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:
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.
As gun lawyers, Arsenal Attorneys™ advise clients in the implications of keeping and bearing arms. We draw (no pun intended) on our collective in-house experience as lawyers, firearms instructors, range safety officers, and firearms dealers—a holistic approach, if you will. Regardless of how we look at it, backpacks and guns just don’t mix. From a legal standpoint, or tactically speaking, once you separate a gun from your person, you run the risk of making it inaccessible or worse, forgetting it altogether. Thus, your gun might not be where you need it, or you might take it where it is forbidden.
In self-defense law classes, we stress to students the need to carry their guns. Venable firearms instructor Tom Givens has taught many thousands of students over his 35 plus years as an instructor. Givens reports that 66 of his students have been involved in gun fights. Sixty survived with no injuries. Three were injured. Three were killed. Of this sample population, Givens confirmed the fatalities occurred when those three of his students found themselves unarmed in the face of danger.
When left without a practical method to carry a firearm on their person, many people choose to carry off their bodies. This is especially common with women who tend to wear clothes that are form-fitting and lack layers to conceal a sidearm. A purse becomes the most readily available option. Some people find a firearm too uncomfortable to carry and opt for off body carry in a fanny pack or backpack. Still others need to transport a firearm, and rather than going ‘strapped’, they carry their gun in a bag.
Off body carry, particularly with a backpack, however, carries both tactical and legal risks.
Lack of quick access to the firearm poses practical and liability problems. The need for a firearm is likely to arise rapidly. If a concealed carrier has the time to take the backpack off, open it up, find the gun amid everything else in the backpack, and pull out the gun, there is a good chance he has the opportunity to retreat and avoid using deadly force altogether. A safe retreat, if available, is almost always going to be a person’s best option both tactically and legally. After all, avoiding the gun fight could mean you don’t get shot, don’t get sued by the person you shot or his family, and don’t get arrested. Alternatively, if there is no time to draw the gun from a bag, then it is like having no gun at all.
We always emphasize situational awareness, and a frequent legal problem involving guns and bags reflects the total opposite mindset: forgetfulness. In numerous cases, we have represented well-intentioned clients whose guns forgotten in bags or briefcases are discovered by security guards at the entrances of ‘gun-free zones’, especially during x-ray screening at government facilities and airports. Incidentally, the number of arrests at the airport for unlawful possession of guns or ammunition has dramatically increased, not necessarily because of an increased number of guns discovered, but because of more aggressive prosecution of these cases.
Every case in which we have been contacted by a potential client arrested for gun possession in a security checkpoint had forgotten that gun in a backpack. There are obviously serious consequences even to inadvertently entering a secured area with a firearm. In the District of Columbia, the government can charge the felony of carrying a handgun without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of unregistered ammunition, the latter two charges being misdemeanors having potential jail terms of one year. Assuming the individual has a license to carry in the District of Columbia, that license very well could end up revoked and the carrier charged with a misdemeanor for violating carry restrictions. That offense comes with a potential jail term of 180 days.
At Virginia airports, the charge could be carrying a dangerous weapon into an air terminal, a Class One misdemeanor, carrying a potential jail term of one year and/or a fine of up to $2,500. On top of that, TSA is likely to impose an administrative fine on the offender.
There are similar statutes covering courthouses and schools in Virginia.
In almost all cases involving persons with a clean record and no aggravating circumstances, it could be possible to negotiate a disposition that avoids jail time. However, if a person convicted of a crime could have been subject to imprisonment of more than a year, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, and regardless of whether they had been imprisoned at all, such a person would become a ‘prohibited person’ and therefore lose the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Our best advice, to ensure your personal safety and to reduce your legal risks, don’t carry a gun in a backpack.
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Fairfax, Virginia 22030
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