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Know the Laws: District of Columbia

UPDATED May 10, 2016

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Below is information about state gun laws in Washington, D.C.  However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply.  To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate or lawyer in your community for more information on gun laws in your state. To find an agency, please go to the DC Where to Find Help page.

The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun… Now What?

back to topIf the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?

In D.C., when a civil protection order is issued against a respondent that prohibits gun possession, the respondent (abuser) is supposed to immediately give his/her firearms and ammunition to a third party, to the local police agency, or a federal firearms dealer.  If you know the abuser has not given up possession of his/her firearm, you may be able to call the police to notify them.


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back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our DC Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Washington, D.C. on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our DC State and Local Programs page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.*

* United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating the firearm laws?

A person who violates Washington, D.C.'s criminal law regulating gun possession (which is explained in I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?) can be punished as follows:

  • for violating the prohibition against convicted felons having a gun, s/he can be sentenced to between 1 year and 15 years in prison (depending on his/her criminal history), subject to a fine of up to $37,500, or both;* and
  • for violating any other section of the law (including having a gun while there is a civil protection order against him/her), s/he can be sentenced to between 2 to 10 years in prison, subject to a fine of up to $10,000, or both.*

Also, anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.***  For more information, see our Federal Gun Laws page.

* DC Code §§ 22-4503(b)(1),(3); 22-3571.01(b)(8)
** DC Code §§ 22-4503(c); 22-3571.01(b)(7)
*** 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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