Unlawful Possession of a Firearm

There are many circumstances in which a person may be found to be in illegal possession of a gun in the District of Columbia. These charges can arise from accidentally carrying a registered firearm into a gun-free zone, or forgetting to register your gun and having it on your person or in your possession.

If you find yourself facing these charges, contact a Washington, DC gun lawyer to begin building a defense.

Legal Possession of a Firearm

To lawfully possess a firearm in DC, a person must have that firearm registered with the Metropolitan Police Department. In order to register the firearm, an individual needs to give all the pertinent information about themselves and about the firearm to the Metropolitan Police Department.

To get a permit to carry, such as a conceal-and-carry permit, it is a separate process than just registering a gun. In order to have a conceal and carry permit, the individual must get permission from the chief of police of DC.

A person who has lawfully registered a firearm in the District of Columbia can transport that firearm in accordance with the statutes. In other words, as long as they have the gun registered, unloaded, and locked away a person can legally transport the gun.

A person who has a firearm registered in the District of Columbia can possess it in their home or place of business. However, according to the statute in DC, an individual can only carry a firearm when it is unloaded and locked up separately from ammunition, that is also locked up.

Unlawful Possession

A person can be found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm when they are found to physically possess a firearm without having it registered in the District of Columbia or if the person is found to have constructive possession of a firearm without registration.

Penalties for a conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm in the District of Columbia are up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Constructive Possession

Examples of constructive possession of a firearm include when an individual is driving their car and the firearm is underneath their seat or in the trunk. If a person has a firearm under their bed in their house, it is not literally on their person, however, it is classified as constructive possession and the charges will be the same.

Gun Free Zones

A gun-free zone is a specific area that lawmakers have designated must be gun-free. Frequently established gun-free zones include a public or private day-care center, elementary schools, vocational schools, secondary school, college, junior college or university. Additionally, they include any public swimming pool, playground, video arcade, youth center, or public library, or in and around public housing. Those areas and one thousand feet around those areas are declared to be a gun-free zone.

When a person is found guilty of illegally carrying a gun within the gun-free zone, the punishment they face can be up to double the normal sentence. The fine can be up to $2000 and the terms of imprisonment can be doubled, up to two years away.

Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm

Because there are no gun ranges in DC, the only circumstance under which a person can lawfully discharge a firearm in DC is when they are lawfully acting in self-defense. That is, they have a firearm that is registered and they are acting in self-defense. Therefore, they cannot be charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Presently, there are no gun ranges in DC where a person can go practice target shooting nor hunt like they can in Virginia or Maryland. These two most common reasons for someone to be discharging a firearm simply do not exist in DC.

Potential Penalties

If someone is convicted of unlawful discharge of a firearm, the penalty is up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If a person fires the gun in a gun-free zone, such as a school, the individual would be prosecuted for the unlawful discharge of a firearm, as well as the possession of a firearm, if they did not have it lawfully registered. They face the possible enhancement of twice the penalties as well as the prosecutors to pursue the case vigorously.

Unlawful Discharge Defense

When there is a situation in which an individual did lawfully possess the firearm, meaning they had it registered in DC, a possible defense might be that the discharge was unintentional, accidental, and unknowing. DC law states that, “No firearm shall be discharged or set off in the District of Columbia without special written permission from the chief of police.” No one has a permit to shoot a gun.

Having a defense to unlawful discharge of a firearm is very difficult. Theoretically, there are circumstances where a loaded gun in the home discharges because something bumps into it. It was a complete accident where the firearm was not being handled and it was not intended that it would actually discharge. The defense must be very fact-specific, however, the prosecution is going to fight any such defense very strongly.

Transportation of a Firearm

When a person has registered their firearm with the police in DC and wants to transport it in a vehicle, they must make sure it is unloaded. Neither the gun nor any ammunition can be readily accessible from the passenger compartment. The ammunition should be left in the trunk. If an individual’s vehicle does not have a separate compartment for a trunk like an SUV or a hatchback, the firearm and ammunitions must be contained in a separate locked container other than the glove compartment or the console with the firearm unloaded.

When a person is transporting a firearm by means other than a vehicle, which presumably means they are walking down the street with it, the firearm must be unloaded, inside a locked container, and separate from any ammunition. The gun must be locked up and unloaded. The theory is that the gun is in a place that is locked and not easily accessible to the driver or the passenger front seat. The police are really concerned when they make a traffic stop about someone getting a gun and using it against them.