Pennsylvania does not require gun owners to register their firearms. In fact, it is against state law for government agencies to maintain firearms registries.
The lack of a registry system is just one example of the state’s relatively lenient approach toward guns. As long as an individual possesses firearms legally or legally brings them into the state, no further action is needed.
Despite the prohibitions on registry systems, the state does require that handgun transfers go through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System. The Pennsylvania State Police uses the system as part of a database of handgun purchases; the state Supreme Court has ruled that the database does not constitute a registry because it does not track all handgun ownership.
Under Pennsylvania law, most citizens age 18 and over can purchase guns. Minors younger than 18 can possess guns only in two circumstances: if the minor is supervised by a parent, guardian or an adult acting with the parent’s consent; or if the minor is involved in legal hunting.
Felons convicted within the past decade may not purchase guns. Individuals who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions also may not purchase guns, although a court can rule otherwise in specific cases.
With a few exceptions, citizens in Pennsylvania can purchase either a handgun or a long gun without a permit, and they can own either type of gun without registering. Legal buyers can purchase a firearm from a private dealer without undergoing a background check for long guns — including shotguns, rifles and semi-automatic weapons — although background checks are required for purchasing handguns from private individuals. Anyone purchasing a gun of any type from a licensed dealer must submit to a background check.
Legal gun owners may possess both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Furthermore, Pennsylvania has no reporting requirement in the case of lost or stolen guns. The state follows the so-called “castle doctrine,” which allows an individual to use deadly force within their own home.
Off-Limits Locations for Guns
In Pennsylvania, gun owners may “open carry” in most public places. Outside of Philadelphia, no license is required to do so. Within Philadelphia, an individual carrying a firearm must be licensed or must be exempt from licensing rules.
Possessing a firearm is illegal throughout the state in several public locations. Weapons cannot be brought onto school property unless they are used as part of a legal school activity or course. Court facilities also are gun-free under the law; guns brought into court buildings are checked in lockers while the owners remain in the building. Additionally, guns cannot be carried on public streets or public property during a government-announced emergency unless the carrier is legally defending themselves, has a license to carry, or is exempt from licensing rules.
Anyone possessing a handgun in a vehicle must have a license or a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit. Licenses are not required for anyone possessing a gun in their home or place of business. In addition, licenses are not required for individuals using guns for target shooting or while traveling to a location for target practice, while transporting a gun to be repaired, or while traveling — provided that the gun is not loaded and ammunition is carried separately.
Carrying Guns in Pennsylvania
A License to Carry Firearms is required in Pennsylvania to conceal a gun or to carry a gun in a vehicle — but not for open carry other than in a vehicle. The license is valid anywhere in the state, and the Uniform Firearms Act prevents anyone other than the state legislature from passing laws regarding firearms.
A license is required to carry a firearm in any way, either openly or in a concealed manner, on the streets and within public property in Philadelphia.
To openly carry a gun without a firearms license, the gun must be in plain view, such as over a jacket or on the front portion of a belt. Without the appropriate license, a person carrying a gun may not conceal it behind a jacket or place it in a vehicle while loaded.
Carrying a gun in a concealed manner, whether on one’s person or in a vehicle, without the appropriate license, and in a location other than the individual’s home or fixed place of business, is a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania.
Most citizens age 21 and older can get a concealed-carry permit, and the law requires that it be issued within 45 days. However, state law prohibits certain people from obtaining concealed-carry permits, including those who are deemed likely to act in a dangerous manner; have been convicted of a crime under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act or a crime that disallows purchase of a gun; are not of sound mind; are addicted to illegal drugs or are habitually intoxicated by alcohol; are residents of other states and do not have proper licensing; are undocumented immigrants; were dishonorably discharged from the military; are fugitives; or are otherwise prohibited from possessing or acquiring firearms.
How to Apply for a Gun
Individuals over the age of 21 can submit an application for a firearms license to the sheriff or police chief of the county or city in which they live. Adults over age 21 who do not live in Pennsylvania can apply through any county sheriff’s office in the state. Residents of other states must hold firearms licenses from their home state if required by law in their state.
After receiving an application, a sheriff’s office has 45 days to determine an individual’s eligibility, including conducting a background check. A sheriff can deny a license if the sheriff believes that an individual’s reputation and character indicate a likelihood of posing a danger to the public.
If an applicant is judged to be of good character and passes the background check, the sheriff can issue the license to possess a weapon in a concealed manner or in a vehicle throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The license is valid for five years unless it is revoked by a government authority.
Anyone 18 or older who has a license to trap, hunt or fish can apply for a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit through their county treasurer’s office. Permits are issued immediately and are valid for five years.
Pennsylvania gun purchasing laws differ from those requiring a license to carry. Individuals purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer must be at least 18 years old and may not be undocumented immigrants or have been convicted of a violent crime or three separate DUI charges within five years. In addition, they must not have been declared mentally ill by a court and cannot be drug addicts, habitually intoxicated or under an active abuse-protection order.
Pennsylvania has formal reciprocity agreements with 18 states recognizing valid licenses to carry firearms issued by the state. In exchange, Pennsylvania recognizes valid licenses and permits to carry firearms from those states. State law includes several categories of firearms reciprocity.
The states that have formal, written agreements with Pennsylvania are Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Also, Pennsylvania has granted some states statutory reciprocity without a formal agreement because they have given reciprocity to Pennsylvania license holders and have similar firearms laws. Those states are Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Alabama and Idaho have granted unilateral reciprocity, meaning that holders of valid Pennsylvania concealed firearms licenses may carry a firearm in those states. Residents of Pennsylvania also may apply for a license or permit in Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington. Alaska and Vermont allow possession or concealed carry of a firearm without a license or permit.
Are the Laws Working?
Although Pennsylvania law does incorporate some restrictions on purchasing and owning guns in some circumstances, the laws overall are quite lenient. Cities such as Philadelphia that have tried to implement their own restrictions have largely failed due to prohibitions written into state law.
In 2016, Pennsylvania scored a “C” rating from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Gun Law State Scorecard. The state lost points because of its failure to require background checks for all gun sales and restriction on municipalities enacting their own laws related to guns.
Work with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Pennsylvania’s gun laws are complex and, in some cases, may unfairly exclude individuals from rightful gun ownership. In addition, innocent people may be accused of crimes related to gun purchase, use or ownership.
If you have been charged with a crime related to firearms, it’s critical that you work with a knowledgeable defense attorney to protect your rights. To schedule a free consultation, please contact the Office of DeLuca, Ricciuti & Konieczka.