The D.C. Council is poised to reject a proposal that would make the city government a federal firearms dealer, allowing it to sell and transfer guns to residents.

Since May, District residents have been unable to legally transfer a gun into the city because the only person licensed to transfer firearms into the city shut down his business. Fearing Congress will step in to rewrite the District’s gun laws if a gun shop doesn’t open soon, Council member Phil Mendelson (D-at Large) is sponsoring emergency legislation that would allow the District to enter the gun trade.

The council is slated to vote on Mendelson’s proposal late Tuesday afternoon. But during a Tuesday morning breakfast meeting it became clear the proposal is far short of the nine votes needed for passage.

“It just seems like this is going to open the door to more gun dealers coming into the District,” said Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), one of at least half-dozen members who expressed reservations about the proposal.

Mendelson told his colleagues he introduced the measure to try to head off lawsuits and congressional intervention.

“I don’t want Congress to have an excuse to legislate in this area because there is a chance we could lose,” Mendelson said.

With the landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that ended the District’s long-standing handgun ban, city residents are now allowed to purchase and own handguns so long as they are registered and kept in the home.  Federal law prohibits residents from buying a handgun in another jurisdiction and bringing it into the city themselves.

Charles W. Sykes Jr., the only person licensed to transfer handguns purchased in another state to the District, lost his lease earlier this year. Sykes has been searching for a new location, but has had difficulty finding a site that meets the city’s zoning rules that require all gun-related businesses be at least 300 feet away from schools, libraries or certain other landmarks.

In May, Alan Gura, a Virginia lawyer, sued the city, the state of Virginia and the federal government in federal court in Alexandria on behalf of three District residents who have purchased guns legally, but are unable to transfer them into the District.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and council members expressed a variety of concerns about Mendelson’s proposal.

In a letter delivered to council members Tuesday morning, Gray said the proposal would impose an “unnecessary burden on the government, would potentially subject the District government to liability and also undermines the District’s strong public stance in support of gun control.”

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said they worried the District would be liable for gun deaths if the legislation was approved.

“I don’t think a police officer should have to go talk to a mother to say, ‘your son has been shot with a gun that the city helped them purchase’,” Brown said.

Instead of approving the legislation, the Gray administration is expected to step up efforts to try to find a suitable location for Sykes to reopen his business. 

Mendelson, a supporter of gun control, warns the District needs to act fast if it wants to keep Congress at bay. “Guns are a red flag for Congress, and we would be waving a red flag as a presidential election gets near,” Mendelson said.