Design Safety Standards for Handguns in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

Pennsylvania does not specifically regulate junk guns or unsafe firearms. According to research conducted by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (now Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence), however, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General may have the authority to regulate junk guns, as well as promulgate other firearms safety standards, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.1 For details, view the Center’s report, Targeting Safety.

See our Design Safety Standards for Handguns policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 201-3, 201-3.1. []

Mental Health Reporting in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

See our Mental Health Reporting policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.”1 No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks prior to firearm transfers.

Pennsylvania law requires the reporting of mental health information to NICS by the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), stating:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Pennsylvania State Police shall, within 72 hours of receipt, disclose, electronically or otherwise, to the United States Attorney General or a designee, any record relevant to a determination of whether a person is disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) or (4) [prohibiting possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance or who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed to any mental institution] or an applicable state statute and any record relevant to a determination of whether a person is not disqualified or is no longer disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) or (4) or an applicable state statute.2

Pennsylvania law also requires judges of the courts of common pleas to notify PSP, on a form developed by PSP, of:

  • The identity of any individual who has been adjudicated as an incompetent or as a mental defective or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or who has been involuntarily treated as an inpatient or outpatient as described or federal or Pennsylvania law relating to firearms; and
  • Any finding of fact or court order related to any person prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm or ammunition as an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.3

The notification must be transmitted by the judge to PSP within seven days of the adjudication, commitment or treatment.4

The Pennsylvania law that governs the confidentiality of mental health records states that it does not restrict judges of the courts of common pleas, mental health review officers and county mental health and mental retardation administrators from disclosing information to PSP or PSP from disclosing information to any person, in accordance with these provisions.5

If a court grants relief from the Pennsylvania prohibition on firearm possession by persons adjudicated to be incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution, a copy of the order must be sent to PSP within ten days. The order must include the name, date of birth and social security number of the individual.6

As of November 2013, Pennsylvania is a leader in the number of people identified in NICS because of mental illness.7

For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Pennsylvania Background Checks section and the section entitled Prohibited Purchasers Generally.

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). []
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(f)(3). []
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(f). See also 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6109(i.1)(2), which requires “the judge of the court of common pleas, mental health review officer or county mental health and mental retardation administrator” to report to PSP persons adjudicated incompetent, or involuntarily committed for inpatient care and treatment, or upon involuntary treatment of a person as described in 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(4). See also 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7109(d) (same). []
  4. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6109(i.1)(2), 6111.1(f)(2); 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7109(d). []
  5. 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7111. []
  6. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(j). For PSP’s regulations regarding the reporting of mental health information, see 37 Pa. Code §§ 33.103(e), 33.120. []
  7. Everytown for Gun Safety, Closing the Gaps:  Strengthening the Background Check System to Keep Guns Away from the Dangerously Mentally Ill (May 2014), at http://everytown.org/article/closing-the-gaps/?source=fbno_closingthegaps&utm_source=fb_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=closingthegaps. []

Pennsylvania State Law Summary

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

pennsylvania

View a comprehensive summary of new state laws enacted in 2013 and 2014.

 

 

Among other things, Pennsylvania:

However, Pennsylvania does not:

In 2012, Pennsylvania ranked 26th in terms of gun deaths per capita among the states, with 1,453 gun deaths for that year alone. Pennsylvania had the 30th highest rate of crime gun exports among the states in 2009meaning that crime guns originally sold in Pennsylvania were recovered after being used in crimes in other states at the 30th highest rate among the states. Based on data published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in every year from 2006 through 2009, Pennsylvania was one of the top ten interstate suppliers of crime guns. Pennsylvania is also the top interstate supplier of crime guns to Delaware and New Jersey.
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Background Checks in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

See our Background Checks policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

The Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) serves as a state point of contact for NICS.1 Before a federally licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer transfers a firearm to an unlicensed person, the importer, manufacturer or dealer must request, by means of a telephone call, that PSP conduct a criminal history, juvenile delinquency history, and a mental health check.2 The licensee and the purchaser must provide such information as is necessary to accurately identify the purchaser, and the licensee must inspect photo identification of the potential purchaser or transferee.3 The licensee may not transfer the firearm until he or she receives a unique approval number from PSP for the purchase.4 The licensee must also collect from the buyer or transferee and forward to PSP a fee equivalent to the cost of conducting the background check, but not exceeding $2 per buyer or transferee, and issue a receipt containing the approval number to the purchaser or transferee.5

The dealer is prohibited from transferring the firearm if PSP has issued a “temporary delay” in order to investigate whether the person has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor that disqualifies the person from firearm possession.6

In addition, to sell a handgun or short-barreled rifle or shotgun, a dealer must:

  • Require the purchaser to complete a purchase application, which includes a statement that the purchaser is the actual buyer of the firearm. The dealer must retain a copy of the application for at least 20 years, mail the original to PSP within 14 days of the sale, and provide one copy to the purchaser;
  • Record the approval number on the application; and
  • If the purchaser passes the background check, deliver the firearm to the purchaser securely wrapped and unloaded.7

Upon receipt of a request for a criminal history, juvenile delinquency history and mental health record check of the potential purchaser or transferee, PSP must immediately during the licensee’s call or by return call review PSP’s criminal history, fingerprint records, juvenile delinquency and mental health records to determine if the potential purchaser or transferee is prohibited from receipt or possession of a firearm under federal or state law.8 PSP must then inform the licensee making the inquiry either that the potential purchase or transfer is prohibited, or provide the licensee with a unique approval number.9

According to the 2013 Firearms Annual Report of the Pennsylvania State Police, PSP searches the following databases as part of a background check prior to approving a firearm transfer:

  • NICS;
  • PSP’s criminal history records;
  • PSP’s juvenile delinquency records;
  • PSP’s mental health records;
  • PSP’s protection from abuse file (see the Pennsylvania Domestic Violence and Firearms section); and
  • PSP’s wanted/missing person file.10

Pennsylvania law allows PSP to issue a temporary delay of the approval of the purchase or transfer of a firearm if the criminal history or juvenile delinquency background check indicates a conviction for a misdemeanor that PSP cannot determine is or is not related to domestic violence.11 Federal and Pennsylvania law prohibit firearm possession by persons convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors. See the Pennsylvania Domestic Violence and Firearms section for further information. During the temporary delay, PSP must investigate the conviction with courts and law enforcement or related institutions as necessary to determine whether the misdemeanor conviction involved domestic violence.12 PSP must conduct the investigation as expeditiously as possible.13

Law enforcement files concerning any child adjudicated delinquent for any criminal activity that would prohibit him or her from firearm possession must be recorded in the registry of PSP for the limited purpose of firearm background checks.14

For information about the reporting of mental health information for use in firearm purchaser background checks, see the Pennsylvania Mental Health Reporting section.

Pennsylvania law requires PSP to maintain a telephone number, operational seven days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., for purposes of responding to inquiries from licensees. PSP must also employ and train such personnel as necessary to expeditiously administer these requirements.15

A person who has been denied a firearms transfer based on a background check may seek review from PSP and/or appeal that decision to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. The person may further appeal an unfavorable decision by the Attorney General in court.16

Statistics regarding background checks for firearm transfers in Pennsylvania can be found in the 2013 Firearms Annual Report of the Pennsylvania State Police. For example, in 2013, more than 11,000 firearm transfers were denied due to prohibitions in the record of the person attempting to obtain a firearm.17

For a discussion of persons prohibited by federal or state law from possessing or purchasing a firearm, see the Pennsylvania Prohibited Purchasers Generally section.

In Pennsylvania, private sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) may only sell a handgun to an unlicensed purchaser through a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or county sheriff’s office, who must initiate a background check as described above.18 Private sellers are not required to initiate background checks when transferring a long gun in Pennsylvania, although federal and state laws prohibiting certain persons from purchasing or possessing firearms still apply. See the Pennsylvania Private Sales section for more information.

See the section below for information regarding the Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in Pennsylvania.

  1. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6111, 6111.1; see also Pennsylvania State Police, 2013 Firearms Annual Report (2014). []
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(3). As of February 3, 2014 an online interface is also available for dealers to initiate a background check. See Pennsylvania State Police, 2013 Firearms Annual Report (2014). []
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(2), (3). []
  4. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(4). []
  5. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(a), (b). []
  6. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(7). []
  7. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(a), (b); 37 Pa. Code § 33.111. For more information about the procedures that licensed dealers must follow to complete the sale, please see the administrative regulations of PSP available at 37 Pa. Code §§ 33.102-33.113. []
  8. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(b)(1)(i), (ii). []
  9. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(b)(1)(iii). []
  10. Pennsylvania State Police, 2013 Firearms Annual Report 2-3 (2014). []
  11. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(7). []
  12. Id. []
  13. Id. []
  14. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(h)(2). []
  15. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(c). []
  16. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(e). []
  17. Pennsylvania State Police, 2013 Firearms Annual Report 1 (2014). []
  18. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(c), (f)(1)-(2); 37 Pa. Code § 33.111(g). []

Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

Pennsylvania law provides that “[n]o county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”1

Section 6120(a) has been interpreted to preempt local ordinances banning assault weapons. In Ortiz v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania struck down local assault weapon bans in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh under what is now subsection 6120(a).2 The court found that the legislature had “denied all municipalities the power to regulate the ownership…transfer or possession of firearms.”3 The court stated that the Pennsylvania Constitution “requires that home rule municipalities…not perform any power denied by” the legislature.4 The court also noted that firearm regulation is “a matter of concern in all of Pennsylvania,” and the legislature “is the proper forum for the imposition of such regulation.”5

Similarly, in Schneck v. Philadelphia, a lower court held that section 6120(a) preempted a city ordinance requiring a license for the acquisition of a firearm within the city.6

On the other hand, a lower court has held that section 6120(a) does not preempt ordinances which regulate firearm possession that is already unlawful. Thus, where plaintiffs attempted to carry firearms into a courthouse in violation of an ordinance which forbids the possession of firearms in any county facility, and where state law already barred the possession of firearms in courthouses, the ordinance was not preempted.7 Later, in Minich v. County of Jefferson, the court rejected a claim that the county lacked authority to enact the same ordinance.8 The court held that the county had authority to enact the ordinance pursuant to 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 509(c), which allows county commissioners to prescribe fines and penalties for violations of a “public safety” ordinance.9

In Clarke v. House of Representatives, an intermediate appellate court held that section 6120(a) preempted all seven ordinances enacted by the City of Philadelphia in May of 2007.10 These ordinances would have:

  • Limited handgun purchases to one per month;
  • Mandated the reporting of lost or stolen firearms;
  • Required a local license to acquire a firearm or bring a firearm into Philadelphia;
  • Required annual renewal of this license;
  • Allowed a firearm to be confiscated from someone posing a risk of harm;
  • Prohibited the possession or transfer of assault weapons; and
  • Required anyone selling ammunition to report the ammunition and the purchaser to the police department.

Among other things, the City argued that section 6120(a)’s reference to firearms and ammunition “when carried or transported” allows local governments to regulate uses of firearms and ammunition that do not involve carrying or transporting them. The court rejected this argument, relying on Schneck and Ortiz.11 The court also rejected the City’s argument that the Ortiz decision should be revisited because of “changing circumstances, particularly the increase in gun violence in Philadelphia.”12 This decision has since been affirmed, without a published opinion, by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.13

In Nat’l Rifle Assn. v. Philadelphia, an intermediate appellate court held that section 6120(a) preempted two ordinances adopted by Philadelphia in June 2008. ((Nat’l Rifle Assn. v. Philadelphia, 2009 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 470, *2-*13.)) More specifically, one ordinance would have banned assault weapons and the second ordinance would have prohibited any person from acting as a “straw purchaser” by purchasing a handgun on behalf of an ineligible person. Despite the City’s argument that both of these ordinances only regulated activity that was already unlawful, the court held that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision in Ortiz was controlling.14 The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania refused to hear the case on appeal, thereby affirming the decision without a written opinion.15

Section 6120(a.1) provides:

(1) No political subdivision may bring or maintain an action at law or in equity against any firearms or ammunition manufacturer, trade association or dealer for damages, abatement, injunctive relief or any other relief or remedy resulting from or relating to either the lawful design or manufacture of firearms or ammunition or the lawful marketing or sale of firearms or ammunition to the public.

(2) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit a political subdivision from bringing or maintaining an action against a firearms or ammunition manufacturer or dealer for breach of contract or warranty as to firearms or ammunition purchased by the political subdivision.16

Section 6120(a.1) has been held to preclude negligence suits by local jurisdictions against gun manufacturers. In Philadelphia v. Beretta, Philadelphia and a number of civic organizations sued several gun manufacturers, alleging that the defendants’ marketing and distribution schemes were responsible for allowing access to firearms by criminals and other prohibited purchasers, harming Philadelphia’s residents.17 Liability was predicated on the defendants’ alleged negligence and the creation of a public nuisance.18

The federal district court, in upholding the constitutionality of section 6120, held that the state “legislature may contract the power of home rule municipalities such as Philadelphia.”19 Finding the city’s lawsuit was based on power it could only have received from the state legislature, and that this power had been revoked by section 6120, the court dismissed the action, stating that “the power to regulate firearms within the state [by legislation or litigation] now lies exclusively with the state legislature.”20

Other state laws also restrict the ability of municipalities to enact firearm laws. Title 53, Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2962(g) states that “a municipality shall not enact any ordinance or take any other action dealing with the regulation of the transfer, ownership, transportation or possession of firearms.”21 Cities in Pennsylvania, however, may regulate the “unnecessary firing and discharge of firearms in or into the highways and other public places.”22 Second class cities (those containing a population of between 250,000 and 1,000,000) may also “regulate, prevent and punish the discharge of firearms . . . [and] prevent and punish the carrying of concealed deadly weapons.”23 Third class cities (those containing a population under 250,000 and which have not elected to become a “city of the second class A”) may “regulate, prohibit, and prevent the discharge of guns … within the city and … prevent the carrying of concealed deadly weapons.”24

Title 16, Pa. Stat. Ann. § 6107-C states that second class counties (those having a population between 800,000 and 1,500,000) may not enact any ordinance or take any other action dealing with the regulation of the transfer, ownership, transportation or possession of firearms.25

Title 53, Pa. Stat. Ann. § 46202(30) states that boroughs (incorporated areas having a population of at least 500 residents) may regulate, license, and fix the time of opening and closing of shooting galleries. Similarly, section 56531 states that first class townships (those having a population of at least three hundred inhabitants to the square mile) may regulate, license and fix the time of opening and closing of shooting galleries.

For more general information on this topic, see our summary on Local Authority to Regulate Firearms.

See the Pennsylvania Immunity Statutes section for information regarding the immunity granted to a shooting range in compliance with noise control laws or ordinances existing at the time when construction of the range was initiated.

  1. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6120(a). []
  2. Ortiz v. Commonwealth, 681 A.2d 152, 155 (Pa. 1996). []
  3. Id. []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. at 156. []
  6. Schneck v. Philadelphia, 383 A.2d 227 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1978). []
  7. Minich v County of Jefferson, 869 A.2d 1141, 1144 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005) (“the County’s ordinance does not regulate the lawful possession of firearms. For that reason, section 6120…does not preempt the County’s ordinance”). []
  8. Minich v. County of Jefferson, 919 A.2d 356 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007). []
  9. Id. []
  10. Clarke v. House of Representatives, 957 A.2d 361 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2008). []
  11. Id. at 364. []
  12. Id. at 364-65. []
  13. Clarke v. House of Representatives, 980 A.2d 34 (Pa. 2009). []
  14. Id. at *11-*12. []
  15. NRA v. City of Philadelphia, 606 Pa. 677 (2010). []
  16. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6120(a.1). []
  17. Philadelphia v. Beretta, 126 F. Supp. 2d 882 (E.D. Pa. 2000), aff’d, 277 F.3d 415 (3d Cir. 2002). []
  18. Id. []
  19. Id. at 892. []
  20. Id. at 890. []
  21. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2962(g). []
  22. 53 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3703. []
  23. 53 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 23131. []
  24. 53 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 37403(26). []
  25. 16 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 6107-C(k). []

Domestic Violence & Firearms in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

See our Domestic Violence and Firearms policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Firearm Prohibitions for Domestic Violence Misdemeanants

Only persons prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms as a result of a domestic violence misdemeanor are subject to Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting firearm possession by domestic violence misdemeanants.1

For information about temporary delays in the background process that allow the Pennsylvania State Police to determine whether a misdemeanor involved domestic violence, see the Pennsylvania Background Checks section.

Firearm Prohibitions for Persons Subject to Domestic Violence Protective Orders, and Relinquishment of Firearms When Domestic Violence Protective Orders Are Issued

Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone subject to a current domestic violence protective order from possessing a firearm if the protective order provides for the relinquishment of firearms.2 A court issuing a domestic violence protective order is authorized, but not required, to order the abuser to relinquish all of his or her firearms, as well as ammunition used or threatened to be used in an incident of abuse.3 Any family member or current or former sexual or intimate partner who has been subject to abuse may seek such an order.4 If ordered to relinquish firearms or ammunition, the abuser must then relinquish his or her firearms and ammunition to law enforcement, a licensed dealer, or a third party who has received a special “safekeeping permit” from law enforcement.5 In the event an abuser decides to relinquish a firearm or ammunition to a dealer or a third party, the dealer or third party must provide the abuser with a receipt describing the firearm or ammunition and the abuser must provide this receipt to law enforcement.6

A plaintiff may also petition for a “temporary” order for protection from abuse if he or she alleges immediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children, in which case the court shall conduct an “ex parte” proceeding (without notice to the defendant).7 In an ex parte proceeding, the court may direct that the defendant temporarily relinquish to the sheriff any firearms or ammunition for the duration of the temporary order if the petition demonstrates abuse which involves a firearm or other weapon, or an immediate and present danger of such abuse (based on a list of factors).8

Pennsylvania law requires the State Police to maintain a registry of temporary and final protection orders, court-approved consent agreements and foreign protection orders.9 This registry indicates whether firearms or ammunition were ordered relinquished in each protection order or consent agreement. A court that has entered a protection order or consent agreement must make the information available to the Pennsylvania State Police within 24 hours of the order.10

For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Pennsylvania Background Checks and Pennsylvania Prohibited Persons sections.

Removal of Firearms at the Scene of a Domestic Violence Incident

Pennsylvania law grants a police officer a right of arrest without a warrant whenever he or she has probable cause to believe the defendant has committed involuntary manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, or stalking against a “family or household member,” even if the offense did not take place in the officer’s presence, if the officer first observes recent physical injury to the victim or other corroborative evidence.11 Pennsylvania law requires the arresting police officer in this situation to seize all weapons used by the defendant in the commission of the offense.12

In addition, Pennsylvania law grants a police officer a right of arrest without a warrant whenever he or she has probable cause to believe the defendant has violated a protection order, even if the violation was not committed in the presence of the police officer.13 Subsequent to the arrest, the police officer must seize all firearms and ammunition used or threatened to be used during the violation of the protection order or during prior incidents of abuse, and any other firearms in the defendant’s possession.14

  1. 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(33), 922(g)(9); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(9). The relationship need not be an element of the offense to meet these requirements, so long as the offense was committed by a person in any of the following relationships: (i) the current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim; (ii) a person with whom the victim shares a child in common; (iii) a person who cohabits with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or (iv) a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(9)(iv). []
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(6). []
  3. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6108(a)(7). []
  4. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6102(a), 6108. []
  5. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6108-6108.3. []
  6. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6108.2(c), 6108.3. []
  7. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(1). []
  8. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3). The factors to consider include whether the defendant has previously violated a protection from abuse order, whether past or present abuse to the plaintiff or any of the plaintiff’s minor children resulted in injury, whether the abuse occurred in public, and whether the abuse includes: i) threats of abuse or suicide; (ii) killing or threatening to kill pets; (iii) an escalation of violence; (iv) stalking or obsessive behavior; (v) sexual violence; or (vi) drug or excessive alcohol use. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3)(ii). []
  9. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(e). []
  10. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(e)(2), (4). []
  11. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(a). See 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6102 (defining “family or household member”). []
  12. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(b). []
  13. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6113. []
  14. Id. []

State Right to Bear Arms in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

Article I, section 21 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution states: “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”

In Wright v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, summarily holding that defendant had “no protection under the 21st section of the Bill of Rights, saving the right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the state.”1 Similarly, in Lehman v. Pennsylvania State Police, the Court held that the denial of the appellant’s application to purchase a rifle due to a conviction for larceny decades earlier was not a violation of article 1, section 21, stating “[w]hile the right to bear arms enjoys constitutional protection, like many other constitutional rights, it is not beyond regulation.”2

Pennsylvania’s lower courts have also consistently rejected article I, section 21 challenges to gun laws. For example:

  • In Minich v. County of Jefferson, a court upheld an ordinance prohibiting the possession of weapons in county buildings, stating that the right to bear arms may be restricted “for the good order of society and the protection of the citizens.”3
  • In Morley v. City of Phila. Licenses & Inspections Unit, a court upheld the denial of a firearms license, stating that “although the right to bear arms is a constitutional right, it is not unlimited, and restrictions are a proper exercise of police power if they are intended to protect society.”4
  • In Gardner v. Jenkins, a court stated, “The right to bear arms…is not unlimited and may be restricted in the exercise of the police power.”5
  • In In re Firearms, Eleven, a court held that the right to bear arms is lost through a felony conviction.6
  • In R.H.S. v. Allegheny County Dep’t of Human Servs., a court noted that “the right to bear arms is not unlimited; it may be restricted in the exercise of police power for the good order of society and protection of citizens.”7
  1. Wright v. Commonwealth, 77 Pa. 470, 471 (1875). []
  2. Lehman v. Pennsylvania State Police, 839 A.2d 265, 273 (Pa. 2003). []
  3. Minich v. County of Jefferson, 919 A.2d 356, 361 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007). []
  4. Morley v. City of Phila. Licenses & Inspections Unit, 844 A.2d 637, 641 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2004). []
  5. Gardner v. Jenkins541 A.2d 406, 409 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1988). []
  6. In re Firearms, Eleven, 922 A.2d 906 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007). []
  7. R.H.S. v. Allegheny County Dep’t of Human Servs., 936 A.2d 1218, 1229 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007). []

Minimum Age to Purchase & Possess in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

Subject to certain exceptions, a person under the age of 18 may not possess or transport a firearm anywhere in Pennsylvania.1 This prohibition does not apply to a minor who is under the supervision of a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or an adult acting with the permission of the minor’s parent or legal guardian and the minor is engaged in lawful activity, such as safety training, target shooting, or organized firearm competition. In addition, the prohibition does not apply to a minor who is lawfully hunting or trapping in accordance with the Game and Wildlife Code.2

Any person who knowingly and intentionally delivers or provides a firearm to a minor commits a felony of the third degree and the firearm is subject to seizure by law enforcement.3 Pennsylvania law also prohibits any person from selling or leasing any deadly weapon or cartridge to any person under age 18.4

Federal age restrictions impose stricter limits.

See our Minimum Age to Purchase / Possess Firearms policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6110.1(a). []
  2. 34 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 101 et seq. []
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6110.1(c), (d). []
  4. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6302. This prohibition does not apply to hunting by minors in accordance with the Game and Wildlife Code, 34 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 101 et seq. []

Trafficking in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

See our Firearms Trafficking policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Pennsylvania law penalizes:

  • Anyone who knowingly and intentionally makes any materially false oral or written statement in connection with the purchase, delivery or transfer of a firearm, including a statement on any form promulgated by federal or state agencies;1
  • Anyone who willfully furnishes or exhibits any false identification intended or likely to deceive the seller, licensed dealer or licensed manufacturer in connection with the purchase, delivery or transfer of a firearm;2
  • Any seller who knowingly or intentionally sells, delivers or transfers a firearm under circumstances intended to provide a firearm to any person who is unqualified or ineligible to possess a firearm under Pennsylvania law;3 and
  • Any seller who delivers a firearm in violation of the requirements of Pennsylvania law and “who has reason to believe that the firearm is intended to be used in the commission of a crime or attempt to commit a crime.” This person may be held civilly and criminally liable for the crime or attempted crime.4

Pennsylvania law requires any licensed dealer, importer, or manufacturer who intends to transfer a handgun or short-barreled rifle or shotgun to utilize an “application/record of sale” which contains the following question:

Are you the actual buyer of the firearm(s), as defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 6102 (relating to definitions), listed on this application/record of sale?  Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person, unless you are legitimately acquiring the firearm as a gift for any of the following individuals who are legally eligible to own a firearm: (1) spouse; (2) parent; (3) child; (4) grandparent; or (5) grandchild.5

Upon confiscating or recovering a firearm from the possession of anyone who is not permitted by federal or state law to possess a firearm, Pennsylvania law requires a local law enforcement agency to use the best available information, including a firearms trace where necessary, to determine how and from where the person gained possession of the firearm.6

In 2008, Pennsylvania established a “Straw Purchase Prevention Education Program,” within the state Attorney General’s office to provide resources and direct grant money for an educational and public service outreach program to inform individuals of the illegal nature of purchasing a firearm for an individual prohibited from owning firearms.7  However, the program had to be developed by a not-for-profit organization which:

  • Is a national trade association representing the shooting, hunting and firearm industry;
  • Has a membership consisting of firearm manufacturers, firearm distributors, firearm retailers, publishers and sportsmen’s organizations; and
  • Had been in existence for at least 45 years prior to the enactment of the program.8
  1. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(g)(4)(i), (ii). []
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(g)(4)(iii). []
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(g)(2). []
  4. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(g)(5), (6). []
  5. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111(b)(1). []
  6. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6127. To comply with this requirement, local law enforcement must use the National Tracing Center of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6127(b). []
  7. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6181- 6187. []
  8. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6184(b). []

Guns in Vehicles in Pennsylvania

Posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015

No person, even the holder of a license to carry a firearm, may carry a loaded long gun in a vehicle.1

In addition, Pennsylvania law provides that “any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle…without a valid and lawfully issued license…commits a felony.”2 This rule does not apply to:

  • Those traveling to or from target shooting, if the firearm is unloaded with the cartridges or shells carried in a separate container;
  • Officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry a concealed firearm;
  • Agents, messengers, or employees of banks or businesses whose duties require them to protect money or other valuable property in the discharge of their duties;
  • Any person engaged in the business of manufacturing, repairing, or dealing in firearms or the agent of such person, having in his or her possession, using, or carrying a firearm in the usual course of business;
  • Any person carrying an unloaded firearm in a secure wrapper between certain places, including the place of purchase or repair to his or her home or place of business, or when moving from one home or business to another;
  • Any person licensed to hunt or fish, if he or she is actually hunting or fishing;
  • A person training dogs during the regular training season;
  • Any person carrying a firearm in a vehicle who possesses a valid and lawfully issued license for that firearm which has been issued under the laws of the U.S. or any other state;
  • A person who had a license to possess a firearm that expired within six months before his or her date of arrest, if the person is otherwise eligible for renewal of the license; and
  • Any person who is otherwise eligible to possess a firearm and who is operating a vehicle which is registered in the person’s name or the name of a spouse or parent and which contains a firearm for which a license has been issued to the spouse or parent owning the firearm.3

It is generally unlawful to operate or ride in any snowmobile or ATV in possession of a loaded firearm.4

See the Guns in Schools in Pennsylvania section below regarding transportation to schools.

Finally, no person may possess a firearm of any kind “in or on or against any conveyance propelled by mechanical power or its attachments at any time whether or not the vehicle or its attachment is in motion unless the firearm is unloaded” or that person is in possession of a valid license to carry a firearm.5 This prohibition does not apply to holders of a license to carry a firearm.6

  1. Pennsylvania defines a firearm as “[a]ny pistol or revolver with a barrel length less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches.” 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6102. Loaded firearms not included in this definition generally may not be carried by any person, including holders of a license to carry a firearm, in any vehicle. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6106.1. []
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6106(a). []
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6106(b). One who violates this section but “who is otherwise eligible to possess a valid license” and “has not committed any other criminal violation” commits a misdemeanor of the first degree. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6106(a)(2). []
  4. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7727. []
  5. 34 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2503. []
  6. 34 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2503(b)(3). Other exceptions are also listed in this section. []