Washington, D.C., has strict gun laws, but courts continue to overturn them for being unconstitutional.Washington, D.C., used to have the strictest gun laws in the country, but over the past 10 years, those laws have been overturned for being unconstitutional. The founders envisioned that the United States federalist system would allow states to serve as laboratories of democracy. Before policies would be implemented nationally, states would be able to try them out and gauge their effectiveness. While Washington, D.C., isn't technically a state -- just look to any of the District's license plates for evidence of that -- the District of Columbia has historically adopted most gun control provisions proposed by advocacy groups. Many of these, however, have been struck down in the courts for unconstitutionally violating District residents' rights to keep and bear arms. As the issue of guns and gun control continues to be debated, we thought it would be a good idea to go through and explain what D.C.'s gun laws actually are. Handguns For the longest time, the District of Columbia banned civilians from owning functional and usable handguns. District law stipulated that residents were required to keep their handguns either locked up in a safe or rendered inoperable. That law was challenged in the mid-2000s and ultimately reached the Supreme Court as Heller v. District of Columbia. The plaintiff -- security guard Dick Heller -- argued that D.C.'s ban on handgun possession violated his right to keep and bear arms. The court agreed, ruling 5-4 that the 2nd Amendment protects and individual right to keep and bear firearms for self-defense, regardless of whether the owner is in a militia or not. This ruling was critical because it settled that Americans have a right to own handguns and any state, local, or federal law that bans handgun ownership, or forces owners to render them inaccessible or inoperable, is unconstitutional. In the wake of the ruling, Washington, D.C., amended its handgun laws to comply with the Supreme Court opinion. However, many of the strict requirements for gun ownership -- a vision test, a five-hour training class, etc. -- were kept on the books. Gun owners in the district began threatening the city with more lawsuits, ultimately forcing the D.C. City Council to back down and remove the most onerous gun license requirements. For example, instead of prospective gun owners having to submit to a vision test, they are now only required to certify they are not legally blind.
Concealed Carry One of the other D.C. gun laws to fall was the District's concealed carry laws. Enacted around the same time as D.C.'s handgun ban, the District of Columbia previously had what is known as a "may-issue" concealed carry policy. What that means is even if an applicant met all of the statutory requirements, the police chief still would be able to deny an applicant at any time, for any reason. As applied, the may-issue carry laws meant that practically no one -- outside of law enforcement or the political and business class -- were able to get a permit to exercise their right to bear arms in the nation's capital. Since permit applications were always rejected, practically no one ever bothered applying. In 2017, a federal judge ruled that the practice of arbitrarily rejecting carry permits was unconstitutional. The judge required that D.C. transition to a shall-issue system, where subjectivity is taken out of the application process entirely. The City appealed the decision to the Circuit Court of Appeals, however, their request for an en banc hearing was denied. Fearful that their case could end up setting nationwide precedent at the Supreme Court, the D.C. Attorney General opted to accept the ruling and not appeal any further. As a result, D.C. residents are now capable of receiving concealed carry permits as long as they meet all of the statutory requirements. Gun and Ammo Registration Washington, D.C., continues to have some of the strictest firearm and ammunition registration requirements in the entire country. The law is so strict that possession of unregistered ammunition components -- spent shell casings, unloaded bullets -- is a crime. In 2013, Mark Witaschek was arrested after a tip led police to find "ammunition components" in his home. These included spent brass casings and antique muzzleloader bullets, both completely harmless. A year later, a judge found Witaschek guilty of "attempted possession of unlawful ammunition" and ordered him to register with the Metropolitan Police Department as a gun offender. Out-of-staters are urged to exercise caution when visiting or traveling through D.C. Even if they leave their guns and ammunition at home, bringing a single spent brass casing into the District can result in prison time.
Assault Weapons Washington, D.C., prohibits residents from registering assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles, or NFA items (machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled shotguns, etc.) with the Metropolitan Police. Since registration is impossible, ownership of these guns and devices is illegal in Washington, D.C. Firearm Magazines Washington, D.C., prohibits possession of firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Peaceable Journey Since Washington, D.C., straddles Maryland and Virginia, and sits right in the middle of some of the busiest highways in the entire country, many gun owners unknowingly violate D.C. law when traveling through the District. Washington, D.C., does not have any "peaceable journey" laws protecting travelers. The only protections come through the Federal Firearm Owner Protection Act (FOPA). Under FOPA, interstate travelers are protected from local and state gun restrictions if they follow certain gun storage practices. Guns must be unloaded and locked in a case in the trunk of the car. If a vehicle doesn't have a trunk, then the case must be placed as far away from the driver and/or owner as possible. FOPA also requires that ammunition be placed in a locked container as well. In order for FOPA to apply, the firearms being transported must be legal in the state the journey started and legal in the state the journey will end in. Essentially, states with strict gun control laws cannot be the destination of interstate travel. -- What do you think? Are D.C.'s gun laws too strict or not strict enough? Tell us in the comment section below!