By George L. Lyon, Jr, Esq.
The District of Columbia has some of the most severe gun laws in the country. Yet, many people traveling to Washington, DC either don’t consider DC’s gun laws or worse simply believe those laws won’t be enforced against them because they are not using their guns to commit other crime. You do not want to make that mistake.
DC frequently prosecutes gun owners merely for possession of guns, gun accessories, and/or ammunition which would be legal to possess in jurisdictions located just minutes away. Let’s briefly recap DC’s gun laws. It is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail to possess a firearm that is not registered in the District of Columbia. DC Code Section 7-2502.01. An exception applies to active and retired law enforcement officers with credentials issued pursuant to the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (“LEOSA”).
To register a firearm in the District of Columbia one must either be a DC resident or DC business owner, or have a DC issued Licensed to Carry a Concealed Handgun. The DC License to Carry only allows a nonresident holder to register handguns. Non-residents cannot carry or register a long gun in the District. More on that later.
Not only is it an offense to possess an unregistered firearm in the District, but it is also a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail to possess ammunition in the District unless one has a DC registered firearm. DC Code Section 7-2506.01. Further, DC considers ammunition to include any component of ammunition, so even a single expended shell can get you charged with this offense, which is called “possession of unregistered ammunition.” DC Code Section 7-2501.01(2).
The District of Columbia does not recognize any other jurisdiction’s carry permits or licenses. Carrying a handgun in the District without a DC issued carry license is a felony. That’s right a felony. DC Code Section 22-4505(a). If you are convicted of that felony, you will become a federally prohibited person and will no longer be able to possess firearms or ammunition anywhere in America.
Transporting a handgun in your vehicle through DC is legal as long as you comply with the Federal Firearms Owners Protection Act. That law requires that the gun be unloaded in a locked container and inaccessible to you with the ammunition stored separate. Your journey must be a continuous one going from one jurisdiction where you may possess and carry the firearm to another where you can possess and carry the firearm. Stopping in DC with a firearm in the car can get you arrested on a felony carrying charge, in which case you will spend at least one night in jail and possibly many more before your trial. Let’s be very clear about this: driving in DC with any long gunin the car can get you charged with felony carrying. DC Code Section 22-4504(a-1). The same with a handgun unless you have a DC issued License to Carry.
Lastly, possession of a firearm magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds is also now a felony whether or not you are in possession of any gun. DC Code Section 7-2506.01(b).
DC police will not cut you a break because you are otherwise a law-abiding citizen. First, they have no way to know whether you are a criminal or intend to commit a crime. Second, DC’s policy goal is to eliminate the possession of guns entirely, and they have relaxed its guns laws only under court order in several cases. To the extent DC is able to maintain its draconian gun laws, you should assume those laws will be enforced on a zero-tolerance basis.
How do people most often run afoul of DC gun laws? There are many ways. Here are a few:
- Putting a backpack through an X-ray at a governmental building or museum with a gun or ammunition you forgot to remove.
- Getting stopped for a traffic offense and in full view of the police officers is a box of ammunition, some type of firearms accessory, or even just an empty shell casing. This will lead to a search of the vehicle where other ammunition, firearms or magazines could be found.
- Getting stopped for a traffic violation, and either granting permission to search your car or admitting to having a firearm in your possession. Admitting that you screwed up or consenting to a search will not result in the officer letting you go. It will just make it more difficult for your lawyer to argue that your 4thamendment rights were violated. It is best to advise the officer that you do not wish to answer any questions and do not consent to any searches.
If you regularly carry a firearm and have occasion to go into the District of Columbia, consider obtaining a DC License to Carry a Handgun. Although that will protect you from a handgun carry charge and an ammunition charge, it will not protect you if your vehicle contains a long gun, an unregistered handgun, or magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
Arsenal Attorneys’ George Lyon is licensed to practice law in Virginia and the District of Columbia. He was one of the plaintiffs in the Palmer v. District of Columbia case that forced DC to begin issuing concealed carry licenses and in the Heller case that legalized handguns in Washington, DC. Mr. Lyon is licensed by the Metropolitan Police Department to teach the DC concealed carry course and conducts the course monthly. His next classes are scheduled for April 27-28 and May 18-19 in Arlington, Virginia. To sign up for his course, contact Mr. Lyon at gll[at]arsenalattorneys.com or at 703-291-3312.
Arsenal Attorneys is looking for persons who have obtained their DC concealed carry licenses and who would be willing to participate in a civil rights case relating to DC’s myriad of concealed carry restrictions. Contact Mr. Lyon if you have an interest in learning more.
This blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.