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Since D.C.'s handgun ban ended, well-heeled residents have become well armed

Michael Grinage, 54, holds a handgun he bought after the city began allowing ownership. He keeps it loaded in a gun safe.
Michael Grinage, 54, holds a handgun he bought after the city began allowing ownership. He keeps it loaded in a gun safe. (The Washington Post)

"A lot of car thefts, robberies," he said. Then one day a dead body turned up on the lawn next door. "And there was the incident where someone broke into my house while we were away. My daughter and two grandchildren were here alone."

When the city began allowing handgun ownership, Grinage said, he got one "within a week," paying $620 for a .45-caliber Glock, which he keeps loaded in a gun safe. It's one of 79 registered firearms in the 20020 Zip code.

"I've told people, if someone breaks in, I'm not going to just shoot," he said. "I'd detain the person until the police came." Or at least he would try. "If I had to shoot, I would," he said. "Based on my military training, I know I wouldn't hesitate."

Federal law requires handgun buyers to purchase their firearms in the states where they live, which is a problem for many D.C. residents who want pistols, because there are no gun stores in Washington. Some, like the retiree in Chillum, already owned guns that they kept elsewhere. But most, like Grinage, need a middleman.

In the District, the middleman is Charles Sykes Jr., the city's only licensed firearms dealer. He works quietly, without advertising, in a hard-to-find office in Southeast.

After Grinage picked out his Glock at a store in Maryland, he arranged for it to be shipped to Sykes's office. That allowed him to formally buy the gun in the District, for which Sykes charged a $125 fee. Skyes has said that he acts only as an intermediary and doesn't stock firearms at his office on Good Hope Road.

Gura said he thinks that the cumbersome middleman process has discouraged many D.C. residents from buying handguns.

"At some point, somebody is going to put up a retail operation in Washington, and that's when you'll see the number of gun owners go up," he said. "It'll become accessible to the people who've lived here all their lives and need it most."

In the meantime, Gura is litigating another gun-rights lawsuit, hoping a federal court will force the District to adopt rules under which qualified handgun owners would be allowed to carry their weapons in public - perhaps concealed, maybe openly.

He has allies among the hundreds of Washingtonians already armed in their homes, including Rick Du Bose, 59, an occupational safety manager for the Energy Department. He lives in Shepherd Park in Northwest, in the same Zip code as the Chillum retiree.

Du Bose said he bought a Ruger .357 magnum "before the ink was dry" on the law permitting handgun ownership. There are no children in his house, only him and his wife, so he sees no need for a gun safe, he said.

Besides, "the likelihood of having to brandish a firearm or shoot to disable or kill within the confines of your home is relatively slight," he said. He worries more about "the crackheads, disenfranchised and other flotsam and jetsam" menacing folks on the streets.

"I make no apologies for advocating concealed firearms-carry for law-abiding citizens," Du Bose said. He said he considers it a right under the Second Amendment.

For now, though, his .357 stays indoors. "Loaded," he said. "Right there in the bedstand."

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