DC Police Say Handgun Transfers Speeding Up, But Delays Remain

Heller says he's stuck in transfer process

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October 4, 2020

Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department claims to have streamlined the handgun-transfer process following complaints from residents, but some in the nation's capital still face serious delays in exercising their Second Amendment rights.

Dick Heller, who defeated the city's handgun ban in a 2008 Supreme Court case, said the department expedited one weapon transfer in July after he threatened to sue, but a second handgun he ordered in August is still stuck in limbo. Heller said the licensed gun dealer he purchased the gun from in West Virginia struggled for weeks to make contact with MPD. Heller still hasn't been given a date for when he can pick up his new gun even after making contact with the department in late September.

"It would appear that what we have again is the 'denial of service,'" Heller told the Washington Free Beacon.

Dustin Sternbeck, director of the MPD Office of Communications, told the Free Beacon that the department has dedicated more resources and set up a new scheduling process in response to complaints about the months-long delays. He said the changes have begun to bear fruit.

"Transfers have increased and individuals are experiencing shorter wait times since updates were put in place," Sternbeck said.

Since Washington, D.C., does not have a single gun store operating within city limits, the only legal way to get a handgun is to buy one from an out-of-state dealer and transfer it through a federally licensed dealer inside the city. In March, however, the only remaining private dealer in the city closed down as transfer requests began to mount. Sternbeck said the situation caused a massive backlog, as the police department scrambled to obtain its own dealer license to ensure transfers could still occur.

"MPD assumed the role of the FFL for the District and was able to rapidly obtain an FFL license in April," he said. "There appeared to be a high demand for firearms during the period when there was no available FFL dealer, resulting in an influx of firearms being shipped to MPD when it opened operations. There were some initial delays due to the large volume."

A Free Beacon analysis of the FBI's background check data for gun sales shows the messy transition flatlined D.C. handgun transfers at a time when the rest of the country experienced record sales. It also indicates MPD has started to catch up with demand. MPD processed five and a half times as many handguns in August as it did when it first took over in April.

Sternbeck said the increased transfers are a result of a concerted effort by MPD to deal with the backlog.

"MPD has made numerous changes to its FFL operations (e.g., increased staffing, established an online registration and scheduling system, added storage areas and equipment) resulting in a more efficient and streamlined operation," he said.

He said the city is still trying to move the handgun-transfer process back to private hands but did not have details as to when that might happen.

Charles Fain Lehman contributed to this report.