I finally got my gun in Washington, D.C. I brought it home today from the District’s firearms’ registry office.
After months of aggravation, hundreds of dollars in fees, countless hours jumping over hurdles, I am now a gun owner and finally exercising my second amendment right to keep arms (bearing arms is still illegal in the nation’s capital).
When I first started the “Emily Gets Her Gun” series, I thought I would be waiting in long lines and filling out lots of paperwork. I never could have imagined that the D.C. gun laws made it so unearthly difficult to get a legal handgun. However, I also never could have believed that this newspaper series would encourage change in Washington’s gun laws.
The bad guys buy guns off the street in five minutes, and the city has no record of the transaction. Law-abiding citizens have to take a five-hour class that is only taught outside of the District, pay $465 in fees, sign six forms, pass a written test on gun laws, get fingerprinted, be subject to a police ballistics test and take days off work.
Five minutes and no fees for an illegal gun. Weeks and almost $500 in fees for a legal gun. Which option do you think most people in this city are choosing?
Of course, I went the legal route and this final day at Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) headquarters was as much a pointless waste of my time and city resources as the other days spent in this registration process.
After the 10-day waiting period ended, I called the registry office and was told that my application was approved. I made an appointment for 11 a.m. on Wednesday with the city’s only legal gun dealer, Charles Sykes, to give him the approved form. I took the Metro and went to MPD headquarters a half hour early in order to pick up the forms. Like every other time I have been there, I was the only citizen in the registry office.
“Hi Officer Brown,” I said with much friendliness, knowing this will probably be the last time I have to talk to her. “I’m Emily Miller. I’m here to pick up my gun registration.”
“Did you bring your two passport photos?” she asked. As not many people are registering their guns, the officers seem to know the exact status of each application. I handed over the $20 worth of photos. In a new law proposed by Phil Mendelson, chairman of the D.C. council’s Judiciary Committee, the police will be required to take our photos on site, like it is done at the DMV.
“Sign this,” she said pushing a piece of paper over the desk that came up to my chest. It was a form that said that, under the 2008 law, the MPD “has initiated an Expiration Date for all registrations approved as of June 21, 2010.” She had filled in the block to say that my gun registration expires on February 2, 2015.
As I’ve documented, this law also stated that anyone who registered a handgun or a long gun since 1976 would have to renew their registration by Jan. 31, 2012. It also says that the police have to send out re-registration reminders to those estimated 60,000 gun owners in D.C. by December 31, 2011.
The MPD did not send out the reminders, but all these legal gun owners are now in violation of the gun laws. I have asked the police department for more information on what gun owners should do and will report more when I get any information.
I signed the expiration date form, then I waited about 15 minutes. Officer Brown came back to the desk with the application, with the top white sheet ripped off and my photo stapled to the yellow copy. “Is this my certificate?” I asked. “Do I have to carry all these papers with my gun?”
Officer Harper answered. “Just this top sheet. But if you want to add photos to the other pink sheets, you can use that too.” I thought, this flimsy piece of paper is ridiculous. It should be a laminated card that can go in your wallet.
I sat back down and waited. And waited. About ten minutes passed and the phone rang. Officer Brown answered it. When she hung up, she said, “Officer Harper called from Mr. Sykes’s office. He’s waiting for you.”
“He didn’t tell me he was leaving, or that I was supposed to go with him,” I said. She looked neutral. I grabbed my papers and headed down one floor to the gun dealer’s office next to where you pay the DMV for parking tickets.
Officer Harper was sitting in a chair while Mr. Sykes was on the phone explaining the registration process to a potential gun owner. Most first time buyers use him as their resource in navigating the system. Over the past few months, I learned more about the process from Mr. Sykes than from MPD. Plus, he offers his customers beef jerky, twizzlers and a bottle of cold water from a small refrigerator.
Mr. Sykes took my registration certificate and filled out some forms. He pulled my gun out of the Sig Sauer gun box and told me to check the serial number against the one on his form. I loved holding my gun, just for a moment. The new E2 grips on it really make it fit well in my hand.
Then Officer Harper took my gun and put it in a black envelope. “What exactly do you do with it now?” I asked.
“We take a photo of it. Then we shoot two rounds and keep those as like “fingerprints” for the gun,” he said. I’d heard from a D.C. gun owners that he believes his pistol was shot up to 50 rounds during the test. And another resident thought the police broke his gun. None of these people have filed a report, so I was interested in following up on the rumor.
How long does the test take? “Twenty or thirty minutes,” said Officer Harper. Can I watch? “No.” Can I listen? “Not unless you have super power hearing.” Is it done in the basement? “Yes.”
With that, he left. I thanked Mr. Sykes for getting me from the girl who thought carry permits were legal in D.C. to an actual gun owner. Back to the registry office, all was still quiet. Office Brown looked to be doing paper work. True to his word, Officer Harper was back in a short time with my gun. I reached out to check it before leaving, and Officer Brown startled.
“Not out here, you can’t. Come to the back of the office,” she said leading me about 30 feet away from the door. I can understand this precaution. If I was walking by a D.C. government office and saw someone pull out a full-sized 9mm and rack a gun, I’d probably scream.
In the back, there was this metal container at a 45 degree angle to the floor and about knee high. She told me to hold the gun inside the metal thing and then rack it. I did and the gun looked fine.
Back out front, I had to show that the gun was being taken home in a locked box. I pulled the gun lock provided with my new Sig out and looped it through the handles. I put the key in my bag. As soon as I did, Officer Brown took it away from me. She wrapped the box in a brown plastic bag and walked out the door. She didn’t say why, so I just followed.
People coming through the magnetometers at the police station stared as Officer Brown carried my gun box in front of her like she was passing a tray of hors d’oevres. After she went through the turn stiles, she handed me the box. I thanked her.
I pushed open the glass doors of the police department for the last time. Outside, I held my gun above my head out of absolute delight. Victory! I’m now a gun owner.
It is against the law in D.C. to have a gun in an open space. One exception is taking your gun to and from the registry office and then in a locked box or back pack. Since there’s no parking around the police station, I always take the Metro, which is what we call the subway in D.C.
I told Officer Harper that I was going home by Metro, and asked if that was a problem. “Nope, how you get home is up to you,” he answered. So I took my black Sig box and headed down to the turnstiles. I put the card through, and passed with my gun. The train came quickly, and I jumped on it.
I was a little worried about being robbed, so I sat down with my black box on my lap, holding it close. One woman stared at the lock on the box, but it seemed more out of curiosity, as if wondering if I was carrying diamonds or CIA secrets.
I then took my gun straight home, where I have been practicing my stance in front of the mirror. I love my gun.
Now, this series is far from over. As I’ve found, the hurdles placed before gun owners do not end here. I need to figure out the laws on getting ammunition and transporting the gun to a state that allows practice shooting.
Most of all, I intend to keep pushing the Council of the District of Columbia to rewrite the its laws to make them fair and constitutional for law-abiding Americans.
Next in the series: The Next Steps for D.C. Gun Rights
“Emily Gets Her Gun” is a series following senior editor Emily Miller as she tries to legally get her hands on a gun in the nation’s capital. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.