Gun laws in Pennsylvania

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Location of Pennsylvania in the United States

Gun laws in Pennsylvania regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States.[1][2][3]

Summary table[edit]

Subject/Law Long guns Handguns Relevant statutes Notes
State permit required to purchase? No No
Firearm registration? No Partial 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 forbids the government from creating a firearm registry. Nevertheless, all handgun buyers in the state must undergo a PICS check at the point of sale, a record of which is maintained by the state police in a "sales database". The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that this is legal under the aforementioned statue, as it is not a comprehensive record of all handgun ownership within the state — gun owners moving into the state are not required to register their firearms.
Assault weapon law? No No
Owner license required? No No
License required for concealed carry? N/A Yes 18 Pa.C.S. § 6109 License to Carry Firearms issued on a "shall-issue" basis. A LTCF is required to carry a firearm concealed on one's person, in a vehicle, or during a declared state of emergency.
License required for open carry? No No Unlicensed open-carry, except license required in Philadelphia (City of the First Class) and when within a vehicle.
Castle Law/Stand Your Ground? Yes Yes [1] Castle Law. No duty to retreat inside castle. No duty to retreat outside castle if confronted with a deadly weapon or an object that appears to be one in a place where the person has a right to be.
State preemption of local restrictions? Yes Yes 18 Pa.C.S. § 6120
NFA weapons restricted? No No
Peaceable Journey laws? Yes Yes [2] Non-residents may carry in a vehicle if in possession of a valid carry permit from any state. Otherwise, federal rules observed.
Background checks required for private sales? No Yes All private party transfers of handguns must be processed through a licensed dealer, or at a county sheriff's office. In either case a background check is required.

Ortiz v. Commonwealth[edit]

Two Home Rule Municipalities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, attempted to pass ordinances in 1993 to regulate the ownership of assault weapons, after which the Pennsylvania General Assembly had passed a statute prohibiting them from doing so. Councilman Angel Ortiz of Philadelphia City Council and other Philadelphia appellants brought an action against the state in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the state had exceeded its jurisdiction over the Home Rule Municipalities in this case.

On June 17, 1993, the mayor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell signed and approved Bill No. 508 submitted by the Philadelphia City Council, which banned certain types of assault weapons in Philadelphia County. In November 1993, the Pittsburgh City Council passed Ordinance 30-1993, which also banned certain specified assault weapons within Pittsburgh's physical boundaries. These ordinances planned to regulate the ownership, use, possession or transfer of certain firearms.

The Philadelphia appellants argued that only in Philadelphia must a person obtain a license for carrying any firearm, on a public street or public property, regardless of whether it is unconcealed or concealed. Throughout the rest of Pennsylvania, a license is only necessary if one is carrying a concealed firearm or is carrying one in a vehicle. 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6106(a).

After these ordinances were enacted the General Assembly passed House Bill 185, which amended Title 18 of the Crimes Code, including the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 6101-6124. The amendment, which appears at 18 Pa.C.S. § 6120, provided that no county, municipality or township could regulate the ownership or transfer of firearms or ammunition.[4]

Subsequent to oral argument, Pittsburgh filed a petition to intervene, which was granted. On February 14, 1995, the en banc Commonwealth Court granted the Commonwealth's preliminary objections and dismissed the request for injunctive and declaratory relief for failure to state a cause of action. An appeal followed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but was dismissed in 1996.[4]

The state's case was that the Pennsylvania Constitution requires that home rule municipalities may not perform any power denied by the General Assembly; the General Assembly had denied all municipalities the power to regulate ownership, possession, transfer or possession of firearms; and the municipalities were attempting to regulate that which the General Assembly had said they may not

During this time, Pennsylvania's U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who also happened to be a resident of Philadelphia, stated that he was strongly against the bill: "If I thought the bill would have a real impact on violent crime, I would have supported it. The criminals don't have any problems getting a hold of weapons, no matter what you do. They get them illegally. It's just a limitation on hunters and sportsmen." Specter was supported thoroughly by the NRA both emotionally and financially due to his stance on the matter.[5]

State gun legislation[edit]

Act 192 of 2014[edit]

Act 192 of 2014 allowed gun owners and firearm advocacy groups to file suit against local municipalities for their gun control ordinances.[6] Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pittsburgh and five democratic legislators filed suit on the grounds that the act was unconstitutional.[7] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the cities and five legislator that the act was unconstitutional on the grounds that bills must pertain to one subject. Act 192 of 2014 was originally intended to criminalize the theft of metals.The firearm part of the act was a provision. City Solicitor Sozi Tulante released a statement against the bill: "Act 192 was passed by the General Assembly without any public notice or debate, and would have flooded the courts with advocacy litigation even when the plaintiffs had no real legal stake in the case."[8] Senator Daylin Leach, one of the five democrats to file suite stated: "municipalities that repealed ordinances may now restore them" During the case they found the law unconstitutional Justice David N. Wecht said "If, by brute force, the majority of the General Assembly can cram through any number of regulations."[9]

House Bill 170 of 2017[edit]

House Bill 170, introduced by Rick Saccone removed the requirement of obtaining a license in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be able to legally conceal a firearm.[10] The Commonwealth has no requirement to be licensed to carry a firearm openly. Saccone stated "If a citizen passes a criminal background check to purchase a new firearm, it is patently unjust and unconstitutionally questionable to add layers of bureaucratic regulations on those who are least likely to commit a crime just because the citizen prefers to carry his weapon concealed."[11]

Senate Bill 383 of 2017[edit]

Senate Bill 383 gives school boards the authority to establish policies and protocols to allow staff members to carry concealed firearms on school property.[12] There is no mandated school participation. Staff members choosing to carry concealed firearms must do so legally.[13]

House Bill 921 of 2014[edit]

Authored by rep. Timothy Krieger, the intent of the bill was to eliminate the Pennsylvania Instant Check System in favor of the National Instant Check System and allowing the Federal government to administer the background check instead of state police.[14]

House Bill 501 of 2017[edit]

Legislation to remove the second amendment rights of known domestic abusers while removing the ability to surrender their weapons to a third party and replacing the 60 days waiting period with a 24 hour order to surrender their firearms. Senator Thomas Killon's sponsorship memo stated "The intent of this change in law is to enhance safety for parties and their children in domestic violations and protection from abuse situations. Enhancing their safety during these difficult times helps not only these families but also law enforcement charged with overall public safety."[15] Governor Tom Wolf also supported the bill, stating on its behalf " we must protect victims, spouses, and children of domestic violence and attempt to prevent domestic abusers from escalating their violence in everyday places that result in mass murder." "It is time for the General Assembly to act on this bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect victims and reduce violence."[16]

Local legislation[edit]


The City of Philadelphia Council proposed[when?] to mandate all firearm owners with minors living in their custody must lock their firearms at all times. The firearms must also be in a locked area with ammunition also being in a locked area; separate from the firearm.[17] Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman realized the City of Pittsburgh has no legislation pertaining to firearms in city parks.[18] The proposal is a copy and paste of Commonwealth legislation that restricts firearms in state parks. The issue of preemption arises with the issue of gun control at the city and municipal governments attempting to legislate firearms, though the state law prevents local governments from legislating certain topics.[19]


Preemption states: "No 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."[20] The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania prevents local governments from restricting the rights of firearms owners within their jurisdiction. Though the City of Philadelphia can pass gun control legislation, it is not legal for them to implement and enforce that legislation without violating the laws of the Commonwealth.[21]

On April 9, 2019, Pittsburgh enacted three gun control laws, prohibiting use of assault weapons, magazines with capacities greater than 10, and enacting a red flag law. These laws are being challenged as a violation of preemption.[22]

Purchasing a firearm[edit]

Pennsylvania state law refers to a handgun as a firearm, while long gun is used to describe a shotgun, or rifle of a certain length or longer. Below the age restriction for purchasing a long gun is 18, and the age restriction for purchasing a handgun is 21. Although someone can own a handgun if they are 18 and gifted the handgun.

To purchase a firearm, buyers must be at least 18 years of age. They can never have been convicted of a violent crime, must not be an undocumented immigrant, declared mentally ill by the court, a drug addict or habitual drunkard, a fugitive from justice, have been convicted of three separate DUI charges within a five-year period or are subject to an active protection from abuse order.[23]

No firearms are known to be prohibited by state law. Private sales of handguns must go through a licensed dealer, though long guns may be sold privately without the use of a licensed dealer. Licensed dealers must provide locking devices with handguns unless the handgun has a locking device incorporated in its design.[citation needed]

In Pennsylvania, there are more than 2,500 federally licensed firearm dealers where one may make a purchase. Individuals interested in purchasing a firearm must first fill out an application with their basic information. Once the application has been completed, the firearms dealer will input the information into the Pennsylvania Instant Check System to check if the individual is legally allowed to own a firearm. On average in Pennsylvania, this background check costs $20.00 for handgun purchases and $25.00 for a long gun purchase.[citation needed]

Residents in Pennsylvania may also purchase firearms from gun shows and private individuals. When purchasing from a federally licensed dealer at a gun show, the process remains the same. When purchasing a long gun in a private sale, the buyer is exempt from obtaining a background check. When purchasing a handgun in a private sale, the buyer is legally required to complete a firearm transfer at a federally licensed dealer. There is a $2 fee for the instant check and a $3 firearm sale surcharge to cover telephone costs.[24]

Transfers of handguns between spouses, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild or between active law enforcement officers are exempt from the above requirements. Rifles and shotguns may be transferred between unlicensed individuals.  Antique firearms are exempt from the requirements regarding transfer of firearms through dealers.[24]

Definition of a firearm[edit]

The Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act defines "firearm" as "any pistol or revolver with a barrel less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, any rifle with a barrel of less than 16 inches or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches."  However, several sections of the law include a broader definition that includes all firearms, i.e. handguns, rifles and shotguns, and pertains to that section only.  The distinction should be closely noted when interpreting the statutes.[24]

Gun dealer requirements[edit]

Dealers are prohibited from transferring the firearm if the Pennsylvania State Police 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.

To sell a handgun or short-barreled rifle or shotgun, a dealer must also:[25] 

  • 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 Pennsylvania State Police 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.[26]

Concealed carry and transport[edit]

Individuals in Pennsylvania are permitted to open carry firearms as long as the firearm is in plain view. When concealing a firearm, individuals must obtain a Concealed Carry Permit from the local sheriffs' office. An individual must have a Concealed Carry Permit to carry a handgun in a vehicle in Pennsylvania, Long guns are not allowed to be transported loaded.  

In first-class cities, such as Philadelphia, a permit is required for both concealed carry, and open carry. A total of 31 states recognized Pennsylvania's permit to concealed carry.[27]

When transporting firearms in Pennsylvania without a Concealed Carry Permit, the firearm and ammunition must be in two separate containers within the vehicle.[23]

To apply for a license to carry in Pennsylvania, individuals must be at least 21 years of age. The application process requires submitting the Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms application to the sheriff of the county in which they reside. Individuals who are not residents of Pennsylvania but are 21 years of age or older may submit the Application for a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms to any Pennsylvania County Sheriff's office along with the required fee. [28]

Firearms are prohibited from certain places, including federal court facilities; all other court facilities must provide a locker to secure firearms while conducting business within the court facility as per 18 Pa.C.S 913 (e). Concealed carry on school property used to be an unsettled area of the law with many in law enforcement arguing that the practice is absolutely prohibited and firearms right supporters arguing that 18 Pa.C.S. 912(c) permits those who have a concealed carry license to carry on school grounds as an "other lawful purpose." On February 16, 2017, the Superior Court ruled in the case of Commonwealth v. Goslin that the "other lawful purpose" clause is a valid defense for people who are otherwise carrying a weapon legally on school grounds regardless of any connection to a school activity.[29][30] Carrying a handgun on public streets and public property of Philadelphia, or in a vehicle anywhere in the state, or concealed on or about one's person anywhere in the state is prohibited without a "License To Carry Firearms" (LTCF) or a license or permit issued by another state which is honored by Pennsylvania for that purpose.[1][2] A LTCF is generally not required to openly carry a firearm on or about one's person, except in a vehicle or in Philadelphia, or during a declared State of Emergency.[31] A bill proposed in September 2014 would allow teachers and school employees to carry guns.[32]

Pennsylvania shall issue a LTCF to resident and non-resident applicants if no good cause exists to deny the license. Non-resident applicants must first obtain a license from their home state, unless their home state does not issue licenses.[1][2]

Laws and regulations[edit]

Article 1, section 21 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania states, "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned."[33]

Pennsylvania has state preemption for regulation of the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition, or ammunition components. That is, only state laws, not local laws, can regulate those matters.[1][2]

Most items that are required to be registered under the National Firearms Act such as machine guns, suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns, are prohibited in Pennsylvania as "offensive weapons" unless they are registered under the NFA.[24]

There are no regulating laws for the sale, purchase, or possession of ammunition, however the use of armor-piercing ammunition for criminal activities is illegal.[34]

Pennsylvania law requires that information received by the Pennsylvania State Police pursuant to a sale is destroyed within 72 hours of the completion of the background check.[1][2] The Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association notes that the Pennsylvania State Police nonetheless keep a "sales database" of all handguns purchased within the state.[35] The database was challenged based on what was asserted as the unambiguous text of the statute, specifically "nothing... ...shall be construed to allow any government or law enforcement agency or any agent thereof to create, maintain or operate any registry of firearm ownership within this Commonwealth" (full statute text above), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nonetheless ruled in Allegheny County Sportsmen's League v. Rendell, 860 A.2d 10 (Pa. 2004), that Pennsylvania's database of handgun sales is not prohibited by state law because the registration was only of handgun sales and not of all guns.[36]

Act 192 allowed gun owners and firearm advocacy groups to file suit against local municipalities for their gun control ordinances. Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pittsburgh and five democratic legislators filed suit on the grounds that the act was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the cities and five legislator that the act was unconstitutional on the grounds that bills must pertain to one subject. Act 192 of 2014 was originally intended to criminalize the theft of metals. The firearm part of the act was a provision.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Pennsylvania State Law Summary", Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Retrieved January 2, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "State Gun Laws: Pennsylvania", National Rifle Association – Institute for Legislative Action. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  3. ^ "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – State Laws and Published Ordinances – Firearms" (PDF). Retrieved January 2, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Ortiz v. Com". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  5. ^ "Newspage186711588". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  6. ^ "Court tosses Pennsylvania law aiding NRA gun challenges". Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  7. ^ "Pa Supreme Court Rules NRA-backed Law Unconstitutional". Philadelphia Magazine. 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  8. ^ "Pa Supreme Court Rules NRA-backed Law Unconstitutional". Philadelphia Magazine. 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  9. ^ "Pa. justices question roots of NRA-backed law - Philly". Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  10. ^ "'Constitutional carry' in Pennsylvania challenged by gun control advocates". York Dispatch. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  11. ^ "'Constitutional carry' in Pennsylvania challenged by gun control advocates". York Dispatch. Retrieved 2018-03-27.
  12. ^ "Pa. Senate passes bill clearing way for schools to allow employees' guns on campus". WPMT FOX43. 2017-06-28. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  13. ^ "Pa. Senate passes bill clearing way for schools to allow employees' guns on campus". WPMT FOX43. 2017-06-28. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  14. ^ "Bill to eliminate Pa. background checks for gun buyers on hold until questions about national system resolved". Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  15. ^ Center, Legislativate Data Processing. "Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda". The official website for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  16. ^ "Gov. Wolf Calls for Enhanced Firearm Prohibition for Domestic Abusers". Governor Tom Wolf. 2017-11-13. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  17. ^ "The Problem with Philadelphia's Gun Control Proposal". Gambone Law. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  18. ^ Bauder, Bob. "Pittsburgh councilman moves to ban guns in city parks despite opposition". Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  19. ^ "Pennsylvania's gun laws, and why Philly can't do much to tighten them". Billy Penn. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  20. ^ "Controlling Guns in Philadelphia".
  21. ^ "Controlling Guns in Philadelphia".
  22. ^ "Pittsburgh Restricts Use Of Assault-Style Weapons, Setting Up Court Fight". Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  23. ^ a b "How to buy a gun in Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  24. ^ a b c d NRA-ILA. "NRA-ILA | Pennsylvania Gun Laws". NRA-ILA. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  25. ^ "Background Checks in Pennsylvania | Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence". Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2017-11-27. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "'Constitutional carry' in Pennsylvania challenged by gun control advocates". York Dispatch. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  28. ^ "Carrying Firearms in Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  29. ^ Prince, Joshua; Esq. (2017-02-16). "The Goslin Decision's Impact on Possessing Weapons on School Property". Prince Law Offices, P.C. Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  30. ^ "Commonwealth v. Goslin" (PDF).
  31. ^ "Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association – Open Carry". 2007-10-02. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  32. ^ Gautz, Chris. "Response mixed on bill to let teachers carry guns". The Daily Item.
  33. ^ "The Constitution of Pennsylvania". Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  34. ^ Center, Legislativate Data Processing. "Title 18". The official website for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  35. ^ "Pennsylvania Firearm/Gun Law". 2007-10-02. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  36. ^ "LCAV. Registration of Firearms. In Regulating Guns in America: An Evaluation and Comparative Analysis of Federal, State, and Selected Local Gun Laws (2008). Retrieved July 8, 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  37. ^ "Court tosses Pennsylvania law aiding NRA gun challenges". Retrieved 2018-03-16.