The only licensed firearms dealer active in Washington says he is closing his business temporarily, meaning D.C. residents will have no way to legally buy pistols under a landmark court decision that ended the city’s handgun ban.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city’s 33-year-old handgun prohibition in 2008, ruling that the Constitution guarantees the right to own firearms.
But because of a federal law governing the interstate sale of pistols, Washingtonians who want to buy such weapons must purchase them from a licensed dealer in the District. And the only active dealer, Charles Sykes Jr., confirmed Friday that he is shutting down his business in Southeast Washington, at least temporarily.
Sykes said he would move the business to a new location but declined to say why he was closing. He told WTOP radio, which first reported the closing, that he had lost his lease.
His company, CS Exchange, has been operating in a small, second-floor office in the 1200 block of Good Hope Road SE. Because of strict licensing and zoning rules concerning gun sales, finding a new site for his business could be complicated and time-consuming. Sykes wouldn’t estimate how long it will take.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m looking for a new office as we speak.”
Although it is legal for a resident of one state to purchase a rifle or shotgun in another state and take it home, federal law requires handgun buyers to purchase their weapons in the states where they live. That makes it hard for D.C. residents who want to own pistols, because there are no gun stores in Washington.
Sykes offered a solution to the problem. Scores of District residents have picked out handguns at stores in Maryland and Virginia and arranged for them to be shipped to Sykes’s office, which allowed them to formally purchase the guns in the city. Sykes has charged a $125 fee per transaction for serving as a middleman.
Not anymore. “I’ll handle all the orders I already have, but I’m not doing any new purchases at the moment, until I complete my move,” said Sykes, who serves only as an intermediary and doesn’t keep a firearms inventory in his office.
As of the end of 2010, more than 1,400 firearms, a vast majority of them handguns, had been registered in the city since the June 2008 Supreme Court ruling.
Many of those guns were brought into the District by residents who owned them while the ban was in place and stored them outside the city. But many others were purchased new and brought into the District with Sykes’s help.
Sykes began doing business in the city in 1994, long before the handgun ban was lifted, acting as a middleman for District residents who were allowed to possess pistols, including police officers and specially trained security guards. His license to deal in firearms was issued by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
When Sykes finds a new business location, he will have to submit change-of-address paperwork to the ATF, bureau spokesman Mike Campbell said. Agents would then have up to two months to conduct an inspection of the premises. Sykes would not be allowed to do business until his new office passed the inspection, Campbell said.
He said Sykes has yet to begin that process.
The ATF also would not allow Sykes to resume dealing in firearms unless he gained city approval to do business in the new location. “We can’t enforce local zoning laws,” Campbell said. “But what we can do is make gun dealers certify that they’re going to comply with all local zoning laws, whatever those laws might be.”
Zoning rules appear to limit Sykes to space in an industrial or commercial area far from any residence, church, playground, school or library.
“Keep the faith is what I would tell people,” Sykes said. “I’ll be back.”