Are D.C. Police Slow-Walking Firearm Transfers?

Thanks to a quirk of federal law, residents of Washington, D.C. who want to purchase a handgun have to jump through some extra hurdles if they want to stay within the boundaries of the law. There are no gun stores in D.C., which means residents must drive to Virginia or Maryland in order to acquire a handgun. Unlike rifles and shotguns, however, out-of-state handgun purchases must be transferred to an in-state licensed gun dealer, and for close to a decade, there’s only been one FFL in all of Washington, D.C. willing to conduct those transfers.


For years, Charles Sykes actually operated out of an office in the Metropolitan Police Headquarters building, but when Sykes recently decided to stop conducting handgun transfers, that left D.C. residents with no way to legally get their hands on a handgun. The MPD took the unprecedented step of becoming the District’s new FFL, and now the police are actually in charge of conducting those handgun transfers for lawful owners.

How’s that working out? On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, the Washington Free Beacon‘s Stephen Gutowski joins me with news that at least two recent gun purchasers say they’ve waited weeks for the police to finish the transfers of the guns they purchased out of state.

“I have two sellers attempting to send firearms to the police department and neither of them have been able to get a response in close to two weeks,” Elby Godwin, a real estate agent and longtime D.C. resident who purchased two handguns back on March 24, told the Free Beacon. “It is hard to tell at this point if MPD is even processing transfers.”

Christian, a former school teacher and civilian contractor in Afghanistan, bought a gun on June 2 because his girlfriend had grown concerned about potential societal fallout from the coronavirus pandemic as well as the recent civil unrest inside the city. The D.C. resident, who asked for his identity to be withheld out of fear of career backlash over owning a gun, said the department has left him in limbo. When his out-of-state dealer shipped his handgun to the address listed by MPD, the package was not delivered and was instead returned to the post office. He has yet to hear anything from MPD despite multiple attempts to contact the agency.


This is disturbing, and the fact that the MPD isn’t saying anything, either to the press (they declined to comment to Gutowski) or to gun owners themselves demonstrates the inherent problem with the police department taking over the firearm transfer process.

We already know that city leaders reject the idea that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Officials defended their ban on handguns all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 2008 justices ruled in the Heller case that the ban violated the individual rights of residents to keep a handgun in their home for self-defense.

Of course, the Supreme Court also just rejected ten cases dealing with the Second Amendment, including a challenge to the law requiring interstate sales of handguns to go through a licensed firearms seller in the buyer’s home state, so while a lawsuit might be necessary to goad the police into actually conducting the transfers now that its acting as the city’s lone FFL, who knows if the Supreme Court would even accept a case if the District decided to fight for its power to transfer firearms to their rightful owners as slowly as possible, or not at all.

We’re hearing a lot of calls for greater transparency by police departments around the country right now, and the Metropolitan Police Department could certainly be providing much more information to the public about the process (if there is one) of firearm transfers. Here are a few questions that need to be answered:

  • What is the average time to transfer a handgun in the District of Columbia right now?
  • How many transfers are currently pending?
  • Why has the MPD not responded to gun owners who are waiting on the police to transfer their firearm to them?
  • Why is it taking several weeks for the MPD to conduct the transfers?
  • Have there been any directives to MPD or from MPD officials to delay handgun transfers?
  • What steps is MPD taking to resolve the delays in these transfers?

These aren’t “gotcha” questions. There’s a legitimate need to know how long and how widespread these types of delays are, why they’re happening, and what the District is doing to fix the problem. I strongly encourage Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD Chief Peter Newsham to be transparent about why these simple transfers are stuck in limbo, but I’ve also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the MPD and the mayor’s office in case they insist on opacity instead. Maybe we’ll learn at least a little more about why the District is inviting another lawsuit with their apparent slow-walking of firearm transfers.

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