Washington, D.C. is one of the most anti-gun jurisdictions in the country, even without the ban on handguns that was in effect from 1977 until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2008. There are no gun stores in the federal city, no ranges where gun owners can train, and residents who want to simply keep a firearm in their home for self-defense must navigate a maze of red tape and bureaucratic hurdles. Those hoping to actually carry a firearm have an even greater burden. In order to get a concealed carry license applicants have to leave the District and travel to Virginia or Maryland for their required training, and until 2017 all applicants had to demonstrate a “justifiable need” to carry.
Despite all of those efforts aimed at reducing the number of legal gun owners in our nation’s capital, the Great Gun Run of 2020 that’s led to millions of new gun owners is happening in Washington, D.C. as well. Local radio station WTOP reports that NICS checks for D.C. residents have already doubled compared to 2019, and plenty of those purchasing firearms are exercising their Second Amendment rights for the very first time.
The sounds of gunfire ringing through her Southeast D.C. neighborhood had always kept Neta Vaught away from firearms. To her, guns symbolized the violence that the mother of three worked so hard to shield her family from — the violence that has Vaught regularly coming across dead bodies and kept her from giving her two teenagers the childhood she wanted.
But after witnessing the national temperature rise over the past few months, between the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing protests against police brutality, Vaught felt she needed to reconsider her self-defense options. She decided it was time to beat her fear of firearms, get training and purchase her first gun.
“As a single mom, I don’t feel as protected anymore, and I want to be able to protect my children,” Vaught said.
According to NICS, there’ve been more than 5,000 background checks performed this year on gun buyers in Washington, D.C. Those numbers are dwarfed by the number of firearm background checks in Maryland and Virginia, but it’s still almost double the number of checks on D.C. residents in 2019, and by the time 2020 is over and done with, its likely that gun sales to D.C. residents could be nearly 200% higher than last year.
Now, these numbers do come with one very big caveat. Because there are currently no FFL’s and no gun stores in Washington, D.C., any resident hoping to purchase a firearm has to buy one outside of the District and have it shipped to the Metropolitan Police Department where they can pick it up after the transfer has gone through. As the Washington Free Beacon reported a couple of months ago, several gun store owners have said it’s nearly impossible to get the MPD to respond to transfer requests.
“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.
“Just give me an answer,” Christian said. “Just give me an answer, you know? That’s all.”
Neither MPD nor Democratic mayor Muriel Bowser responded to requests for comment.
Strangely, WTOP didn’t mention any of the delays in their story, but it’s an open question as to how many of the more than 5,000 NICS checks performed on D.C. residents have resulted in them actually being able to obtain the gun that they legally purchased. It’s likely that many would-be gun owners in Washington, D.C. are already gun buyers, who are still waiting with varying degrees of patience for the city to fulfill its duty in transferring their firearms to them.