Gun laws in the District of Columbia

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Location of Washington, D.C. in the United States

Gun laws in the District of Columbia regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition in the American federal district of Washington, D.C.[1]

Summary table[edit]

Subject/Law Long guns Handguns Relevant statutes Notes
Permit to purchase? Yes Yes The firearm registration process also serves as a permitting process.
Firearm registration? Yes Yes All firearms must be registered with the Metropolitan Police Department. A background check, online training, and testing of the gun owner are required.
Assault weapon law? Yes Yes Assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles prohibited.
Magazine Capacity Restriction? Yes Yes Illegal to possess or acquire magazines of more than 10 round capacity.
Owner license required? Yes Yes The firearm registration process also serves as a licensing process.
Carry permits issued? No Yes The status of concealed carry licensing in the District of Columbia is currently in flux due to pending court challenges. On July 26, 2014, DC's ban on open and concealed carry was struck down as unconstitutional in Wren v. District of Columbia.[2] Initially Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr. did not issue a stay of his ruling. For a brief period of time, Judge Scullin's ruling effectively legalized permitless open and concealed carry with a valid firearm registration card, so non-residents with valid carry permits issued by their home states could carry openly or concealed in the District. But on July 29, 2014 Scullin issued an order that retroactively stayed the ruling until October 22, 2014.[3][4] In response to the ruling, a Restrictive May-Issue concealed carry licensing law was enacted in September 2014. Under the new law, an applicant must show "good cause," (e.g., a clear and immediate threat on the applicant's life that cannot be mitigated by any means other than issuance of a concealed carry permit) to qualify for a concealed carry permit. However, on May 18, 2015, the "good cause" requirement was ruled as likely unconstitutional and a preliminary injunction was issued against DC from enforcing that requirement.[5] This effectively required the District to grant licenses on a Shall-Issue basis to qualified applicants who have passed a criminal background check and completed the required firearms safety training. Judge Scullin did not issue a stay of his ruling, but the Appeals Court did so on Jun 12, 2015, effectively leaving the restrictive 'good cause' requirement in place while litigation continues.[6]
Open Carry? No No Open carry is currently prohibited. (see notes in Concealed Carry above).
NFA weapons restricted? Yes Yes Automatic firearms prohibited.
Peaceable journey laws? No No Federal law (FOPA) applies.
Background checks required for private sales? Yes Yes DC Code §7–2505.02 Private party firearm transfers must be conducted through a licensed dealer, who is required by federal law to conduct a background check and keep a record of the sale.

Possession of firearms[edit]

In Washington, D.C., all firearms must be registered with the police, by the terms of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.

The same law also prohibited the possession of handguns, even in private citizens' own homes, unless they were registered before 1976. However, the handgun ban was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller. The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment acknowledges and guarantees the right of the individual to possess and carry firearms, and therefore D.C.'s ban on handguns was unconstitutional.[7]

Following the Heller decision, the Washington, D.C. City Council enacted a set of rules regulating the possession of handguns and long guns in citizens' homes. Additional changes were made to the DC laws in 2012 under threat of lawsuits from gun owners and prospective gun owners.[8] On September 18, 2015, a federal appeals court struck down some parts of the District's gun registration law as unconstitutional, while upholding other parts of the law.[9][10]

In addition to each firearm being registered with the police, the rules require that D.C. residents undergo an NCIC background check and submit to fingerprinting. The firearms registry photographs the applicant. Residents must take an online gun safety course, and pass a written test on the District's gun laws. Residents must also declare at what address it will be kept. There is a 10-day waiting period from purchase of firearm to possession, and a 30-day period between purchases of successive handguns. Each firearm is registered to an individual only, meaning couples who wish to own firearms must purchase two separate firearms. Handgun registrants must be 21. Long gun registration is allowed for persons 18–21 years of age with a NCIC qualified adult co-registering. Handgun models are limited to any handgun appearing on any one of the California, Massachusetts, Maryland or DC Police "approved rosters" by make/model. Long guns are controlled by an allowed/not-allowed attributes list. Non residents, with a place of business in DC may register a firearm to be maintained at that place of business.[11][12][13]

Handgun and long gun ownership/possession licenses must be resubmitted and reapproved every three years before expiration for each firearm owned.


An individual may not possess ammunition without also holding a valid firearms registration. Until May 2012, registrants were limited to possessing ammunition of the caliber of their registered weapon only. The ammunition laws in DC were relaxed in May 2012 and valid registration holders may now purchase and transport ammunition of any caliber excepting 50BMG (50 BMG weapons are prohibited in DC) and protective armor penetration ammunition. Interstate sale and shipment of ammunition to valid registration holders is legal. In DC, as in jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, any usable constituent part of ammunition is considered ammunition. E.g. Expended casings capable of being reloaded are ammunition under current DC police interpretation.

Open and concealed carry[edit]

As of September 2014, the District of Columbia has a Restrictive May-Issue licensing policy, where applicants are required to show "good cause" for needing a concealed carry permit. Permits will only be granted to applicants who can show there is a clear, documented threat on his or her life that can only be mitigated by issuance of a concealed carry permit. The District of Columbia has had long-standing bans in place for both open and concealed carry, which were ultimately struck down as unconstitutional on July 24, 2014.[2] The lawsuit that led to this decision was originally filed on August 6, 2009, to compel the district to issue permits to carry weapons.[14] Judge Frederick Scullin, the United States District Judge who considered the case, initially didn't issue a stay of his ruling, effectively legalizing permitless open and concealed carry in the District. However, on July 29, 2014 Scullin issued an order retroactively staying his initial order until October 22, 2014.[3][15]

It is unlawful to carry a gun within 1000 feet of a public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, playground, video arcade, or youth center, or an event sponsored by any of the above entities.[16]


  1. ^ "Washington DC", Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Memorandum-Decision and Order, Palmer v. District of Columbia, No. 1,09-cv-01482-FJS (D.D.C. July 24, 2014), ECF No. 51.
  3. ^ a b Order, Palmer v. District of Columbia, No. 1:09-cv-01482-FJS (D.D.C. July 29, 2014), ECF No. 53.
  4. ^ Noble, Andrea (July 29, 2014). "Federal Judge Grants 90-Day Stay in D.C. Gun Case", Washington Times. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  5. ^ "Court Rebukes D.C. for Discretionary Licensing Regime, Orders Issuance of Concealed Carry Licenses to Eligible Applicant". 
  6. ^ Wiggins, Ovetta (2015-06-14). "D.C. can require gun applicants to provide a ‘good reason’ for now". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-06-16. 
  7. ^ Mears, Bill (June 26, 2008). "High Court Strikes Down Gun Ban". CNN. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  8. ^ Craig, Tim (February 29, 2012). "D.C. Council Panel Agrees to Discard Some Gun Rules". Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  9. ^ Hananel, Sam (September 18, 2015). "Court Quashes Some District of Columbia Gun Laws", Associated Press. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  10. ^ Kopel, David (September 18, 2015). "D.C. Gun Registration Law Ruled Partly Unconstitutional", The Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  11. ^ Falcone, Michael (December 16, 2008). "Washington Council Enacts Tough Gun-Control Measure". The New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  12. ^ Richey, Warren (March 26, 2010). "Federal Judge OKs D.C.'s Latest Set of Gun-Control Laws". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  13. ^ Davenport, Christian (September 2, 2009). "Passing D.C.'s Rules to Get a Gun Was Hard, but the Weapon Posed Its Own Test". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  14. ^ SAF Sues District of Columbia over Carrying of Handguns, Second Amendment Foundation press release, Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  15. ^ "Palmer v. District of Columbia (1:09-CV-1482(FJS) Document 53), Order Stayed Nunc Pro Tunc July 29, 2014", Washington Times. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  16. ^ DC Code § 22-4502.01