District could transfer guns to residents under council bill

The District could assume a direct role in helping its residents purchase guns, under a proposal to be considered next week by the D.C. Council.

Since May, city residents have been unable to purchase guns and bring them to their homes. Not only are there no gun sellers in the District, but the only person properly licensed to transfer firearms purchased in another state has been out of commission. Charles W. Sykes Jr. lost his lease and is still searching for a new place of business in the city.

While Sykes’s business in on hiatus, D.C. residents have been prevented de facto from buying guns, which has opened the city to lawsuits. In late May, Virginia lawyer Alan Gura sued the city in Alexandria’s federal court on behalf of three District residents who have purchased guns legally but are unable to transfer them into the city.

Now Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is offering a fix. He informed his colleagues Thursday that he intended to offer an emergency bill Tuesday that would allow the District to serve as a firearms dealer for the purpose of transferring guns to residents.

“The opponents of gun regulations are looking for any opportunity to pounce on the District,” Mendelson said Thursday, noting that the Supreme Court clearly ruled in 2008 that residents have the constitutional right to own handguns. “Right now it’s impossible for an individual to acquire a handgun. ... It’s a situation we need to solve.”

Mendelson’s proposal comes on the same day that Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said on WTOP radio that the gun-transfer issue “is becoming an issue that has to be addressed.”

The District would only fill the role if no other licensed dealer is available. “I do not want to displace the private market,” Mendelson said.

But the private market is encountering some serious barriers to entry. Sykes said Thursday that city regulations have made it very difficult for him to find a new place of business. Zoning rules demand that he locate no closer than 300 feet from schools, libraries or certain other landmarks.

“I wish the District would assist me more with trying to find an office,” he said. “I’m just a little disappointed that I’m not getting any encouragement or support.”

Sykes says he has proposed several addresses to the city, but to date they have all been rejected. “I thought [finding a location] was going to be the easy part,” he said. “This has been a stumbling block.”

He said he has no estimate on when he might return to business.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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