Criminal possession of a weapon in Washington, D.C.

It’s a common story: a Virginia or Maryland resident buys a pistol, registers it in their state, carries that gun into DC, and is stopped by the police. In the mind of the gun owner, they’ve done no wrong. The gun has been legally purchased, registered, and they’re just exercising their right to bear arms, right? Wrong, because DC has its own unique rules about gun ownership, registration, and carry permits. 

The aforementioned gun owner would have gotten arrested for carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL) or possessing an unregistered firearm. To prevent this from happening, this article will cover DC CPWL laws, the process needed to register your firearm in the District, and the consequences of getting arrested while carrying without a permit.


For a CPWL charge to stick, the government needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are indeed carrying a pistol, knowingly and voluntarily, without a permit to do so in the District of Columbia. The catch for Maryland and Virginia residents is that the District does not honor any other state carry licenses, meaning if you get your firearm registered anywhere else in the United States, it’s still illegal to carry it within the District of Columbia without a permit.


The potential sentence for the felony conviction of carrying a pistol without a license is up to 5 years of incarceration, and/or $5,000 in fines.

Getting a Registration

How does one avoid getting prosecuted for unlawful carrying of a pistol? The registration process in DC allows rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and handguns to be registered. Any machine guns, sawed-off weapons, or assault weapons are not permitted. The applicant must:

  • Be older than 21 years of age
  • Not have any prior weapon offenses
  • Not have any prior felony convictions
  • Adhere to a litany of responsibilities

A close relative to the firearm registration is a concealed carry permit. Concealed carry is allowed in DC, but similar to gun registrations, the District does not accept any concealed carry permits from other states. To apply for a concealed carry permit in DC, one must:

  •  Be free of any conviction for a weapon offense
  • Not currently be under indictment for a violent crime or weapon offense
  • Not have been admitted to a mental hospital within the past 5 years
  • Not have been the subject of a civil protection order within the past 5 years
  • And several other requirements.

DC does not have any commercial gun retail, i.e., you cannot buy a gun in DC from a store. This means that if residents of the District want to purchase a pistol for protection, they need to go out of state and register once they return. 

Getting your firearm registered in DC and getting a concealed carry permit are crucial steps for gun owners who spend time in the District with their gun. Open carry is prohibited, but since the second amendment protects a civilian’s right to bear arms, many people possess firearms. The most important part is to make sure you take care to adhere to the city’s gun laws.

If stopped on a gun possession charge in DC, call the experienced Criminal defense lawyer at Bruckheim & Patel.

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