Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has had two weeks to remove false information about the city’s gun transport laws from its forms and website. It has no interest in doing so.
MPD officials refuse to admit that they have been giving out incorrect information over the past four years, much less fix the problems. With the D.C primary election taking place on Tuesday, it’s important to know if the city council will use its oversight powers to force a correction.
The man who wrote the gun law, D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson, was made aware of the errors uncovered by my series. He’s determined to get them fixed.
As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the at-large Democrat has oversight of the firearms office in the police department, and his office said that he will be asking MPD to ensure that the proper facts about taking a firearm through the nation’s capital are provided to the public.
MPD’s firearms registry has at least six full-time staff who answer questions about gun laws and regulations asked over the phone or in person. Unfortunately, the police officers do not appear to understand the legal code they are in charge of interpreting, which means gun owners are being given bad advice regarding activities that could result in a felony arrest.
The registry’s website is not user friendly and totally out of date. The first page is about the “recent regulatory changes,” which refers to the list of handguns allowed in the District after the Supreme Court overturned the 30-year ban in 2008. Next on the site is the section for “legislative changes,” which then lists links to the full text of the legislation passed in 2009 in the wake of the court’s decision.
The site then gives office hours - weekdays from 9am to 5pm, meaning you have to take off work to register a
gun so that the police don’t have to work on weekends. You’ll have to scroll down a full page to find the red text with the gun laws.
Since the registry office won’t accept anything on the page is wrong, I’ll point out the mistakes:
• Registry office information: “No person shall carry or possess a firearm on public space in the District of Columbia unless traveling directly to or from a lawful firearm-related activity (registration, hunting, shooting at a practice range, etc.).”
False. You are allowed to transport your gun for any lawful purpose. You do not have to be coming or going to a firearm-related activity.
Sec. 22-4504.02. of D.C. code: “Any person who is not otherwise prohibited by the law from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be permitted to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry the firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry the firearm if the firearm is transported in accordance with this section.”’
This applies to both residents with legally registered firearms and to citizens of other states who are passing through the nation’s capital.
This mistake seems to be made by applying another law on the books for nonresidents (Section 7) to D.C. residents, which is explained below in the third bullet point.
Located online: In the section “Additional Resources”
Note: The link on the website for “Firearms Registration: General Requirements and Study Guide” is the PDF of the registration packet. The link will need to be updated with the updated guide.
Located in print: Registration packet page 10.
• Registry office information: “If you are stopped by any police agency in the District of Columbia with a firearm in your possession, you must immediately produce the registration certificate and substantiate your lawful reason for transporting the weapon.”
False. You do not need to give a reason for transporting a gun. This is nowhere in D.C. code. If you are stopped by the police, you do not have to offer up that you have a firearm. There’s no reason in a normal traffic stop for the police to ask if you are transporting a firearm. But if they do, you have the constitutional right to stay silent.
To lawfully transport (22-4504.02), you only need to properly stow the gun and not be using it to commit a crime.
If you have an interaction with police while transporting, and they are made aware that you have a firearm, then a D.C. residents needs to show the registration certificate of each gun.
Sec. 22-4504.01: “Notwithstanding any other law, a person holding a valid registration for a firearm may carry the firearm….While it is being transported for a lawful purpose as expressly authorized by District or federal statute and in accordance with the requirements of that statute.”
Located online: MPD’s firearm registry website is mpdc.dc.gov/gunregistration. This citation is in the the section, “Important Things To Remember.”
Located in print: In the registry packet that is distributed to potential and current gun owners, this citation is on page 4.
While these first two items are incorrect and misleading, they can be easily changed by the registry office. But much of the confusion is coming from a bad law on the books that only the city council can change.
• Outdated law: “Any nonresident of the District participating in any lawful recreational firearm-related activity in the District, or on his way to or from such activity in another jurisdiction; provided, that such person, whenever in possession of a firearm, shall upon demand of any member of the Metropolitan Police Department, or other bona fide law enforcement officer, exhibit proof that he is on his way to or from such activity, and that his possession or control of such firearm is lawful in the jurisdiction in which he resides…” Sec. 7-2502.01(b)(3)
True and False.
This law is technically trumped by both the federal law and the 2009 D.C. law which allow nonresidents to transport firearms through D.C. for any lawful purpose. Under those statutes, firearms owners from other states going through Washington do not have to be going to or from firearm-related activity and do not need to provide proof that the gun is legal at home.
(Of course, since only D.C. and five states in the U.S. require guns to be registered, it would be virtually impossible for someone without a concealed carry permit from another state to prove it is legal at home.)
Mr. Mendelson’s office interprets the broader Sec. 22 law to be the one that police should enforce.
Even so, this law is still on the books and nothing in the 2009 law corrects it. Clearly this law is well-known by the police, who used this exact language to create the misinformation distributed to the public.
Mr. Mendelson could remove this obsolete statute with a clarification in the pending bill that will be voted on by the council in April. His office said he has not yet determined if this will be done.
It is important to note that these mistakes create a dangerous gray area. Acting in accordance with the law could result in arrest, but unlikely a conviction. The federal firearm transport statute trumps any law from a state or municipality. But who wants to spend a night in D.C. jail before a lawyer teaches the cops the difference?
Until Police Chief Cathy Lanier removes the incorrect laws from the city’s website and documents from her office and then instructs officers both in the registry office and on the streets about the correct firearms laws, the potential for false arrests remains unacceptably high.
NEXT IN THE SERIES: D.C.’S NEWEST SHOOTER
“Emily Gets Her Gun” is a series following senior editor Emily Miller as she tries to legally get her hands on a gun in the nation’s capital. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.