The District of Columbia's controversial gun control law is driving some area security firms out of business discouraging other agencies from accepting jobs in the only and forcing a few security firms to arm their guards with illegal weapons in order to stay in business.
The problem faced by many of the estimated 50 or more private security firms that do business in the city is that the law requires them to register their handguns in the same fashion as ordinary citizens. In addition, as written the measure forbids the firms from acquiring more guns.
The tough law was passed by the City Council last year and was aimed at freezing the number of handguns in the city. It required all handguns then registered to be registered with police again. Any guns not reregistered by last Feb. 22 were declared illegal.
Several security firms, believing they would be exempted from the law as are government security agencies, did not re-register their handguns by the Feb. 22 deadline and thus can no longer legally perform armed security duties in the city.
Still other security firms are having to forfeit contracts or turn down any new contracts that would require more handguns than those they already have legally registered with the city's police department.
Until now, there has been some uncertainly about the application of the law to the private firms, which employ an estimated 23,000 persons. This week, however, D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher issued a legal opinion which, in effect, affirmed that the law as written does not give private security firms or their employees the same exemption granted government employed officers, even though the private firms are licensed by the city.
"It's going to bankrupt me," said Stuart Kaufman, president of Guardian Security Agency in Washington, who said he will probably have to lay off 75 per cent of the 200 persons he employs if he cannot get properly registered weapons.
"We can't expand our present operations," said Charles Quillin of Metropolitan Protective Service. "Gun control is one issue but the true issue of what they're doing is strangling business."
The owner of one Washington security agency, who asked not to be named, failed to register the weapons his firm uses prior to the Feb. 22 deadline. Now, he said, his employees are using 12 to 15 unregistered guns everyday in order to maintain contact commitments made before the law became effective.
Owners of small and minority-owned agencies believe the legislation has hit them especially hard because they were just on the brink of expanding business and now are no longer able to bid on additional jobs.
"I don't even try to get armed jobs any more," said Walter Pittman, president of the black-owned and black-staffed W. R. Pittman Detective Agency, "I only have two extra guns. Suppose I lose one or somebody calls in sick? I don't want to put myself in a bind."
Howard Security Agency, which is using unarmed men on a Metro security job originally intended for armed guards, was thinking of using Washington as a base for a black-owned armored car services - probably the first of its kind in the country.
But now, according to general manager Giles Hagood, the restrictions on new handgun acquisitions, "has got us backing down in our boots" on that and other jobs. "We're not even looking for any new know that most people want armed guards and we know we can't perform the servive," he said.
Even larger firms believe that unless the law is changed, they will not be able to expand their operations in the city. In addition, said William Shoemaker, Washington manager for Pinkerton's Inc., the lack of available security services could drive some commercial business out of the city.
One firm not having trouble is Seaboard Security system Ltd., based in Bethesa and headed by former D.C. Police Chief Jerry Willson. "We have an adequate number of weapons registered at this time for the District," Wilson said. "It's had no direct impact on us."
Council member David A. Clarke said Risher's opinion is "legally sound" because the Council's intention of exempting security agencies from buying additional guns was not clearly spelled out. Clarke (D-One) has already introduced legislation that already introduced legistion that would permit additional gun purchases but would not allow those who missed the Feb. 22 deadline to register those weapons late.