D.C. residents are still a long way from being able to enter a firearms store in Maryland or Virginia and return home with a gun in their possession, despite a federal judge’s ruling striking down prohibitions on out-of-state handgun purchases.
D.C. officials say the opinion issued Wednesday by a Texas federal judge that found unconstitutional a federal ban on the direct sale of handguns from federal firearms dealers to out-of state residents has limited applicability at this time.
“As far as we understand it, with the caveat that our attorneys are still reviewing the ruling, the state of the law in the District and everywhere else in the country, except for the Northern District of Texas, stays the same,” said Robert Marus, spokesman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General. “Right now there is really no immediate effect for the District.”
The ruling, issued by Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, takes aim at the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits direct handgun sales to out-of-state buyers. Under the law, a resident of one state who buys a handgun in another state is required to have the gun transferred to a federally licensed firearms dealer in their state of residence in order to complete the sale and take possession of the gun. Rifles and shotguns already can be purchased directly regardless of state residency.
The Virginia-based attorney who argued the case, Alan Gura, disagreed with the attorney general’s interpretation that the ruling would not affect gun purchases in the D.C. region, but conceded that the impact of the ruling may not be felt immediately.
Gun dealers in the area are unlikely to alter their gun sales transactions without first receiving some sort of guidance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mr. Gura said.
“Practically speaking, I’m sure most gun dealers would seek some guidance from ATF,” he said. “And an appeal is expected. I’d be a little surprised if people ran out right now and took advantage of [the ruling].”
An ATF spokesman was unable to comment Thursday on the ruling.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said Thursday that officials were reviewing the ruling, and she declined to comment further on the ruling’s local implications.
The lawsuit was brought against Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in 2014 by D.C. couple Tracey and Andrew Hanson and Texas gun store owner Frederic Russell Mance Jr. with financial support from gun advocacy organization the Second Amendment Foundation.
The Hansons tried to purchase two handguns from Mr. Mance, but declined to do so once they learned they would not be allowed to take immediate possession of the guns and instead would have to pay for them to be shipped to the District and transferred through the city’s lone federal firearms licensed dealer, Charles Sykes.
“Requiring that the Hansons pay additional costs and fees and wait until they return to the District of Columbia to retrieve their firearms from Sykes amounts to a regime that is not narrowly tailored to achieve the Government’s compelling interest,” Judge O’Connor wrote in his 28-page opinion. “Here, the federal law not only creates a discriminatory regime based on residency, but it also involves access to the constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms.”
While word of the federal court ruling was trickling down to D.C. area gun stores Thursday, owners said they didn’t intend to alter their purchase protocol yet.
Atlantic Guns owner Steve Schneider, who operates stores in Rockville and Silver Spring, said a customer mentioned the ruling to him Thursday but said he wasn’t familiar enough with it to gauge whether it would affect his business practices.
“Nothing would have changed for me as it is right now,” Mr. Schneider said. “I’m sure every single dealer in the area would say the same thing.”
Currently there are no gun stores operating in the District. All handgun purchases by D.C. residents must be processed through Mr. Sykes.
Mr. Sykes, who charges a $125 fee to facilitate the transfer of out-of-state handguns, said Thursday he was not aware of the ruling.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of anything of that sort,” he said.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said eager purchasers could always try their luck in Texas ahead of any potential appeal or stay of the ruling.
“If someone from Washington, D.C. went to Texas right now to buy a gun, they’d probably be able to get it,” he said.
But for those without the travel budget, he urged patience.
“Usually these things take a little bit to play out,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “I’d say to the gun owners in Washington, D.C., just be patient.”