While there are a few guides online about getting a legal gun in D.C., they are all outdated. Anything written before July 2012 does not reflect the changes in the firearm laws over the past six months which make the registration process somewhat easier and cheaper.
One of my goals over the last nine months writing this series, “Emily Gets Her Gun”, was to help other Washingtonians become gun owners as easily as possible. I went through the registration ordeal without taking any shortcuts or using insider information so that I could find every bump in the road or dead end. I never read any other guide on going through the process.
So here is my guide on how to get a gun in the District. The steps are listed in the order I think is quickest, followed by more detailed tips.
Get a gun — If you aren’t just registering a gun that you already own, I suggest picking out and buying your gun first because the ten-day waiting period begins on the purchase date. Make sure your final pick is on one of these three states’ lists, and that it comes with a magazine that holds no more than 10 rounds.
Transfer the gun — Handguns have to go through a local federal firearms licensee (FFL). Call D.C.’s only legal gun dealer, Charles Sykes, and tell him you will be sending the firearm to his office. Phone is (301) 577-1427. Shotguns and rifles do not need to be transferred through a local FFL. They can then be shipped directly to you from the out-of-state dealer once you can show the registration certificate.
Get the forms — Unfortunately, MPD has not put the forms you need online. Call the firearms registry office at (202) 727-4275 and ask to have them send you the “application for firearm registration certificate” (they call it “PD-219”) and the gun registration packet. For new guns, fill out the right side of the registration form and leave the left side for Mr. Sykes. Download the “statement of eligibility” form and fill it out. Be sure to answer “yes” on the 11th question if you haven’t lied on questions 1 to 10.
Take the online course — Click on this link to watch the video about fundamentals, safety and local laws. It takes about 30 minutes to watch it. You might want to take notes in your registration packet for the written test. At the end, you print out the certificate, sign it and bring it with you to MPD.
Meet with Charles Sykes — When your handgun arrives, Mr. Sykes will call you to make an appointment to fill out the registration form (PD-219). His office is in the same building as MPD, inside the entrance for the DMV on C Street. Bring his $125 fee in cash. He will have you fill out some forms and wait while he calls FBI for an instant background check. Take the gun’s receipt.
Apply to register at MPD — If you already own a gun and just need to register, take the gun and all the forms to the registry office, which is inside the entrance of MPD headquarters at 300 Indiana Ave, NW. From Mr. Sykes’s office, take your gun upstairs one floor to the registration office. Bring with you the completed registration and eligibility forms, training course certificate, proof of residency (driver’s license) and identity (Social Security card).
Take the test — The registry office administers a 20-question, written, multiple-choice test on the online course and the registration packet. MPD now allows you to look at the packet while taking the test, so you don’t need to memorize anything.
Get fingerprinted — You’ll be asked to fill out a few more forms, then be photographed and fingerprinted.
Go to DMV - The registration office will be given a bill for $48 in fees. You have to take this downstairs to the DMV and pay the fee in cash. Once you have the receipt, go back to MPD, so they can complete your application.
Waiting period — The registration office staff will tell you what day to come back for the end of the ten-day waiting period. It starts either the day you submit the registration certificate or when you purchased the gun, whichever is earliest. Be sure to show them your purchase receipt to get a shorter wait.
Return to MPD — The day before your waiting period ends, you can call and ask if your application was approved. If so, call Mr. Sykes to make an appointment to meet to pick up the handgun. Go back to MPD to pick up the registration permit. Take the form to Mr. Sykes so he can release the gun to you. If you already own your gun or you are buying a rifle or shotgun, you can have the registration certificate mailed to you to save you the trip.
Pick up your gun — Take the document downstairs to Mr. Sykes’s office, and he’ll release the gun to you. Check ahead of time to ensure your gun came with a lock and a case. If not, be sure to bring one to transport the gun home.
Here are more in-depth details:
Legal magazine: The biggest restriction on a handgun purchase is finding one with a 10-round magazine. Mr. Sykes can’t accept the gun if it is shipped to him with the larger-size mag. You will most likely have to have the standard-issue mag of 13-rounds exchanged for a D.C.-legal 10-round one. To do this, you’ll need to buy the gun from a dealer willing to open the box and do the swap. The big online dealers usually ship straight from the warehouse so are not able to change the magazine. Local dealers can do this for you if you purchase from them.
Transferring the gun: Ask the dealer to use UPS or FedEx because the U.S. postal service does not deliver to Mr. Sykes’s office because it is in police headquarters. His mailing address is 300 Indiana Ave., NW #1140A, Washington D.C. 20001.
Registering a gun you own: If you already own your gun and just moving into the District, I’d recommend spending $125 and having Mr. Sykes transfer your gun to MPD. If you can afford the added cost, it will alleviate your fears of being arrested by having the dealer pick up the gun at your home for storage at his office at MPD until your registration is complete. If you have owned guns for a long time but not registered them because they’ve been at a relative’s in another state (wink, wink), I’d suggest having Mr. Sykes transfer from your home to MPD as a good way to get on the right side of the law with minimal risk.
Taking a gun to MPD: If you have a gun and are headed to MPD with your firearm for registration, keep in mind that there are no good parking options nearby. There are some public lots a few blocks westward or Union Station is about four blocks eastward. Street parking is almost impossible. It is legal to transport a firearm on public transportation as long as it’s in a locked box and unloaded. The closest Metro stop is Judiciary Square.
Finding MPD: The headquarters is not well marked. It’s the large, tan-colored building engraved with “300 Henry J. Daly Building.” The registration office is inside glass doors, directly across from the metal detectors at the entrance.
Exceptions for the online course: You do not need to take the online course if you can prove that you have have had any of these: completed firearms training in the military or a course “equal” to MPD’s. It’s easier just to take the free, online course to avoid the hassle.
DMV: When you go in the main room, get in line at the front desk to get a number to pay. You will be sent to get in line at the cashier’s in the far back of the large room on the left. Expect to wait a while in both lines. The DMV only takes cash.
Shortening the waiting period: As mentioned above, you are registering a new gun, be sure to bring the receipt with you and tell the officer you want your wait time shortened to the purchase date.
Registration certificate: You’ll get the yellow and pink copies of a three-ply full-size piece of paper. Always keep one copy with your gun when transporting. (MPD is supposed to update the certificates to be card-sized to fit in a wallet.)
Taking your gun home: If your new gun does not come with a lock, the registration office will give you one. You will need also need a box or other container that can be locked, like a backpack. To legally transport your gun home, it must be locked and unloaded. If you drove, put the gun in the trunk of the car. For an SUV or truck, put it as far out of reach of the passenger cabin as possible.
And, if you think all that is bad, it used to be much worse…
I’ve been writing this guide bit by bit from the day in Oct. 2011 when I first went to the District’s firearm registration office and said, “I want a gun.” Back then, I expected it to take a few weeks and cost $60 to have a firearm at home. I was off by a few months and $375. Also, I believed that documenting the process for the newspaper would mean a few stories about long lines and frustrating bureaucrats. I was far off the mark.
When I started, there were 17 steps to getting a legal gun in Washington. However, as my series exposed the particularly burdensome requirements to gun ownership, the city council moved to remove some of those barriers. Now there are 12 steps that take much less time and the cost has decreased by $262.
While registering guns with the government is still an unnecessary burden on our Second Amendment rights, it’s not as bad as it used to be.
Happy gun ownership!