By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008
District residents in the market for handguns could face a long wait -- only one dealer has stepped up so far, and his license isn't active.
Charles Sykes Jr. has been selling guns since 1994 to active and retired police officers and security companies out of an unmarked office in Anacostia. But right now his business, CS Exchange, is on hold because he recently changed locations on Good Hope Road SE and his permit needs to be amended.
Sykes said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told him that it could be 30 to 90 days before his papers are in order again.
For now, D.C. residents who want to buy handguns have no legal options. Under federal law, people can arrange to buy handguns out of state, but the pickups must be from federally licensed dealers in their home states. To meet federal requirements, guns are shipped across the border between two dealers, typically for a fee.
That means that a D.C. resident could arrange to buy a handgun in Maryland, for example, but the gun would have to be shipped to a licensed dealer in the city for the customer to pick it up, and Sykes is the only one who has agreed to handle such transfers. Until he gets his license back, he said, those transfers can't be made.
"I have to bide my time," Sykes said. "I'm a patient person."
He has not decided how much he will charge to handle gun purchases made outside the District. But he has made up his mind about this: He won't be selling guns to the public, just handling transfers.
"It's going to be too headache-y for me to try to satisfy everybody's tastes," Sykes said.
Sykes probably will face competition at some point. But anyone wanting to set up a gun shop must go through federal and District licensing, a process that might take up to two months on the federal end and six months on the District end, officials said.
Once Sykes is back in business, he said he would keep things "low-key," seeing clients by appointment only, as he has done for the past 14 years. Sykes, who was born and raised in the District, described his business as a one-man operation.
"Guns is a part-time thing," Sykes said. "It's not as lucrative as people think it is. It's not like you're selling cars and you're in the thousands."
Sykes said he does not keep guns on the premises, though he was unwilling to go into details, citing safety concerns. He plans to keep the business as unmarked as it is now, sharing space with a security company in the back of a plain-looking building.
"It adds a little bit more security for individuals who want to get a firearm," Sykes said, "as opposed to an individual walking out of a gun store with a bag."