DC Gun Lawyer
The District of Columbia has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Unfortunately, many law-abiding citizens with no criminal records get swept up in DC’s ridiculous gun laws. A common scenario involves out of state residents getting pulled over for a minor traffic offense. Most folks who have taken gun safety courses have been taught that the first thing you tell the officer when pulled over is that you have a firearm in the vehicle.
In most states, that is the lawful and appropriate way to handle a routine traffic stop. In DC, however, that can result in getting charged with a felony crime because it is unlawful to carry a pistol in DC without a license. Until 2014, no mechanism existed for people to obtain a permit to carry a firearm in DC. So, just possessing a firearm was enough to get an otherwise law-abiding citizen locked up and charged with a felony.
DC Gun Offenses
In the District of Columbia, the prosecution will charge defendants with a variety of offenses for having an illegal firearm in the District. Some of the most commonly charged offenses are:
- Carrying a Pistol without a License (or “CPWL”) – person arrested for carrying a firearm without a D.C. Concealed Carry Permit
- Unregistered Firearm (“UF”) – person arrested for possess of a firearm that is not registered in D.C.
- Unregistered Ammunition (or “UA”) – person arrested for possessing bullets that are not registered with the D.C. government
- Felon in Possession – person arrested for carrying or possessing a firearm when they have a prior felony conviction
- Carrying a Dangerous Weapon – can be charged as misdemeanor or felony for carrying a in illegal weapon
- Possession of a BB Gun – it is illegal in the District of Columbia to possess a BB gun
- Possession of a Prohibited Weapon – a misdemeanor charge for possessing an illegal weapon or using any object unlawfully like a weapon
- Possession of a Firearm during a Crime of Violence (or “PFCOV”) – carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years if convicted
HISTORY OF D.C.’S GUN LAWS
DC has strict gun laws. In 2014, a federal judge declared that the District’s carrying a pistol felony law was unconstitutional. In response, the DC City Council passed a law that provided requirements for folks to obtain a carry permit in the District. However, this law was largely a cynical attempt to comply with the Court’s order without meaningfully reforming the District’s gun laws to comport with the Second Amendment. The licensing rules are so strict it is unlikely that even a City Council member who drafted this legislation could satisfy its requirement and obtain a firearm permit. As a result, it remains a felony in the District of Columbia to possess, on your person or in your vehicle, a gun without a license issued by the Metropolitan Police Department. This law required an applicant to demonstrate a “special need” to carry a firearm for special offense distinguishable from the general public.
In 2017, in Wrenn v. District of Columbia, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the carrying a pistol without a license law because of its “good reason” requirement that the applicant demonstrate a special need distinguishable from the general public to qualify for a carry license. For information on how that decision may impact criminal prosecutions, check out our blog posting on the Impact of Wrenn v. DC on DC Gun Laws.
Penalties for Common Gun Offenses
The maximum penalty for carrying a pistol without a license is 5 years in prison. The government typically also charges separate misdemeanor crimes as well. Possession of an unregistered firearm (or “UF”) is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Possession of unregistered ammunition (or “UA”) is also a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. That’s right: the government will even charge you with a crime for the bullets in your possession. To find out more on how to lawfully register a gun in DC, check out our blog on DC Gun Registration Requirements and Requirements to Get a DC Concealed Carry Permit.
Additional gun crimes in the District of Columbia include felon in possession, which prohibits any person with a felon on the record from possessing a firearm. That crime carries a mandatory minimum penalty of either 1 year or 3 years in jail depending on the type of the felony on one’s criminal record. That means if convicted for felon in possession, it is guaranteed the person will go to jail for at least one year. The law prohibits the judge from exercising discretion and suspending the sentence even if the judge thinks that is the appropriate outcome. If the felony conviction is what the law defines as a “crime of violence” then the mandatory minimum prison sentence is 3 years. Penalties for gun and weapon offenses in DC can be harsh and the government will often have little sympathy so its important to consult with a qualified DC gun attorney before travelling through the District with a firearm.
DC law further prohibits the possession of certain other weapons, including, among other things, switch blades, brass knuckles, certain self-defense sprays, and knives with blades longer than 3 inches. DC gun laws prohibit the possession of a BB gun. Possession of a BB gun only carries a maximum penalty of a $300.00 fine. However, one could be arrested, booked, processes, have to go to court, and have an arrest or criminal record simply for owning a BB gun.