OSD 104: The new lone FFL in Washington, D.C.
FFLs in D.C. got smothered down to zero. But what came back from the dead is something much harder to kill.
Stephen Gutowski ran a feature yesterday on the only FFL in Washington, D.C. That sounds like a story of decline. But as far as recent history goes, it’s actually a story of rebirth — before this shop opened, the city had zero gun shops.
Gun shops aren’t exactly illegal in D.C., but it’s hard enough to open one that when the city’s last FFL shut down in March 2020, nobody replaced it.
The reason it shut down was pretty interesting: too many customers. We have a little business — we sell OSD merch — and can assure you that “too many people are sending us money for t-shirts” is not an existential threat. One would find it surprising to see, say, Amazon go, “There are too many people willing to pay too much for our services, and we just can’t do business in that kind of topsy-turvy hellscape. Goodbye, cruel world.”
But if instead of Amazon, it’s one retirement-age dude working out of a spare room at police HQ and physically doing the paperwork on every gun transfer in the city, then yeah, “Too many people are trying to give me too much money” turns out to be a bad thing. (That description of the guy’s business is not a joke, by the way. He moved into police HQ back in 2011, when he lost the lease on his original location and couldn’t get zoning board permission for any other viable location.)
So in March 2020, D.C. found itself with zero FFLs. The police stepped in to serve as one, thereby becoming the only channel through which to (legally) buy a handgun as a D.C. resident.
That persisted for 11 months. Here’s what it took to move the needle from zero FFLs back to one (from Gutowski’s article):
A man who had to hire a lobbyist to help him navigate regulatory hurdles to become the first and only licensed Washington, D.C., gun dealer in nearly a year is now seeing business boom.
Shawn Poulin, the owner of D.C. Security Associates, located on K Street in Northwest, said he had to spend thousands of dollars on a lobbyist to help navigate the city's complex rules and regulations on firearms businesses. "People told me, ‘Be prepared to deal with D.C. government, they're as corrupt as anyone else,'" he said. "I had to get a lobbyist and I was getting friction from the permit zoning guys."
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D.) and the police department did not respond to questions about Poulin's difficulty in getting approval for his store.
After pushing through the roadblocks and being approved to open in January, Poulin said his store has seen between 15 and 20 handgun transfers per day. The transfer process that saw some residents caught in a weeks-long wait when the Metropolitan Police Department ran it has been dramatically reduced. Poulin said the store has managed to help customers through the transfer and registration process, which at one point took months, in under 10 days.
"The reaction to the store seems to be very positive," Poulin said.
There are some lessons in this that everyone reading this newsletter already knows. Having an ecosystem of options matters. Convenience matters. Small regulations can pile up into de facto bans. But that might be thinking a little too unambitiously.
Imagine D.C. had no rules at all on this stuff. Open an FFL on every block, no special permits required, no zoning, go nuts. Cool, the brakes are off. Now what?
Getting rid of all that friction isn’t the end goal, it’s just one item on our todo list. And most of the todos are on us, not on some city council. What really moves the needle is to build a thriving culture around gun rights. Even under the dream set of gun laws, that culture-building is only going to be done by us, not by a politician. Gun laws only matter to the extent that they salt the earth for the flourishing of cultural norms. Sure, they matter. But culture doesn’t need to wait for laws — and once it’s strong enough, culture becomes law. Sometimes de jure and sometimes de facto, but law either way.
Look at the website for D.C.’s new lone FFL. It seems modern, customer-friendly, and just generally like it’s actively investing in creating new gun owners. In every way an improvement on what came before. Ask yourself: would an FFL like that have existed in D.C 20 years ago, before social media and modern gun culture? Of course, we don’t have to speculate: empirically the answer is no. (With all due respect to the previous lone FFL in the city, who was doing yeoman’s work for several incredibly hard decades.) FFLs (and, by proxy, friendly gun laws) create gun culture. But this example from D.C. tells us that the inverse is actually much more true: gun culture creates FFLs (and, by proxy, eventually, friendly gun laws). Another data point for why we think that culture-building is the high-leverage investment. And there are no zoning restrictions on that. If you have an internet connection, you can do that from anywhere.
This week’s links
Powerful interview with Deputy Jennifer Fulford about a surprisingly little-discussed shootout.
Jennifer Fulford was a deputy sheriff back in 2004 when she went to a suspicious incident call. A child on the phone was stating strange men were in the house and on arrival she met up with the female homeowner who was acting strange. It turned out three men were inside committing an armed home invasion.
Jennifer got into a gunfight with two of the men and despite being shot multiple times, she was able to take out both suspects. The third suspect gave up.
The next chapter in a predictably high-quality series of guides from Lucky Gunner.
brb starting a merch brand called Baba Ghanoush x Battle Rifles
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