FOX 5 Investigates: DC gun re-registration

My Fox DC – by Emily Miller

WASHINGTON – At the beginning of the year, Washington started a mandatory re-registration law for all legal gun owners. The city is the only jurisdiction in the country where registered gun owners have to submit to the police every three years and pay fees, or become a felon.

The police department is sending notices to everyone who has registered a shotgun or rifle since 1976 — or a handgun since it became legal in 2009 — to come to police headquarters to get fingerprinted, photographed and pay fees. So far, very few people have obeyed.  

Every gun owner is getting a notice from Metropolitan Police Department to come down to headquarters to be fingerprinted. They already gave their fingerprints to register the firearm.

So why do they have to be done again? It’s not like fingerprints change. Well, that’s what gun owner Lenny Harrell wants to know.

“At the beginning of registration, I had to fingerprint.” Harrell said. “Then I went down and had to re-fingerprint. And I asked, ‘Why? You guys got my prints.’ They said,

‘No, you just got to reprint.'”

According to D.C. City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the reason for all this is that the police department lost all the fingerprints. The prints were done electronically. So how can they be lost? No one will answer that.

But the “lost” fingerprints mean every legal gun owner in the nation’s capital has to pay — once again — the $35 fee to run their prints through the FBI background check system.

However, the bigger cost is the registration fee — which is $13 per gun. Lenny started collecting firearms in 2009. He has dozens of guns now. Re-registration will cost him hundreds of dollars — every three years.

“In fact, I think it’s going to be turned around as a cash cow,” said Harrell. “You’re getting $13 a pop and got to get fingerprinted — and I don’t know how much going to the D.C. budget.”

Actually, it’s all going to the government. Just from the first 600 people this year — who had an average of two guns each — the District pocketed over $17,290.

You don’t need a person’s fingerprints to check if he is prohibited from owning a firearm.

In the rest of the country, when you buy a gun from a dealer, you fill out ATF form 4473 with your name and your birthday and show your ID. The dealer can do an instant check — through NICS — of those exact same FBI databases.

City officials want fingerprints because, they say, it prevents fake IDs.

Also, the gun dealers use NICS as a one-time check at the time of purchase. D.C. gun owners are the only people in America who get rechecked by the government every three years.

“It’s something they don’t need to do,” said Brian Wrenn, a registered gun owner. “They’ve already got my registration. I’ve already gone through a process that was like running an obstacle course. And I don’t think they should be charging me money, especially for my time to come do it again.”

I had to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) twice to get the police to reveal what is happening so far this year with the gun re-registrations.

It seems this process has been a failure. Since the beginning of the year, the police have sent out over 7,000 renewal notices, but only 605 gun owners obeyed. The police estimate there are 30,000 registered guns in the city, but only 1,356 have been renewed.

The police came up with a convoluted system for following the city council’s mandate on re-registration. You’re given a three-month window based on your birthday. But the windows and the birthdays don’t match. For example, my birthday is in March — while my window was April to June.

The penalty is steep for those who are confused, never got the police notice or refuse to obey. If you don’t renew in 30 days after your deadline, the fee doubles.

What’s scarier is if you are 90 days late, your registration is cancelled, and you are committing a felony. The penalty is $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail on each count — that is for each gun.

So far, the police have not turned over to the Office of the Attorney General the names of the 2,200 who are 90 days past their deadline, who are now criminals.

“I think they want as much control over every aspect of gun ownership as they can have,” said Wrenn. “And if they find someone they can go after on a technicality, the evidence of their past conducts says that they will.”

I am also afraid of being on the wrong side of the law because of a technicality. I received a notice this spring to appear at police headquarters by June 30 this year — even though renewal was almost a year away in Feb. 2015.

I obeyed the police dictate and went to the Firearms Registration Section at police headquarters.

Officer Mills was in charge that day.

“I don’t understand,” I told Officer Mills. “Mine isn’t supposed to expire for a year, but I got this [paper notice] that if I don’t come down here by June 30, 2014, then I’m in a lot of trouble.”

The officer asked me when I had been last fingerprinted. I told him Feb. 2012.

“Let me check the database and confirm all that,” he told me.

After a while, Officer Mills came back to the front desk.

“Okay ma’am, I confirmed you were fingerprinted on Jan. 25 of 2012, and so, due to that date, you have to be re-fingerprinted.”

I disagreed. By then, I still had six months before my registration expired.

Officer Mills said he would talk to his sergeant.

I asked if I had to come back down to police headquarters again. He said he would call me.

Two days later, Officer Mills’s boss, Sgt. Hall, emailed me that the renewal notice was sent “in error.”

I’m not the only one who has gotten the disconcerting early notice. One man, who asked to remain anonymous, emailed me that he registered a gun in October 2012 but got a notice to appear by June 30 — a year ahead of time.

He wrote that it, “demonstrates the District’s incompetence in enforcing their own law to renew firearm registrations.”

The legal gun owner added that, “Or, if I were more cynical, an example of the ongoing harassment that legal gun owners experience from the D.C. government.”

Harrell echoed those sentiments: “I haven’t gotten into trouble. I have guns. Why should I be going down there?” he asked.

I asked him — tongue in cheek — “Are you planning on turning into a criminal at some point?”

“Nah,” responded Harrell, laughing.

2 thoughts on “FOX 5 Investigates: DC gun re-registration

  1. Screw that. Hide your gun and report it stolen. Don’t give these tyrants any more info than they already have on the locations or ownership of any firearms. You should know by now that the info will be used to facilitate the confiscation process, even though they’re just using it to extract some money from you today.

  2. Local and state government has joined the feds in their task of robbing the citizens of their money and stripping away civil liberties more and more all the time. Exactly like the rat bastards that they are looking for more cheese! When the guns are collected the search warrant will even have your name on it just like the CCL holders will experience. The militarization and the brainwashing that LEO’s have so willingly accepted will lead to papers please and in many instances it has already happened.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.