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Who Can Possess Firearms in Pennsylvania?

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Criminal Defense, Firearm Possession | 0 comments

Who Can Possess Firearms in Pennsylvania?

According to some Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys, Pennsylvania is among the easiest states in which to own a firearm. A background check is generally required, but you do not need a license to purchase, own or open carry. Pennsylvania gun laws instead focus on restricting the classes of people who can legally possess a firearm.

Baseline National Standard

The federal government has enacted laws that set forth baseline rules regarding a citizen’s right to acquire and possess firearms. Note that these laws merely set a floor to which all states must adhere. Most states, including Pennsylvania, expand on these restrictions through their own laws. Some advocates argue that the federal law has gaps in it that allow people to possess guns who have demonstrated a significant risk of violence or self-harm. Under federal law, you are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun if you have:

  • Committed a felony
  • Committed certain domestic violence (DV) misdemeanors
  • Have certain court orders related to DV
  • Have certain court orders related to a serious mental condition

Offensive Weapons

Pennsylvania law makes it illegal to possess an “offensive weapon.” This is a category of firearms that includes:

  • Stun guns
  • Machine guns
  • Sawed-off shotguns
  • Firearms with a silencer

Federal law makes it illegal to possess weapons of mass destruction. Pennsylvania law also makes it illegal to possess facsimile weapons of mass destruction.

Location Limitations

Pennsylvania is an open carry state, and thus, you can carry a firearm in an open fashion without a permit. Concealed carry requires a permit. This is the same permit required to have a firearm in a vehicle. You are generally allowed to carry on public property and private property open to the public. People are, however, prohibited from carrying on school grounds. Even if a business has “no weapons” signage, you are legally allowed to enter while carrying. The exception here is venues serving alcohol. In addition, if you are asked to leave the premises and refuse, you are immediately in violation of Pennsylvania law.

Expansion of Possession Limitations

Pennsylvania laws concerning firearms also greatly expands the limitations for firearms possession. Any offense related to organized crime makes firearm possession illegal. This is also true in cases involving voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, impersonating a law enforcement officer, or paramilitary training. There are many other criminal convictions that eliminate your right to possess firearms as well. There are far too many to list them all, but some of the notable ones are:

  • Rape
  • Arson
  • Murder
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Luring a child into a motor vehicle

Restriction of Certain Individuals

Pennsylvania law also explicitly removes the right to possess firearms from certain individuals. This includes delinquents. Minors are not allowed to possess firearms at all. If a delinquent is charged with a firearm offense or certain other offenses, the law allows a judge to strip their gun rights as an adult for 15 years or up to age 30. Citizens can also not possess firearms if they are:

  • An illegal alien
  • A fugitive of justice
  • Adjudicated as mentally incompetent

Driving Under the Influence

Pennsylvania has a specific law regarding DUIs even if a gun was not involved. A person charged with DUI three or more separate times in a five-year period loses the right to purchase firearms. That person can still possess a firearm, such as one purchased prior to the third DUI offense.

Application for Restoral of Rights

If a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a criminal conviction, state law allows them to petition for relief. This is done through the court system of the county where the person’s primary residence is located. The law requires the court to grant relief if 10 years have passed since the most recent conviction, and you can petition the court earlier than the 10-year period. In either case, it is generally recommended that you seek representation from a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. The process can be long and complex, and an experienced lawyer can in many cases significantly simplify and expediate it. The main condition of early relief is whether the court reviews the person as a threat to other people or to themselves.

Federal Law

Another reason to seek representation of an attorney is federal law. If you lose your right to possess firearms in Pennsylvania, you lose your rights at the federal level as well. The federal government does not automatically restore your rights when the state does. The federal requirement is that you have had all civil rights restored and not just your right to possess firearms. Even in this case, the restoration is not automatic. The issue here is that Congress has blocked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms from spending money on gun right reviews since 1992. Therefore, gun right restoration at the federal level is uncommon. Your lawyer will help you understand the implications of this.

Access to Firearms

When acquiring firearms in Pennsylvania, there is no:

  • Waiting period
  • Training requirement
  • License or permit requirement

Background checks are required for all sales through licensed dealers. Private sales of long guns do not require a background check. Long gun is a category that includes:

  • Rifles
  • Shotguns
  • Semi-automatic rifles

You must be at least 18 years old to purchase a long gun. You must be at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun. There are virtually no limitations on the sale of ammunition.

Background Checks in Pennsylvania

The Firearms Division of the Pennsylvania State Police oversees all aspects of firearm acquisition and possession, including licensing and transfers. It manages the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS). PICS provides instant access to background records. It is not fully automated. A background check request goes to an Instant Check Unit. That unit is responsible for:

  • Broad documentation
  • Ensuring that the ID is accurate and valid
  • Research of federal, state and local records
  • Assessment of the researched information

The dealer will receive an approval or denial through the system. It usually takes just minutes and often seconds. If approved, you can purchase as many guns as you like during that shopping session.

If you were denied or received an ‘undetermined’ response, you may submit a challenge form online through the PICS system. You must submit the challenge within 30 days. You are also not allowed to submit a proactive challenge. If you make a mistake on the form, it will still be processed, but you can greatly extend the time it takes. If you don’t do everything correctly, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) will respond to you within five business days. If the denial is upheld or the undetermined status transitioned to a denial, the PSP will provide you all documentation supporting that decision.

Local Representation in Pennsylvania

Bauer, Scanlon & Wigginton is a law firm with extensive experience navigating Pennsylvania gun laws. If you have any concerns about your rights or are facing gun charges, we recommend having your case reviewed by one of our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys. To schedule that meeting at our Media office, call 610-590-5092, or contact us online.