You can’t find him unless you’re looking for him. The man with a monopoly on transferring legal handguns to D.C. residents likes to keep a low profile.
Charles W. Sykes Jr.’s business, CS Exchange Limited, does not advertise in the Yellow Pages. It does not have a Web site. It resides in an office on Good Hope Road in Southeast and has no identifying signs on its outside walls.
The only way to get the company’s phone number is to call the Metropolitan Police Department and ask for contact information for the Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealers in the District. The police department then hands over the number for the only one willing to deal with residents — Mr. Sykes.
Though this is not the traditional way to do business, Mr. Sykes is not at a loss for customers. Being the only game in town, he is well known among gun owners, and he can make his own rules. He meets with clients by appointment only.
“People contact me and I set up particular times for them to come to the office because I want people to feel comfortable coming and going. And then people aren’t overly aware of the fact a person is coming out with a gun,” Mr. Sykes said.
CS Exchange Limited has been in business since 1994 but only started providing its transfer services to residents in September 2008, several months after the Supreme Court forced the District to overturn its 32-year ban on handguns. Before that, Mr. Sykes dealt strictly with D.C. security companies and law enforcement agencies that needed a way to transfer firearms.
He came into business when he heard of the high demand for the service, and decided to see if he qualified for the position. He was soon licensed and has been transferring guns ever since.
“I think I do an exceptional job. I haven’t had any complaints. The federal government hasn’t had a problem with me. The District government hasn’t had a problem with me. And as far as I know, residents and District businesses haven’t had a problem with me. Maybe because I’m the only person in town. But I haven’t heard any complaints,” Mr. Sykes said.
Lynda Salvatore, 38, of Northwest received her Glock 21 by way of Mr. Sykes. She said he was professional, knowledgeable and thorough.
“He kind of held my hand through the process,” Miss Salvatore said. “He was polite. He never even made comments about my weapon — even though a Glock 21 is a pretty large weapon for a woman.”
Mr. Sykes said he’s sort of a “guardian angel” of D.C. gun owners and is more than willing to discuss every aspect of the process with any customer who calls.
“I know the law in the District just as good as the District does,” Mr. Sykes said.
Though Mr. Sykes is the man to see if you’re a D.C. resident looking to purchase a handgun, he will never sell you one. Mr. Sykes is a middle man who charges a fee to be the pickup location of a firearm purchased from a different area.
Being strictly a transfer service, he has moved about 200 handguns into the District for residents since September 2008, at $125 a gun. The most popular models, he said, are Glock, Smith & Wesson, and Sig Sauer. Because of the demand for his services — and the fact he has another full-time job that he prefers to keep private — he sees no financial need to move into selling, though he is legally entitled to do so with his license.
“I don’t want to get into the expenditures of selling guns. With the shape that the economy is in, I think people have other things to do with their money than go out and buy a gun. You’re looking at what is more valuable to you: putting food on the table, gas in the car, or going out and buying a gun,” Mr. Sykes said.
Mr. Sykes transfer fee is higher than those FFLs in Virginia and Maryland, some as low as $20. Mr. Sykes said this is because his overhead costs are higher.
“They have gun stores and they have people coming in buying gloves, belts, carrying cases. They have a lot of ways to cover their overhead that I don’t,” Mr. Sykes said.
Not only has he been the District’s only middleman, he also has the autonomy to decide who is fit to own a gun. He is prohibited from selling a weapon to someone he feels uncomfortable with.
“So, even if the District approves them, the federal government approves them, I have the choice to not approve them — I guess with my savvy of individuals,” Mr. Sykes said.
But Mr. Sykes cannot recall a customer he has not approved, saying he considers most “law abiding” and “righteous” citizens. He does not feel the need to ask why they want to purchase a handgun, simply assuming they might want it for home protection.
Gillian St. Lawrence, 30, of Northwest said that during her registration Mr. Sykes was very accommodating.
“Dealing with him has probably been the easiest part of the process,” Mrs. St. Lawrence said.
As far as his personal opinion on the Second Amendment and the District’s handgun regulations, Mr. Sykes said he thinks registered handguns are not the least bit dangerous.
“What do they think about the people that have them illegally? That’s what they need to worry about. Not the ones that need to go through the procedure of registering them. Because I think if you go through what you have to go through, you don’t have something devious in mind,” Mr. Sykes said.
George Lyon, 54, another of Mr. Sykes’ clients, said he sees Mr. Sykes’ support of the Second Amendment and dislike for the situation the District has put residents like himself in.
“We had a pretty long telephone conversation one time and both complained about the process to go through. He complained that as the only FFL he should be allowed to carry [a handgun],” Mr. Lyon said.
But he doesn’t, just to keep things safe — the same reason he gives for not advertising his services.
“It helps cut down on any mishaps or misfortunes so far. Haven’t had a problem since ‘94 and if it works, and it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Mr. Sykes said.