I bought my new 9mm Sig Sauer from a dealer in Virginia and needed to get it to into the District. When it comes to firearms, a distance of 70 miles might as well be thousands of miles across international borders.
There is no open-carry right in the nation’s capital. It is against the law to posses a firearm in a public space unless traveling directly to or from a lawful, firearm-related activity, such as registering, hunting, shooting with it at a practice range. So a D.C. resident must use the city’s one legal gun dealer, Charles Sykes, to physically transfer the gun into the city.
Mr. Sykes works about four hours a day to handle transferring the few hundred new guns registered each year. He charges the same transfer fee - $125 - whether he picks up your gun at a local store or he receives it in the mail. Either way, he holds the gun until you can provide the certified registration certificate.
His business is located inside the same building as Metropolitan Police Department, which is convenient for residents, though inconvenient when it comes time to mail the gun. The U.S. postal service does not deliver to the police headquarters in D.C. Mr. Sykes, therefore, recommends guns be sent to him via UPS or FedEx, so that the guns are “passing through as few hands as possible.“
I bought my gun from Mark Attanasio of Immortal Arms in Culpeper Virginia. When I made the purchase on the phone, the dealer offered to deliver the gun to Mr. Sykes. I had a feeling that he couldn’t do that, but he believed that his Federal Firearms License (FFL) would suffice.
After sorting through the D.C. gun laws, Mr. Attanasio called me back. “I’m a FFL licensed dealer and I can’t drive it into the city to Sykes, another licensed dealer,” he told me, astounded. “But I can send it to him and pass through who-knows-how-many unlicensed hands.” I’m watching first-hand how gun-control restrictions aren’t based on common sense.
Mr. Attanasio was supposed to switch the standard 13-round magazine in my gun for a D.C.-legal, 10-round one and convert to E2 grips. Then he sent the gun to Mr. Sykes through UPS. It cost $43 to ship the short distance because guns have to be sent overnight delivery and require “adult signature.”
After my gun gets to Mr. Sykes, I still need to pass a written test, get paper work filled out and signed, get approved for the registration and endure a 10-day waiting period. It is illegal for Mr. Sykes to release the gun to me before all of these steps have been completed.
I wondered what would happen if I didn’t pass the registration requirements? I paid $781 for a gun and, generally, such purchases are non-refundable. Mr. Sykes has seen this happen before.
“Registration is not 100 percent. The FBI may say yes, but D.C. says no. Or D.C. says yes, and the FBI says no,” the long-time gun dealer explained. “I just send it back to where it came from. Then it’s up to you to work it out to get your money. But I’ll tell you, the average company is not going to want to talk about returning a gun that’s been out of their possession for three or four months.”
When I first went to the gun registry office and was told about the written test on the laws, I asked the officer what happens to the gun if you don’t pass the test. “That doesn’t happen very often,” she said. “And we let you take it over once without paying.” This was not very reassuring. So if you fail anywhere along the line in the registration process, you’re out hundreds of dollars and the right to keep arms.
I put a lot of thought and effort into making sure my purchase was exactly what I wanted for another reason. You are stuck with what you picked as long as you live in the city.
The law in D.C. says you can’t pawn a gun or sell to anyone who isn’t a licensed dealer. That sounds like standard practice until you realize that the only licensed gun dealer in the city is Charles Sykes, and he doesn’t buy and sell. He only transfers. If you buy a gun in this town, there’s no returns or exchanges. So you better be sure you will like it.
Next up in the series: I will testify before the D.C. city council about guns
“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.