Mark Segraves, WTOP Radio
WASHINGTON - The question isn't whether you'll be able to get a District permit to own a handgun. The question is: Will you be able to get a gun?
District residents will be able to start applying for permits to keep a handgun in the home as early as July 17, according to the District's acting Attorney General Peter Nickles.
But until a gun store opens in the city, anyone who wants to buy a gun is going to have a tough time.
Since there are no gun stores in the District of Columbia, residents wishing to own a gun will have to buy them in another state. But, you won't be able to transport the gun back into the District. It will have to be shipped to a federally licensed gun dealer in the city.
And therein lies the rub.
There are only six Federal Firearms Licensees in the District. WTOP contacted all six, and found only one is considering facilitating the transfers of handguns once the law changes.
The FFLs are held by Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theater Company, Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center, The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, K S Supply and Cs Exchange Ltd.
Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theater only have their FFLs to enable them to purchase guns as props for theatrical productions. According to their spokespersons, neither group owns a working gun, and neither plans on selling guns.
Josh Sugarman obtained his FFL about 15 years ago. Sugarman's group, the Violence Policy Center, is an anti-gun group that advocates for stricter gun regulations. Sugarman tells WTOP, he got the license as part of a research project, and despite numerous phone calls, he will not sell guns.
"The bloggers put my phone number out there, and people have been calling to ask how much I'll charge to transfer guns," Sugarman says.
The ATF isn't going to start selling guns in the District either.
That leaves the only two actual gun dealers of the six. K S Supply is owned by Harry Heng, who works out of his apartment in Northwest.
"I'm a jobber, a middle man," says Heng. "I never see the guns."
And he doesn't plan on seeing any now that the law is about to change.
"I've had a few calls from gun stores and individuals, but I won't be doing any business in the District," Heng tells WTOP.
That leaves Cs Exchange Ltd. Owned by Charles Sykes, Jr. who has been transferring handguns in the District since 1994.
"I sell to security firms and some police," Sykes says. "I'll be doing some transfers once the law changes, but I want to keep it very low key; very discreet."
Sykes has no plans to open a store. He'll continue to do business out of his Anacostia office. But he's not going to be easy to find. There's no sign on his office. In fact, he shares an office with a security firm for which he supplies guns. He's not listed in the Yellow Pages, and he takes his time returning voice mail, if you can track down his number.
As for how much Sykes will charge for transferring handguns?
"I haven't decided that yet." Sykes says, "We'll have to see."
So Sykes will be a potential handgun owner's only option, until gun stores begin to open in the District; and that could be a while. According to a spokesperson for the ATF, there are no pending applications for new FFLs.
The ATF is required by law to process applications within 60 days, but any gun store would have to be approved by the Chief of Police and meet all local zoning ordinances.
Therein lies yet another rub.
There are no zoning regulations governing where gun stores can locate in the District. They will have to be written, and that could take a while
Once the logistics are all worked out, many stores may still take a wait-and-see approach to selling in the District. There are still lots of unknowns, such as: Who will be allowed to own a store? Who will be allowed to work there? And what will insurance rates be?
While city officials have said they want to keep D.C.'s gun laws as tough as the courts will allow, they say they have every intention of allowing gun stores to open.
"We can't very well keep someone from selling something that is legal to own," says Nickles.
ISSUES YET TO BE DECIDED
Before handguns start making their way into District homes, several questions need to be answered by District officials:
* What types of handguns will be allowed?
(Nickles and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier have stated that automatic and semi-automatic handguns will not be allowed. The District currently defines semi-automatic as any gun that can fire 12 or more shots without being manually reloaded. If this standard is kept, it could wind up being challenged in court because the Supreme Court ruled you can not ban an "entire class" of guns.
The head of the police department's gun registration department, Det. Shelton, has testified before the D.C. Council that D.C.'s definition of a semi-automatic is so broad it would include virtually all guns that are loaded by a bottom-loading clip. Even guns that don't come with a 12-round clip would be illegal if they were capable of holding 12 rounds. While semi-automatics are the most popular option these days, the current law would only allow for revolvers.)
* Will ballistic fingerprinting of some type be required?
(Like most technology, this has its pros and cons. One thing is certain, according to police: If it is required it will slow down the permitting process.)
* What type of background checks will be required?
* Will training be required?
* Will you be able to transport your handgun to a shooting range?
(As the law stands now, you would not be able to.)
* Will trigger locks be required?
* Will you be able to keep the gun loaded?
* Will the gun have to be kept in a locked safe?
* Where will guns stores be allowed to open?
* Will the city allow gun ranges to open?
* How much will a gun permit cost?
* Will gun owners be required to re-register their guns every year?
(D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier recently told WTOP there were 36,000 handguns registered in the city before the gun ban and police don't know where most of them are.)
(Copyright 2008 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)