District of Columbia Gun Law Summary

QUICK REFERENCE CHART
Rifles and
Shotguns Handguns
Permit to Purchase Yes Yes*
Registration of Firearms Yes Yes
Licensing of Owners Yes Yes
Permit to Carry Yes Yes
*Not available.

NOTE: The District of Columbia has two sets of laws 
applicable to firearms. One, passed by Congress, is part of 
the D.C. Code (2001 ed. §§ 22-4501 et seq.) and regulates 
the purchase, possession and carrying of firearms.  A newer 
law, passed in 1976 by the D.C. City Council requires all 
firearms to be registered, all owners to be licensed, and 
prohibits the sale of new handguns. It also prohibits anyone 
from bringing a handgun into the District or transporting 
a handgun through the city (D.C. Code 2001 ed. §§ 7-
2501.01 et seq.).

This digest summarizes both the Congressional law 
and the City Council law. In many respects, the City 
Council law duplicates, and adds additional restrictions on 
possession and purchase of firearms. In some instances, the 
superimposed requirements of the City Council law conflict 
with the D.C. Code requirement.
Readers are cautioned that obeying the law requires 
compliance with both laws (or, in case of conflict, with the 
stricter of the two).

PURCHASE
Rifles and Shotguns
A person may buy or sell a firearm only from or to a 
licensed dealer in the District. Delivery cannot be made 
until the registration certificate for the firearm is approved 
by the Metropolitan Police Dept. Ammunition may be 
bought only for the caliber or gauge of a firearm registered 
to the buyer.
Handguns
The sale of handguns in the District is prohibited.

POSSESSION
Rifles and Shotguns
All rifles and shotguns must be registered with the 
Metropolitan Police. To obtain a registration certificate, the 
applicant must be 21 years old (or be over 18 and have a 
liability statement signed by his guardian), pass a vision test 
or have a valid D.C. driver’s license, and not be:
convicted of a crime of violence or a weapons 
offense,
under indictment for a crime of violence,
convicted of a narcotics or an assault or battery 
charge within the last five years,
acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity or 
adjudicated an alcoholic within the past five years,
committed to a mental hospital within the past five 
years,
suffering from a physical defect which might render 
his possession of a gun unsafe,
found negligent in any firearm mishap,
no firearm may be acquired unless an application is 
first filed with the Metropolitan Police Department 
and a registration certificate issued.

Any person bringing a rifle or shotgun into the District 
must “immediately” notify the Identification and Records 
Division. An application for registration must be filed within 
48 hours after such notification.

Handguns
No handgun can be legally possessed in the District unless 
it is registered. All handguns registered in the District prior 
to Sept. 24, 1976, were required to have been reregistered 
by Feb. 5, 1977. After that date, no more handguns could 
be registered.
Thus, it is unlawful to possess, acquire, or bring into 
D.C. any handgun which was not registered as of Feb. 5, 
1977.

CARRY
Carrying a handgun in the District is prohibited. All 
firearms are to be kept at one’s home or place of business.
All firearms must be unloaded and disassembled or 
locked with a trigger lock except when kept at a registrant’s 
place of business or while being used for lawful “recreational” 
purposes. A D.C. license to carry a pistol is needed for 
one’s home or business and the pistol must also have been 
registered prior to September 24, 1976.
Self-defense in one’s home with a firearm is therefore 
legally precluded.

NONRESIDENTS
Nonresidents are prohibited (subject to the recreational 
activity exception) from carrying or possessing a firearm 
while traveling through the District unless the gun has been 
registered with the Metropolitan Police.
NOTE: As a practical matter, the police have advised that 
they will not interfere with nonresidents passing through 
the District with a firearm, providing the person does not 
stop, and the firearm is unloaded, securely wrapped and 
carried in the trunk.

RECREATIONAL ACTIVITY EXCEPTION
Residents and nonresidents of the District may possess 
firearms while going to or from and while engaged in lawful 
recreational firearms related activity, provided that their
firearms are legally possessed in their place of residence. In 
addition, the person should be able to “exhibit proof” that 
he is on his way to such activity and must transport the 
firearm “unloaded, securely wrapped and carried in open 
view.”
NOTE: A District resident must ensure that his firearms are 
registered with the police and he may not borrow, loan, give 
or rent another person’s firearms.

ANTIQUES AND REPLICAS
Antiques and replica firearms are exempt from 
the registration requirement. Also exempt from the 
registration and license to carry requirement are antique 
pistols unsuitable for use as firearms.
NOTE: The reader should be aware that there is a problem 
with conflicting definitions of replicas. The old Code only 
exempted pistols “unsuitable for use” from the statutory 
restrictions. The D.C. police have advised that they are not 
registering replicas, and a loaded operational replica will be 
considered a “lethal weapon” and cannot be possessed in 
that condition.

MISCELLANEOUS
Any person who commits a crime of violence “when 
armed with or having readily available any pistol or other 
firearm (or imitation thereof)” shall, in addition to the 
sentence received for the crime itself, also receive an 
additional sentence.
It is unlawful to possess any firearm, including an 
imitation handgun, with intent to use it unlawfully against 
another.
It is unlawful to change, alter, remove or obliterate the 
maker’s name, manufacturer’s number or other mark of 
identification on any handgun. Possession of a handgun 
with an altered mark shall create a legal presumption that 
the possessor committed the offense.
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.
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