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

Updated on April 15th, 2024 at 08:47 pm

It’s a common story: a Virginia or Maryland resident buys a pistol, registers it in their state, carries that gun into Washington, 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 and registered, and they’re just exercising their right to bear arms, right? That is 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 gun crime from happening, we 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 felony 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.

Consequences of carrying a pistol without a license in DC

The District of Columbia doesn’t allow constitutional carry. As such, 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.

DC Gun 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 gun, sawed-off weapon, or assault weapon is not permitted. The applicant must:

  • Be older than 21 years of age
  • Not have any prior weapons offenses
  • Not have any prior felony convictions
  • Complete a firearm training course that the Metro Police approve
  • 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
  • Not have been convicted of an intrafamily offense
  • 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 guns. 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 adhere to the city’s gun laws.

Time Limit for Registration

DC law doesn’t provide a grace period for nonresidents of DC. Before you carry a gun into DC, you should contact the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in DC and inform them of your intention to register your firearm in DC and start the process. This way, when you enter DC, you can take the gun to a police station and have the registration complete.

Once the D.C. Metropolitan Police is informed, you have 2 days (48 hours) to fill out and file registration forms. They will notify you once the application is approved.

There’s a statute by the US government that allows lawful transportation of firearms in a vehicle through a different jurisdiction where they aren’t licensed to carry a firearm if they are licensed to carry the firearm in their destination.

For instance, if you live in Maryland and lawfully possess a firearm and want to go to a shooting range in Virginia, you can drive through DC without calling the MPD of DC. The federal law protection that allows you to do this only applies when you carry the firearm in the manner it describes. The firearm should be unloaded and carried in a locked container aside from the console or glove compartment so that you cannot access it immediately. Also, the firearm should be stored separately from the ammunition. The law dictates that you shouldn’t stop in DC. If you stop anywhere in DC or carry the firearm in the vehicle’s passenger compartment, you lose the protection of this federal law.

What is a Gun Free Zone in DC?

Washington, DC, has several prohibited places that are Gun-Free Zones. An individual found in possession of a firearm in these zones or committing a crime with a gun in these zones faces double the normal penalties, including fines and prison time.

The Gun-free Zone areas in Washington DC include:

  • Colleges and Universities
  • Parks
  • Schools
  • Public swimming pools
  • Youth Centers
  • Public Housing
  • Public libraries

Note: Some events sponsored by some Washington DC or federal government agencies are considered free zones.

Common Gun Offenses in DC

There are many charges a person may face when they violate DC firearm regulations. Some common situations that may count as a gun-related offense include:

  • Unlawfully transporting a gun
  • Waving a gun in public
  • Threatening to shoot another person
  • A convicted felon possessing a gun
  • Possession of an unregistered firearm
  • Firing at someone intentionally

Some of the above gun-related charges can result in criminal charges. However, depending on the situation, a defense attorney can argue for self-defense if one violates the DC gun laws to protect oneself.

Note: Violating a ‘No Weapons Allowed’ sign in D.C. is a crime. However, for this to be enforced, the sign prohibiting the carrying of firearms should be conspicuously and clearly posted at the entrance to a premise. It should be at least 8×10 inches and written in contrasting ink with at least 36-point font size.

Do You Have To Inform a Police Officer That You’re Carrying a Concealed Weapon?

Yes, you must inform law enforcement personnel you are carrying a concealed pistol. This means if you are stopped for a traffic violation, you need to inform the officer that you have a firearm in the vehicle or on you.

Can I Carry a Gun in My Vehicle in DC?

According to the D.C. Code, you need a concealed carry license to carry a loaded firearm in your car. The Metropolitan Police Department of D.C. issues concealed carry licenses on a shall-issue basis, which means they reserve the right to reject your application.

Is a DC Driver’s License Linked to a DC Pistol License?

No, it is not. As such, a law enforcement officer can’t tell you that you are a concealed weapon carrier after running your driver’s license. However, they might have access to different databases where they can find out if you are.

Is It Legal To Own a Stun Gun in DC?

Yes, it’s legal. Anyone over 18 years old can possess a Taser or stun gun in DC, and they can only use it to protect their property or themselves. However, the law doesn’t allow anyone aside from law enforcement to possess stun guns in:

  • An office or building occupied by the DC government
  • A penal institution
  • Halfway house
  • A secure juvenile residential facility
  • Any building including adjacent parking of by a kid’s facility, secondary, elementary, or preschool
  • Any grounds or building that the occupant or property owner forbids having a stun gun

Does DC Have Restrictions on Ammunition?

Yes. An individual can only possess ammunition corresponding to their registered firearm. However, firearm registration allows a person to have a firearm at their office or private property, and the rounds of ammunition must be in the same place.

Licensed dealers can only transfer ammunition to registered firearm owners, and the ammunition has to match the weapon. Licensed dealers can also sell ammunition to out-of-state individuals who provide proof of lawful possession of firearms.

In addition to this, an individual with a Concealed Carry Pistol License (CCPL) in DC isn’t allowed to possess a restricted pistol bullet as defined in DC gun laws. A person shouldn’t carry ammunition that’s more than is needed to load a weapon twice fully or more than twenty rounds.

Stand Your Ground Law in DC

DC isn’t a ‘duty to retreat’ or ‘stand your ground’ jurisdiction. Instead, their law creates a middle ground. You can act in self-defense if:

  • You believe you are in imminent danger of bodily harm AND
  • If you have reasonable grounds, you are in imminent danger

You can use force that you believe is reasonably necessary for your protection or someone else’s.

Does Washington DC Have a Red Flag Law (Erpo)?

Yes. According to this law, D.C. residents can petition the D.C. Superior Court to order the temporary removal of a firearm, license to carry a concealed firearm, registration certificate, or ammunition from an individual who is a danger to themselves or others for different reasons, including mental illness. During this time, the individual cannot possess or carry ammunition.

Contact Bruckheim & Patel

If you are facing a gun crime for unlawful possession of a firearm in DC, call the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Bruckheim & Patel.

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