While my new gun was being transferred to the District from Virginia, I returned to D.C.’s Gun Registry Office to turn in my registration application. As you will see in what follows, this should have been simple step, but it took all day. Like everything else in my effort to get a legal handgun in this city has been far more complicated and time-consuming that it needed to be.
My gun dealer in Virginia provided the UPS tracking number of my package so I knew that it was going to be delivered to our city’s one gun dealer sometime on Wednesday. Late morning, I took the Metro down to Judiciary Square and walked over to the Metropolitan Police headquarters.
Like every time I’ve been to the gun registry office, I was the only one. People aren’t lining up to be put through the hassle and expense needed to legally register a firearm. I approached the counter that comes up to my chest and saw a female police officer sitting at her desk. When she looked up, I recognized Officer Brown.
“Hi, I bought a gun, but it hasn’t come in yet to Sykes, so I want to take the written test while I’m waiting,” I said, referring to Charles Sykes, D.C. only gun dealer, who transfers the firearms into the city.
In the mandatory ownership class, four of the five hours are spent going over the gun-control law in D.C. which are also written out in the registration packet. This mind-numbing exercise more than prepared me for this written test on the District’s gun laws, but I’d studied my papers on the Metro just as a refresher of the more obscure regulations.
“You get your paperwork from him, and then you come up and start the process,” Officer Brown responded.
“I can’t take the test in the meantime?” I asked.
“You can’t do anything until that 219 is filled out by him,” she said holding up a form from about ten feet away from me.
“I called yesterday and talked to an officer, and he said come in anytime between 9am and 5pm,” I protested.
“Did he know you didn’t fill out your 219 yet?” she asked.
“No, as I told you, I don’t have the gun yet,” I said.
“You’re not going to do anything until I get the 219 from Charles Sykes. He needs to fill this out to start the process,” she answered.
“Why?” I asked, frustrated by this nonsensical conversation.
“That’s the process,” she said.
I pulled out the registration packet list of instructions that she was quoting from and said, “It doesn’t say that in here. It doesn’t say you have to do these things in order.”
“But it is the process,” she said. (I am not exaggerating this conversation.)
“But it doesn’t say that anywhere,” I protested.
“You’re going to go to Sykes and get this all filled out,” she said as if I’d said nothing. “Because I need to check your gun to be sure we can approve your weapon.”
“Why do you need to check my gun before anything else?”
“The process,” she said again. “We may not approve it. I have to look at it and be sure it’s on the list.”
“What if it’s not? I just wasted $250 on a safety class?” I said, referring to the mandatory five-hour gun ownership class. “Because I was required to do that to get the form signed before coming in here, isn’t that right?”
“At this time, I’m not trying to fuss over the issue,” she said. “Before you spend any money with us, I have to be sure the weapon…”
“I already spent $250….”
“Not with us, that’s not my part of it,” she said. “I’m talking about the process.”
She picked up the phone and asked someone to come talk to me.
“That’s fine, I’ll leave,” I said.
“That is the process,” she said again as I walked out the glass doors.
TRACKING MY GUN AT THE DMV
I gave up, and decided to try to track down my gun. Mr. Sykes’s business is now inside the same massive government building as the police and on the same hallway as the DMV’s ticket payment and hearings.
Mr. Sykes only does gun transfers by appointment. I didn’t know if he was there, but I rang the buzzer on the door marked “CS Exchange.” He opened the door and recognized me. “Don’t you ever make an appointment?” he said, shaking his head while smiling. “Well you might as well come in if you’re here.”
We stood in his front office talking awhile. The buzzer rang agin. Mr. Sykes opened the door and I spied a man in brown pants and a brown shirt. His back to me, he was pulling a hand truck of boxes. “Is it my gun? Is it my gun?” I asked excitedly.
“Hush, let the man in the door,” said the gun dealer, as he held the door open. The man turned around and was wearing a UPS hat. The delivery man handed a box to Mr. Sykes. “Hold it now, let’s see what we have here. Slow down, come back to the office and let me see what this is.”
We walked back to the small office, and he sat down at his desk. He carefully and slowly opened the package. I saw a black Sig Sauer box. Mr. Sykes pulled out an inch-thick old hardback book and started hand writing notes.
“Let me see it!” I pleaded. “Please just take it out of the box so I can just look at it. I’ve only seen photos, come on!” Mr. Sykes held up the P229 two-tone. He let me hold it, and I was in love. The gun came with two D.C.-legal, low-capacity, 10-round magazines.
Back to business, Mr. Sykes handed me a couple of papers to fill out, including the 219 that Officer Brown wanted so much. At the bottom of the form in all caps and bold, it said: “THIS IS NOT A LICENSE TO CARRY A CONCEALED FIREARM.” No mistaking that I dont’ have the right to bear arms in this city.
I’d already filled out the D.C. eligibility form, but it needed to be notarized. Mr. Sykes once told me that he was a notary and would take care of that form, gratis, which he does this for all his clients. While I was there, he called the FBI to do a background check. I passed. He gave me the receipt for the gun from the box.
After filling out the papers, it was time to pay him $125. I was about to write a check, until he said he only accepts cash and money orders. Thankfully, there’s an ATM machine in the hallway outside ticket payments so I was able to pay him on the spot. It was almost 3pm, so with my completed forms in hand, I headed back to the police station.
DC GUN LAWS: THE TEST
Officer Brown was gone when I got back, replaced by a female civilian staffer and Officer Hall, who seemed to be the boss of the registry office. The woman was extremely polite and clearly new to her job, as Officer Hall directed her every move. “How has the registration process been for you? It is as easy as you like?” she asked, without any sarcasm.
I felt bad hurting her feelings, but I said, “It’s been horrible. So much worse then I expected.”
“Are you from another state where it’s easier?” she asked innocently. I told her that I’d never owned a gun before.
She took my papers and handed me the gun test, which consisted of 20 multiple-choice questions covering the laws in D.C. While there were two ridiculously difficult questions about some obscure facets of the regulations — one about antique guns — the rest were easy after mandatory four hours of study.
Check, sawed-off shotguns are illegal here. It was easy to remember that there’s no right to bear arms in the nation’s capital - not open carry and certainly not concealed carry.
If I transport my gun, I need to put both the gun and ammunition in the trunk. Since I have an SUV, the gun has to be inside a locked container in the far back and seperate from the ammunition. (I don’t understand where I should then put the ammunition. It has to be in a separate location, out of reach, but specifically not in the glove compartment or console. I’ll figure that out when I want to take it to shoot outside the city limits to shoot.)
It is illegal to posses ammunition that is not the same caliber as my registered gun. It’s also illegal to buy ammunition in the city unless from a licensed firearms dealer, and our only dealer, Mr. Sykes doesn’t sell it. I’m not sure how or where to get ammo for my gun.
I have to keep my registration certificate with me at all times if I have my gun. (It would be easier to do this if it came in a card-size for my wallet instead of a large paper form. I will just have to put the certificate next to the gun to remember to take with me when I leave the city.) Also, if anyone under the age of 18 could gain access to my gun, I have to have it in a locked box or carry it on me at all times.
“MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE”
I checked all the boxes on the test, only to be handed more forms to sign. I only skimmed the “Background Investigation release form” and the “Notification of fingerprinting services fee” because I was drowning in paper.
While I was sitting out of sight behind the counter filling out the papers, I overheard a phone conversation with Officer Hall and a District resident who was clearly frustrated with the gun registration process.
The police officer was trying to calm the person down, but clearly having the opposite effect. “Some states are even tougher than D.C. - California I believe,” he told the caller. I wanted to yell out, but held my tongue. I kept writing my name while Officer Hall continued to politely listen to the caller and answer his questions, but ceded no ground regarding the difficulty of the process.
After he hung up, he said to the woman in the office, “I always say, ‘When in Rome, do what the Romans do. And if you don’t like Rome, move somewhere else.’”
I was appalled. I stood up and held out the forms. “All done, now what?” I yelled out.
“You passed your test,” the woman told me. “You got one wrong, so that’s a 95 percent. Good job.” I confirmed that the question I got wrong was about the antique guns.
BACK TO THE DMV TO PAY MORE FEES
Officer Hall handed me a slip of multi-sheet paper. “Here are your fees. Take it to room 1157 and pay this and bring back the receipt to get your fingerprints done. The forms checked off the box for $35 for fingerprints, $13 for gun registration, $12 for ballistics.
Once again, I walked around the building to the DMV and got in line with everyone else there to pay parking tickets. After getting through the first line, I got in another line for the cashier, but there was no one at the desk.
After ten minutes, I asked the teller next to the empty desk if anyone was working there. She said he was on break and would be back “soon.”
Others were mumbling, looking around irritably, pacing. Finally I found someone who looked to be a manager. I told her the problem. She went to the back, and suddenly a man appeared at his desk to take our money. When it was my turn, I handed him the paper and $60 in cash (the DMV also doesn’t take credit cards or checks) and got my receipt for payment.
For the third time in one day, I headed back to the police department. Entering the registry office at 4:30pm, I was worried that they wouldn’t finish the process with the office hours ending soon. As I was still the only person in the office, Officer Hall knew where I was in the process. “Got the receipt now?” he asked. I handed him the yellow paper, and he told me to follow him into the back of the office.
FINGERPRINTS AND “COOL DOWN LAW”
In the back of the office, past the Keurig coffee maker and the police jacket on a hook, was a computer with a foot pedal. Officer Hall held my right thumb onto the computer and slid it side-to-side until my thumbprint was clear on the screen.
The machine dinged “good print” and he tapped the foot pedal and held my right index finger to the screen. We did this for all my fingers plus all four fingers at once. I thought, if I ever commit a crime, they sure will find me now.
Back at the front, they went through my papers. “Do you have your passport photos?” the woman asked.
Oh no, I thought, they aren’t going to accept my application. I apologized and explained I’d forgotten to take them. Officer Hall, to my surprise, said it was okay to just bring the photos “next time.”
So what’s next?
“Now we have the ‘Cool Down Law’” said the police officer. “You have ten days for us to approve your registration.”
I’d been working on getting a gun for months. If I cooled down any further, my body would be frozen in suspended animation like Walt Disney.
He paused, and I thought we were finished. “But If you have your receipt and it shows you bought your gun earlier, we can count those days to the cool down,” said Officer Hall. Now I know why Mr. Sykes gave me the receipt instead of leaving it in the box. I showed it to him.
“Says here you bought it on Monday, so that means your period ends, the 26th, 27th…” As he counted out the days in the month, I wondered what he would do if I’d let the gun sit in Mr. Sykes office for two weeks an then handed him the receipt. Would Officer Hall have to approve my registration on the spot?
“February 3rd,” he said. “So you have eight days. You can call on the 2nd and find out if we approved your registration, but don’t come back until the 3rd.”
At a little before 5pm, I left police headquarters with less paper, but no gun. Frankly the seven days left of cooling off is just getting me more fired up about D.C.’s gun-control laws.
Next up in the series: My testimony at D.C. city council
“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.