Common Gun Charges in DC

Though the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees someone’s right to bear arms, there are still restrictions and laws that exist to ensure this right is exercised responsibly. Disregard of such laws in DC can result in serious criminal charges. There are many common gun offenses in DC, and if you are facing charges, an experienced DC gun lawyer can be a necessary asset for protecting your rights and building your defense.

What Does a Firearm Possession Charge Entail?

The law includes possession offenses in about every type of gun charge. For instance, if someone is facing a firearm charge in the District—such as unlawfully discharging, transporting, or selling a weapon—law enforcement could also charge them with possession. This is because the individual would most likely have the gun with them when the police arrest them.

When law enforcement charges an individual with possessing a weapon, the prosecutor must prove that the person had ownership of the weapon for a conviction. There are a few strategies a prosecutor may use to prove this. If police find an illegal weapon anywhere on someone’s body, in their clothing, or in a bag, this may prove possession. However, if this is not the case, a prosecuting attorney might still be able to prove possession through constructive possession. In this case, the court may review several different factors to determine whether or not the person had knowledge of the weapon and was in control of it.

For example, if police find illegal guns in someone’s apartment, this evidence may be sufficient enough to support that the person was in possession of these weapons. On the other hand, if this person was leasing their apartment, there may be more room to argue that they were not in possession. Overall, proof of constructive possession involves fact-specific analysis of the circumstances of the case.

Possible Gun-Related Charges

There are myriad gun charges in DC that someone may face if they violate firearm regulations and District laws. Some of the most common scenarios that may lead to a gun-related offense include:

  • Possession of an unregistered weapon
  • Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
  • Transporting a gun unlawfully
  • Brandishing a firearm in public
  • Threatening to shoot someone
  • Intentionally firing at someone

Some of these offenses may lead to criminal charges. However, depending on the specifics of the situation, an attorney may be able to argue self-defense if someone violates the law to protect themselves from harm.

Possession of an Unregistered Firearm

The most common firearm offense in DC is the possession of an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. That happens when someone is caught with any type of firearm, such as a pistol, a shotgun, or a rifle. If someone is in DC and that gun is not registered to them in DC, they can be prosecuted for unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm.

There are many situations where someone has lawfully obtained a firearm outside DC and comes into DC as a visitor or moves here and fails to register the gun. They can then be prosecuted for not having the gun registered in DC even though they purchased it, lawfully own it, and may lawfully possess it in another state. If someone comes into DC and does not leave their gun at home, even if they have a concealed carry permit, even if they are a special police officer or even a military member, if they are not on duty and have not had that gun registered in DC, they can be prosecuted.

Conspiracy to Violate Gun Laws

Conspiracy to violate gun regulations is another possible DC gun offense. It occurs when two or more people establish a plan to violate a law, and at least one person acted to further that plan. This act does not have to be criminal, but if it is done to further the objective of the plan, then that is sufficient evidence to prove a conspiracy as it applies to gun laws.

Someone convicted or charged with conspiracy to violate a law could face the same potential penalties as those if the conspirators had successfully carried out their plan that was unlawful. This means that the offenders do not have to complete the offense to be charged or convicted.

Offenses Involving Pistols

Another common situation is someone carrying a pistol without a license outside of their home or business. Pistols are treated even more harshly than long guns like a rifle or a shotgun because pistols are involved in more crimes. They are easily concealable and there are more out there that people can use in crimes.

Carrying a pistol without a license means that the individual has not registered it in DC. They need a license to have a pistol or a license to carry it. If someone is not in their home or business, instead, they are in a car or on the street and are caught with a pistol, which is a felony in DC. These are the two most common firearm offenses in DC. Similarly, there is an unlawful possession of a firearm charge that is used when the person has an additional disqualifying condition such as a bench warrant out for their arrest. The statute says that the person who is considered a fugitive from justice is not lawfully able to possess a firearm even if they are licensed in some other state. Even if they are otherwise permitted to have the weapon, DC laws say they cannot, and they can be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.

Time Limit for Registration

There is no real grace period for someone to register their gun. Before someone brings a gun to DC, they need to contact the Metropolitan Police Department of DC, inform the police of their intent to register a firearm in DC, and begin the registration process. In that way, upon arrival in DC, they can bring the gun to the police station and have the formal processes completed so that the gun is registered to them in DC. Once the MPD is notified that a person is seeking to register a firearm being brought into DC, the person does have 48 hours thereafter in which to file the registration forms. If those conditions are met, then the person may have two days in which to lawfully have the firearm in DC pending registration.

There is a federal statute that provides the lawful transportation through a jurisdiction by someone who legally possesses a firearm in the place that they left and may legally possess that firearm in the place of their destination. For example, someone who lives in Virginia and has a firearm they legally purchased and possess in Virginia drives to a shooting range in Maryland. If they drive through DC, the only way that the federal law protects them is if they transport the firearm in the prescribed manner under the federal statute. It must be unloaded, kept in a trunk or otherwise locked up such that the driver cannot immediately access it and separate from any ammunition. The person cannot stop, they cannot have a destination in DC. DC now has a similar transportation statute with the same requirements.

Theoretically, a person loses the protection of these statutes if they even make a pit stop somewhere. Unfortunately, most people who are transporting firearms do not look into the specific manner in which the federal and DC statutes protect them. They have a general sense that because their gun is legal in Virginia and they are driving through to Maryland it is okay to stop in DC on the way to Maryland. They do not take the time to look closely at the specific legal requirements, and when they do, they end up facing these common charges in DC.

Concurrent Criminal Charges

Someone may receive additional charges depending on the facts of their case. For instance, if an offender used a gun in the commission of a crime, such as in a robbery or assault, they are likely going to face additional offenses. For an offense committed with an illegal gun, a person may face charges for possession of an unregistered weapon, in addition to charges for their conduct.

A common scenario that occurs when someone faces multiple offenses with gun charges in DC is when law enforcement finds illegal weapons during a search for an unrelated offense. For example, a police officer may pull over a person for a traffic violation, and during that stop, see a gun that is secured improperly or unregistered. The police officer could then charge this person with a traffic and gun violations. Frequently, law enforcement officers also find guns with illegal narcotics. Overall, it is common to see additional charges within a single incident.

Working with an Attorney

Firearms have strict and complex regulations that can be difficult to understand without legal guidance. Therefore, if you are facing DC gun charges, you should contact a skilled attorney immediately. They can review your case and determine the best course of legal action based on your specific allegations.