Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.
Generally, no person or organization may possess or control any firearm in the District of Columbia unless the person or organization holds a valid registration certificate.1 Since 1976, the District generally has deemed handguns that were not registered to the current owner prior to September 24, 1976 as unregisterable firearms.2 Handguns may now be registered for the limited purpose of self-defense within the registrant’s home.3
To obtain a registration certificate, an applicant must pass a background check conducted by the Chief of Police (Chief). This background check is in addition to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check required by the Brady Act when purchasing a gun from a federally licensed dealer. The Chief must confirm that the applicant:4
- Meets the District’s age requirements (see the District Minimum Age to Purchase or Possess Firearms section for further information);
- Has not been convicted of a weapons offense (excluding infractions and some misdemeanors), or a felony (including a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year);
- Is not under indictment for a crime of violence5 or a weapons offense;
- Has not been convicted within five years prior to the application of any:
- Violation in any jurisdiction of any law restricting the use, possession or sale of any narcotic or dangerous drug;
- A violation of D.C. Code Ann. § 22-407 (threats to do bodily harm) or D.C. Code Ann. § 22-404 (assaults and threats) or any similar law of any other jurisdiction;
- Two or more violations of D.C. Code Ann. § 50-2201.05(b) (driving under the influence of liquor or drugs), or in any other jurisdiction any law restricting driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- Intrafamily offense punishable as a misdemeanor, including any similar provision in the law of another jurisdiction (“Intrafamily offense” means interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily violence.6 );
- A misdemeanor involving the failure to safely store a firearm or a violation of the state’s child access prevention law (see Child Access Prevention in the District of Columbia for information about this law); or
- A stalking offense.
- Within the five years immediately preceding the application:
- Has not been acquitted of any criminal charge by reason of insanity or has not been adjudicated a chronic alcoholic by any court;
- Has not been voluntarily or involuntarily committed to any mental hospital or institution; or
- Has not had a history of violent behavior.
- Does not appear to suffer from a physical defect which tends to indicate that the applicant would not be able to possess and use a firearm safely and responsibly;
- Has not been adjudicated negligent in a firearm mishap causing death or serious injury to another human being;
- Is not otherwise ineligible to possess a handgun under D.C. Code Ann. § 22-4503.7 People prohibited from possessing firearms under this section:
- Have been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- Are not licensed to sell weapons and has been convicted of unlawfully selling weapons;
- Are fugitives from justice;
- Are addicted to a controlled substance;
- Are subject to court orders restraining the individuals from assaulting, harassing, stalking, or threatening another person if the order requires the restrained individuals to relinquish possession of any firearms; or
- Have been convicted within the past 5 years of an intrafamily offense, as defined in D.C. Official Code § 16-1001(8), punishable as a misdemeanor, or any similar provision in the law of another jurisdiction.
- Is not blind, as defined in D.C. Official Code § 7-1009(1);
- Has not been the respondent of a domestic violence protection order in the District or another state unless the applicant has submitted to the Chief a certified court record establishing that the order has expired or has been rescinded for a period of 5 years or more;
- Has completed a firearms training or safety course or class offered free of charge by the Chief; has received firearms training by the U.S. Military; presents evidence of a license issued by another state that requires firearms safety training that is equal to or greater than the training provided by the Chief; or has completed a firearms training or safety course conducted by a firearms instructor that, as determined by the Chief, is equal to or greater than the training offered by the Chief;
- Has not been prohibited from possessing or registering a firearm pursuant to certain duties imposed upon registrants such as the duty to report the loss, theft, or destruction of the registration certificate or of a registered firearm;8 and
- Is not the subject of an extreme risk protection order.
In addition, a registration applicant may be disqualified for adjudication of negligence if he or she has had an entry of judgment or a consent order or decree of negligence against him or her in any civil suit concerning the discharge of a firearm resulting in death or serious injury to a human being without regard to the filing of criminal charges, or the finding by a coroner of negligent homicide.9
For information on the background check process used to enforce these provisions, see the Background Check Procedures in the District of Columbia section.
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- D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2502.06(a). If the gun is being brought into the District, an application for registration must be filed immediately after the gun is brought into the District, or within 48 hours if such person personally communicates with the Metropolitan Police Department and provides any information demanded by the Department. Id.[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.02(a)(4).[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.02(a)(4)(C).[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03.[↩]
- Crimes of violence are defined by D.C. Code § 23-1331 to include aggravated assault; act of terrorism; arson; assault on a police officer (felony); assault with a dangerous weapon; assault with intent to kill, commit first or second degree sexual abuse, commit child sexual abuse; assault with significant bodily injury; assault with intent to commit any other offense; burglary; carjacking; armed carjacking; child sexual abuse; cruelty to children in the first degree; extortion or blackmail accompanied by threats of violence; gang recruitment, participation, or retention by the use or threatened use of force, coercion, or intimidation; kidnapping; malicious disfigurement; manslaughter; manufacture or possession of a weapon of mass destruction; mayhem; murder; robbery; sexual abuse in the first, second, or third degrees; use, dissemination, or detonation of a weapon of mass destruction; or an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing offenses.[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 16-1001(8).[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03.[↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.08[↩]
- D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2309.1.[↩]