The others range from $175 for a group or $200 to $250 for individual.
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 everyone appearing on their list, but I still don’t feel safe going alone to an armed stranger’s basement.
It seems the D.C. politicians who came up with this requirement never considered the impact 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 be requiring.
For men who have a lot of experience with guns, I’d suggest taking the class with Ricardo Royal. He’s near Annapolis and charges $200. He seems the most well-versed on knocking out this class requirement. He told me he’s been petitioning local politicians for years to let him teach the class within the city limits.
“I just keep asking them to at least let me teach the classroom part in D.C., not even the firing range,” Mr. Royal told me. But the city officials won’t allow him.
In the end, I went back to a referral from a gun store to take the class with Donna Worthy, who isn’t on the list at all. When I met her, she told me that the police at the registry office “said they were adding me on the next update, that was last year.” She has called repeatedly to ask to be included, to no avail. Read my story about her class here.
I am going to ask local officials in D.C. how this gun safety class requirement can be constitutional if it can’t be completed within the city.
Next up in this series is the fun part: picking out my gun.
“Emily gets her gun” is a new 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.