WASHINGTON - Nearly three years after the United States Supreme Court overturned the D.C. ban on hand guns, residents of the District can no longer register guns in the city.
A temporary, de facto ban is in place because the one man who could facilitate handgun ownership in the nation's capital has stopped taking registration orders.
Since the lifting of the handgun ban in June 2008, Charles Sykes has processed more than 1,000 handguns for District residents. Sykes tells WTOP he's stopped taking orders for now.
"I've lost my lease," Sykes said in a phone interview. "I'll take care of the customers who already placed orders, but I don't want to take any more until I know where I will reopen."
Sykes is the sole proprietor of C S Exchange, the only licensed firearm dealer in the city that will transfer guns for individuals. Sykes doesn't sell the guns -- there are no gun stores in D.C. His company facilitates the transfer of guns from out of state stores into the District for a fee of $125 per gun.
Federal law prohibits individuals from buying a hand gun outside D.C. and then bringing it into the District. That transfer has to be done by someone with a Federal Firearms License.
Michelle Lane lives on Capitol Hill, and wanted a gun for protection and target practice. She bought two guns in Virginia: a Ruger LCR revolver and a Kahr K9 Elite 9mm. After buying them, she found out she couldn't have them shipped into the city.
"You feel helpless, absolutely helpless," she said. "Where does this leave DC residents? We have no place else to go."
D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who helped write the District's new gun laws after the Supreme Court ruling, says the problem is not due to regulations.
"We've known for a while that (Federal Firearms License) was a vulnerability, that there is only one FFL dealer in the District," Mendelson says. "That's not because of the law, that's because of the market." Alan Gura, the attorney who argued and won the case before the Supreme Court, says this may mean going back to court.
"This is a very serious problem," Gura said from his office in Old Town Alexandria. "It's something we are going to be taking a very close look at."
Likely months until new registrations possible
Lane's frustration may last a while, because it could be months before Sykes is able to re-open. He tells WTOP he hopes to have a new office location picked out in a week or two.
Even if Sykes were to find a new location, he is required to give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms 30 days advance notice of his move, and then the ATF has 60 days to review and approve the new location. The move would also have to be approved by the Metropolitan Police Department and the District's Office of Zoning.
Sykes has not given any notice, but says he'll ask ATF for an expedited review. Mike Campbell, a spokesperson for ATF, says in an email Sykes has yet to inform the agency of his intent to move.
"Mr. Sykes is free to request an expedited review/inspection of his application and his new business premises. However, he has certain responsibilities that he has to fulfill before we can do anything related to a location change. We have no record of a request for a change of address."
Another challenge: Zoning
Approval of a new location for Sykes isn't the only road block delaying District residents from getting handguns. Zoning requirements on where gun dealers can locate are strict, making it difficult for Sykes or any potential gun dealer to find a suitable location.
Kevin Shepard owns Second Amendment Safety and Security, and has had a Federal Firearms License since 2008, but has not been able to find a location to open his business. He says the zoning requirements are too restrictive.
"It's impacted my economic liberty," Sheppard says. "I'm trying to start a business and they're making it too difficult."
Zoning regulations require gun dealers to locate in either a commercial zone or industrial zone. Most of the District is either zoned for residential use or is federal land. There is also the added restriction of dealers not being able to open a shop within 300 feet of any home, church, school, library or playground.
Gura says that's not in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling. "The bottom line is the people who live in the Washington, D.C. are entitled to the right to keep and bear arms for self defense," he says. "The city cannot use its zoning laws to interfere with that right."
Mendelson is sympathetic, but defends the regulations. "There are some distance requirements, such as from a school or playground and I think that makes some sense," Mendelson says. "Other cities do that." Gura is not buying that explanation.
"Councilmember Mendelson should know the buying and selling of firearms is protected by the second amendment, the city cannot use its zoning laws to make it virtually impossible to operate a retail gun store," Gura argues.
Mendelson says he's willing to meet with any gun dealer who is having trouble finding a location and see if something can be done. As for Lane, she just wants to bring her guns home.
"This is the one thing that would make me move out of the District," she says.