Citation(s) from the GunPolicy.org literature library
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2023 ‘Registration in Washington DC.’ Owner Responsibilities. San Francisco, CA: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 27 March
[Editor's note: The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regularly updates its webpages with new data as US gun regulation evolves state by state. For the most up-to-date information on US gun laws, please refer to the Giffords URL below]
Registration of Firearms in the District of Columbia
Generally, no person or organization in the District of Columbia may possess or control a firearm unless the person or organization holds a valid registration certificate for the firearm.
Who May Register
Registration certificates may be issued to:
- District residents possessing a handgun for self-defense within the resident's home (…);
- An organization that employs at least one commissioned special police officer or employee licensed to carry a firearm whom the organization arms during the employee's duty hours;
- A retired Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) police officer (in the discretion of the Chief of Police); or
- The Fire Marshal and any member of the District Fire and Arson Investigation Unit designated in writing by the Fire Chief, for the purpose of enforcing the District's arson and fire safety laws, and in the discretion of the Chief of Police.
The following classes of persons are exempt from the District's registration requirement:
- Any law enforcement officer, agent of the government, or any member of the military authorized to possess a firearm "while on duty in the performance of official authorized functions;"
- Any person holding a dealer's license; provided that the firearm is acquired in the normal conduct of business, kept at the location described in the dealer's license, and not kept for private use or protection, or for the protection of his or her business;
- Any nonresident participating in a lawful firearm-related recreational activity in the District, or heading to or from such activity in another jurisdiction (provided that he or she can show proof of his or her participation if so demanded by law enforcement, possession or control of the firearm is lawful in the jurisdiction in which he or she resides, and the weapon is unloaded, securely wrapped, and carried in open view); or
- Any person who temporarily possesses a firearm registered to another person while in the home of the registrant, provided that the person is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms and the person reasonably believes that possession of the firearm is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.
For a detailed list of the prohibited categories that relate to registration certificates, see the District of Columbia Prohibited Possessors Generally section.
Any person applying for a registration certificate must provide to the Chief of Police:
- His or her full name or any other name by which the applicant is known;
- His or her address and each home address where the applicant has resided during the five-year period immediately preceding the application;
- His or her business or occupation and the addresses of such businesses or places of employment;
- His or her date and place of birth;
- His or her gender;
- Whether (and if so, the reasons) the District, the United States or the government of any state or subdivision of any state has denied or revoked the applicant's license, registration certificate, or permit pertaining to any firearm;
- A description of the applicant's role in any mishap involving a firearm, including the date, place, time, circumstances, and the names of the persons injured or killed;
- The caliber, make, model, manufacturer's identification number, serial number, and any other identifying marks on the firearm;
- The name and address of the person or organization from whom the firearm was obtained, and in the case of a dealer, his or her dealer's license number;
- Where the firearm will generally be kept;
- Whether the applicant has applied for other registration certificates; and
- Such other information as the Chief determines is necessary to carry out the provisions of the District's gun registration requirements.
Registration applicants must also provide two recently-taken photographs, and may be required by the Chief to be fingerprinted if necessary to conduct an efficient and adequate investigation into the applicant's background.
A person must obtain a registration certificate prior to taking possession of a firearm from a licensed dealer or from any person or organization holding a registration certificate for the firearm. For persons moving into the District, an application for registration shall be filed immediately after a firearm is brought into the District.
Each applicant for a registration certificate must personally present the required registration form at the Firearms Registration Section of the MPD during operating hours. While District regulations require that the applicant not have the firearm to be registered in his or her possession when submitting the application, the applicant may be required to return with the firearm if it appears:
1) the person is unqualified or incapable of safe and responsible possession or use of the firearm;
2) the firearm may be unregisterable, defective, or in a dangerous condition or state of disrepair; or
3) the information relating to the weapon on the application is incorrect, misleading or incomplete.
Once a properly executed application for a registration certificate is received, "the Chief, upon determining through inquiry, investigation, or otherwise, that the applicant is entitled and qualified," shall approve or deny the application within 60 days, "unless good cause is shown, including non-receipt of information from sources outside the District government…."
Firearms Safety Training
Registration applicants must complete a written examination that tests their knowledge of the District's firearms laws, as well as knowledge of the safe and responsible use of firearms.
The exam consists of a minimum of 20 questions, and applicants must score 75% or higher to pass. If an applicant fails the examination, he or she shall be allowed one retest without charge.
Applicants also must complete a firearms training or safety course or class conducted by a state-certified firearms instructor or a certified military firearms instructor that provides, at a minimum, at least one hour of firing training at a firing range and a total of at least four hours of classroom instruction. To evidence that the applicant met this requirement, he or she must submit an affidavit from the certified firearms instructor who conducted or taught the course, providing the name, address, and phone number of the instructor and attesting to the successful completion of the course by the applicant.
Duration & Renewal
Registration certificates are valid for three years after the date of issuance.
Certificates may be renewed if the registrant continues to meet all of the initial registration requirements and any procedures required by the Chief. Registrants must submit a statement to the MPD for the renewal attesting to:
- Possession of the registered firearm;
- The registrant's address; and
- The registrant's continued compliance with all registration requirements.
- Registrants seeking renewal must have the renewal application submitted to the MPD at least 60 days prior to the expiration of their current registration certificate.
A registrant shall submit to a background check once every six years to confirm that he or she remains qualified for registration.
MPD will revoke a registration certificate if:
1) any of the criteria in D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03 (prohibited categories and other requirements for a registration certificate) are not met;
2) the registered firearm has become an unregisterable firearm or a destructive device; or
3) the information furnished to the Chief on the application for a registration certificate proves to be intentionally false.
Duties of Registrants
In addition to other registration requirements imposed by District law, each person or organization holding a registration certificate must:
- Notify the Chief in writing of the "loss, theft, or destruction of the registration certificate or of a registered firearm (including the circumstances, if known) immediately upon discovery of such loss, theft, or destruction;"
- Notify the Chief in writing of the "sale, transfer, or other disposition of the firearm within 2 business days of such sale, transfer, or other disposition," including:
1) identification of the registrant, the firearm and the serial number of the registration certificate;
2) the name, address, and date of birth of the person to whom the firearm has been sold or transferred; and
3) whether the firearm was sold or how it was otherwise transferred or disposed of;
- Return to the Chief the registration certificate for any firearm which is lost, stolen, destroyed, sold or otherwise transferred, at the time he or she notifies the Chief; and
- Have in his or her possession, whenever in possession of a firearm, the registration certificate for the firearm, and exhibit the certificate on demand of a member of the MPD or other law enforcement officer.
Assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, short-barreled rifles, unsafe firearms (see D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.04) and handguns not registered to the current owner prior to September 24, 1976, are unregisterable. However, handguns may now be registered for the limited purpose of self-defense within the registrant's home. Handguns may also be registered to an organization that employs at least one commissioned special police officer or other employee licensed to carry a firearm and that arms the employee with a firearm during the employee's duty hours, or to a retired MPD officer.
Registration Requirements for Handguns for Purpose of Self-Defense with in Registrant's Home
In addition to satisfying all other registration requirements, an applicant registering a handgun for self-defense within that person's home must comply with specific District registration regulations. Such applicants are required to:
- Obtain a registration application from any licensed firearms dealer or the MPD and present the application to a licensed dealer for completion;
- Appear in person at MPD headquarters and:
- Report to the Firearms Registration Section with a completed application, acquire two fingerprint cards, and provide: -Two passport-sized photos of the applicant's face;
- A valid driver's license or letter from a physician attesting that the applicant has vision as least as good as that required for a driver's license; and
- Residency verification, such as a District driver's license or identification card, a current rental agreement, or a deed to property that includes a home;
- Complete a written test with at least a 75% proficiency;
- If successful on the test, pay all "applicable and reasonable fees" required by the Chief;
- Present a fee receipt and the two fingerprint cards to the MPD fingerprint examiner, and submit to fingerprinting; and
- Return to the Firearms Registration Section with one fingerprint card for the office file and the other for submission to the FBI for fingerprint analysis for the purpose of a criminal record check;
- Await notification by mail of whether all statutory and regulatory requirements for registration have been satisfied;
- Upon notification that all registration requirements have been satisfied, return to the MPD to complete the registration process and obtain an MPD seal on the completed registration certificate;
- Present the sealed application to the licensed dealer and take delivery of the handgun pending completion of a ballistic identification procedure or, in the case of a purchase from a dealer located in another jurisdiction, have that dealer transport the applicant's handgun to a licensed dealer in the District, where the applicant will take delivery of the gun pending completion of a ballistic identification procedure;
- Transport the pistol to the MPD for the ballistic identification procedure; and
- Retrieve the registered handgun from the MPD and transport it home