See our Gun Dealers policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), although resource limitations prevent the ATF from properly overseeing all its licensees.
In the District of Columbia, any person or organization that wants to “engage in the business of selling, purchasing, or repairing” firearms or ammunition must obtain a District dealer’s license. Any person eligible to register a firearm in the District (and who, if a registrant, has not previously failed to perform any of the duties imposed by law), and any person who is otherwise eligible to engage in the sale of firearms, may obtain a dealer’s license. See the District of Columbia Registration section for related information.
Dealer applicants must go through the same background check process established for firearm purchases (see the District of Columbia Background Checks section), indicate the address of the proposed business, note whether they held a license to deal in deadly weapons in the District prior to September 24, 1976 (the effective date of the D.C. Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975), and must provide “[s]uch other information as the Chief [of Police] may require, including fingerprints and photographs.” The Chief shall approve or deny an application within 60 days, unless good cause is shown, including non-receipt of information from sources outside the District government. The Chief may hold in abeyance an application where there is any firearm revocation proceeding pending against the applicant.
Licensed dealers may transfer any registerable firearm to any person or organization possessing a registration certificate for such firearm. However, a special license is required for a retail dealer to sell, or expose for sale, or have in his or her possession with intent to sell, any handgun, machine gun, or sawed-off shotgun. Wholesale dealers do not need a special license to sell such weapons, but are only allowed to sell them to a licensed dealer.
A dealer’s license is valid for one year from the date of issuance.
Duties of Licensed Dealers
Licensed dealers shall, among other things, keep at the dealer’s premises a current record in book form of:
- The name, address, home phone, and date of birth of each employee handling firearms or ammunition;
- Detailed information about each firearm received into inventory or for repair, or subsequently sold or transferred, including the:
- Serial number, caliber, make, model, manufacturer’s number, dealer’s identification number, and registration certificate number of the firearm;
- Name, address, and dealer license number or registration certificate number of the person or organization from whom the firearm was purchased or otherwise received, or to whom the firearm was transferred;
- Consideration for transfer;
- Date and time of receipt or delivery and, in the case of repair, return to the person holding the registration certificate; and
- Nature of the repairs made; and
- Detailed information about ammunition received into inventory or subsequently sold or transferred, including the:
- Brand and number of rounds of each caliber or gauge;
- Name, address, and dealer’s license or registration number of the person or organization from whom received, or to whom sold or transferred;
- The registration certificate number of the firearm for which the ammunition was sold or transferred, for transferees who are not licensed dealers;
- Consideration given for the ammunition, or received for the sale or transfer of ammunition; and
- The date and time of the receipt, sale or transfer of the ammunition.
These records must be exhibited during normal business hours to any member of the Metropolitan Police Department upon demand. For additional requirements regarding the transfer of ammunition, see the District Ammunition Regulation section.
In addition, each licensed dealer must, when required by the Chief in writing, submit on a form and for the periods of time specified any of the aforementioned record information, as well as any other information reasonably obtainable from those records. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in revocation of the dealer’s license. A license shall also be revoked if the information furnished to the Chief on the application for a dealer’s license proves to be intentionally false.
Firearms dealers selling handguns and machine guns must keep specific records of transactions for these firearms. Purchase records must contain the date of purchase, the caliber, make, model, and manufacturer’s number of the weapon, and the date of sale (once the firearm is sold). In addition, sales records must also be signed by both the purchaser and the person effecting the sale, each in the presence of the other, and must contain the date of sale, the name, address, occupation, color, and place of birth of the purchaser, and include a statement by the purchaser that he or she is not prohibited under District law from possessing a firearm. One copy of the sales record shall, within seven days, be forwarded by mail to the Chief and a copy retained by the seller for six years.
Secondhand and junk dealers must also secure the name and address of any person purchasing or otherwise acquiring any firearm.
Licensed dealers are also obligated to notify the Chief in writing of: 1) the loss, theft, or destruction of the dealer’s license immediately upon discovery of such loss, theft, or destruction; 2) the loss, theft, or destruction of any firearms or ammunition in the dealer’s inventory; or 3) a change in any of the information appearing on the dealer’s license or required to obtain a dealer’s license immediately upon the occurrence of any such change.
A dealer also must:
- Display the dealer’s license in a conspicuous place on the premises;
- Not display any firearm or ammunition in windows visible from a street or sidewalk;
- Not knowingly employ any person in his or her establishment if such person would not be eligible to register a firearm; and
- Keep all firearms and ammunition in a securely locked place “affixed” to the premises except when being shown to a customer or being repaired.
Any dealer of a firearm who can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have knowingly and willfully engaged in the illegal sale of a firearm shall be held strictly liable in tort for all direct and consequential damages that arise from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the firearm in the District, regardless of whether or not the person operating the firearm is the original, illegal purchaser. This also applies to firearm manufacturers and importers.
Furthermore, any individual who can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have knowingly and willfully engaged in the illegal sale, loan, lease, or rental of a firearm for money or anything of value shall be held strictly liable in tort for all direct and consequential damages that arise from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the firearm in the District, regardless of whether or not the person operating the firearm is the original, illegal purchaser.
No strict liability action may be brought:
- When the basis of the strict liability is a firearm originally distributed to a law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer;
- By a person who can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have committed a self-inflicted injury or who was injured by a firearm while committing a crime, attempting to commit a crime, engaged in criminal activity, or engaged in a delinquent act;
- By a person who can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to be engaged in the sale or distribution of illegal narcotics; or
- By a person who either assumed the risk of the injury that occurred or negligently contributed to the injury that occurred.
Dealers of assault weapons or machine guns will be held strictly liable in tort for all direct and consequential damages arising from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the assault weapon or machine gun in the District. This also applies to manufacturers and importers of assault weapons and machine guns.
The District of Columbia prohibits retail firearm sales in:
- Commercial-Residential mixed use districts;
- Waterfront Districts; and
- “C-1” Commercial Districts.
Firearm retail establishments are permitted in a “C-2” Commercial District, provided that no portion of the establishment shall be located within 300 feet of: 1) a residence or Special Purpose District; or 2) a church or other place of worship, public or private school, public library or playground.
For laws applicable to both licensed and private firearm sellers, please see the Private Sales in the District of Columbia section.
For laws requiring dealers to conduct a background check on prospective firearm purchasers, see the Background Checks in the District of Columbia section.