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Pennsylvania Gun Control Laws

Every state has its own experience with gun violence. In Pennsylvania, mass shootings have increased in recent years. In 2018, the state experienced its worst gun massacre when an anti-Semitic attacker invaded the Tree of Life synagogue outside Pittsburgh, killing 11 persons and injuring seven more.

Gun violence goes beyond the headlines of the week's mass shooting. For example, death by firearm is the leading cause of death for children and teens. With easy access to firearms, most suicides involve a gun.

Efforts by state lawmakers to address gun safety concerns must balance the rights of lawful gun owners to possess and carry firearms for self-defense and other reasons.

Federal Firearms Law

Despite proposals in Congress, new federal laws on guns are rare. Political stalemate is often the norm.

Federal regulations limit the ownership of certain dangerous weapons like machine guns and bump stocks, which cause semi-automatic rifles to fire like fully automatic weapons.

The federal government controls licensing for firearms dealers. It also bans the possession of firearms by certain persons, like convicted felons and those who use illegal drugs. 

Federal law created the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) to alert licensed firearms dealers and law enforcement officers while keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited persons.

Pennsylvania Gun Statutes

Pennsylvania has somewhat tougher gun laws compared to the rest of the country.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is politically divided. Republicans control the State Senate while Democrats control the State House. This has often posed a political stalemate on gun control.

State law maintains several common-sense regulations aimed at balancing the right to firearm ownership with laws that combat gun violence.

Pennsylvania gun laws require a purchase application on all handguns bought in the state. All handgun purchases must also go through a dealer for a criminal background check via the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS). Sales of handguns, sawed-off shotguns, and sawed-off rifles must go through a licensed dealer or a county sheriff's office.

These laws bring the Keystone state closer to universal background checks for all gun purchases. For now, private sales of standard long guns (rifles and shotguns) fall outside the regulations.

Pennsylvania does not require a waiting period before the purchase of a gun like some states. The state does not have an assault weapon ban. State law provides categories of persons prohibited from possessing a firearm. It is also a felony to provide or deliver a gun to a prohibited person.

With limited exceptions for hunting or that involve adult supervision, a minor (under 18 years of age) cannot possess or carry a firearm in the state. Anyone who provides a gun to a minor can face felony charges. Selling or leasing any deadly weapon, cartridge, or gunpowder to a minor is also a crime.

Pennsylvania License To Carry Firearms

In Pennsylvania, anyone 21 years or older can apply for a license to carry firearms. Without such a license, it's a crime to either carry a firearm concealed or have one in a motor vehicle. Exceptions include carrying a firearm at your residence or place of business and for those with a sportsmen's firearm permit.

Applications for a license to carry (LTC) permit proceed through your county sheriff's office. The application form is uniform and prescribed by the Pennsylvania State Police. Details on eligibility requirements appear in the table below. 

The Pennsylvania attorney general provides information on reciprocity agreements with other states. Where there is an agreement, a non-resident with a firearm permit from their state may legally carry in Pennsylvania.

In contrast to some other states, Pennsylvania does not require an applicant to complete a firearms training course before qualifying for a carry permit. Although you can obtain the application online, you must appear in person at the sheriff's office for signature and photograph.

Location Restrictions

As in other states, Pennsylvania law prohibits carrying firearms into certain locations. Even those with a LTC permit cannot bring a gun to the following places:

  • Courts and court facilities
  • State Capitol building
  • Elementary and secondary school buildings and grounds
  • Colleges and universities
  • Private property when signs prohibiting firearms are posted

Exceptions apply to members of law enforcement.

Second Amendment Challenges to Pennsylvania Gun Laws

In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court held in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that the Second Amendment provides a right to carry a gun in public for self-defense. In light of this finding, gun laws that burden gun rights must meet a historical test for firearm regulation. There have been recent challenges to Pennsylvania gun laws with mixed success.

In Lara v. Commissioner (2024), the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals found a Pennsylvania law that banned persons 18 to 20 years of age from carrying a firearm during a public emergency violated the Second Amendment. 

They directed the lower court to grant an injunction to prevent the arrest of individuals between 18 and 20 years of age who openly carry a firearm on public streets and property during a declared state of emergency.

In Range v. Attorney General (2023), the Third Circuit also invalidated Pennsylvania's felon-in-possession statute as applied to a person convicted of a food stamp fraud offense.

In each of these cases, the Third Circuit cited the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Bruen, finding that the Second Amendment applied to the individuals in the dispute. After applying Bruen's historical test, the court concluded that the state failed to present a historical analogue to the regulation at issue to justify the limitation.

In contrast, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a township ordinance that placed discharge and zoning requirements on indoor and outdoor gun ranges on private property. In Barris v. Stroud Township (2024), the state supreme court found that the law did infringe on the plaintiff's right to bear arms. 

However, it concluded that the township ordinances were consistent with traditional firearm regulations at the time of the nation's founding and up to the present day.

Overview of Pennsylvania Gun Control Laws

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has several gun control laws. The table below includes a list of key laws for your review. See Gun Laws for a general overview of firearms law.

Relevant Pennsylvania Gun Control Statutes (Laws)

Title 18, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Chapter 9, Inchoate Crimes
  • Prohibited offensive weapons - Section 908
  • Possession of a weapon on school property - Section 912
  • Possession of firearm or other dangerous weapon in court facility - Section 913

Chapter 61, Firearms and Other Dangerous Articles

Illegal Arms

It is illegal to possess the following items in Pennsylvania:

  • Machine guns
  • Sawed-off shotguns (barrel less than 18 inches)
  • Firearms specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge
  • Firearms with altered manufacturer's number
  • KTW Teflon-coated or armor-piercing bullets

Waiting Period

There is no waiting period to purchase a gun in Pennsylvania.

Who May Not Own

A person may not possess a firearm in Pennsylvania if they:

  • Have been convicted of certain criminal offenses set forth in Section 6105 or have been adjudicated delinquent for acts that fall under that section if committed by an adult
  • Are a fugitive from justice
  • Have been convicted of an offense under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act which was punishable by more than two years in prison
  • Have had three or more DUI convictions in a five-year period
  • Have been adjudicated as an incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution for mental health treatment
  • Are illegally or unlawfully present in the United States
  • Are the subject of an active protection from abuse order that requires the relinquishment of firearms or meets similar federal law criteria
  • Has been convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence
  • Has been convicted of failing to relinquish firearms pursuant to a protection from abuse order
  • Are otherwise prohibited from firearm possession under federal law

License Required?

No. Pennsylvania does not require a person to have a license to own a firearm.

Concealed Carry License Required?

Yes. Under most circumstances, carrying a concealed firearm is illegal unless a person has a license-to-carry (LTC) permit.

Open Carried Allowed?

Open carry without a license is allowed in Pennsylvania, except in the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia requires a license to carry (LTC) permit for a person to open carry on public streets or public property.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

To be eligible for a license to carry a firearm, a person must:

  • Be 21 years of age or older
  • Be of sound mind and have never been committed to a mental institution
  • Not be an individual whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety
  • Not have been convicted of an offense under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act
  • Not have been convicted of a crime enumerated in Section 6105
  • Not have been adjudicated a delinquent for a crime set forth in Section 6105 or under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act in the last 10 years
  • Not be addicted to or an unlawful user of marijuana or a stimulant, depressant, or narcotic drug
  • Not be a habitual drunkard
  • Not be charged with or have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • Not be resident of another state who does not possess a current license or permit or similar document to carry a firearm issued by that state
  • Not be illegally present in the United States
  • Not have been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions
  • Not be a fugitive from justice
  • Not be prohibited from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, purchasing, selling, or transferring a firearm
  • Not be prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm under statutes of the United States

Machine Gun Laws

Unless a person is in compliance with federal law, they cannot possess a machine gun under Pennsylvania law.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

Pennsylvania has detailed gun laws with varied penalties for violations. Depending on the offense, a gun law violation could be a misdemeanor or a felony. Common penalties for gun possession offenses are:

  • Possessing a firearm in a court facility with criminal intent is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. When it is only a crime of illegal possession it is a misdemeanor of the third degree, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of $2,500, or both.
  • Illegal possession of a firearm by a prohibited person is generally a felony of the second degree, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
  • Carrying a firearm without a license is a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. If the offender was eligible to obtain a license, the offense becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree.
  • Illegally providing a firearm to a minor is a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
  • Possessing a firearm with an altered manufacturer's number or obliterating identification marks on a firearm is a felony of the second degree, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
  • Selling or transferring a firearm to a prohibited person is a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

Possessing a gun on school grounds is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Red Flag Law?

No. Although the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill approving an extreme risk protection order in 2023, the Pennsylvania Senate has not taken up the matter.

Universal Background Checks?

No. Although the State House passed a measure supporting universal background checks, the State Senate did not bring the matter up for a vote.

Stand Your Ground Law?

Pennsylvania has a qualified Stand Your Ground Law. In a public confrontation, there remains a general duty to safely retreat. However, a law-abiding person can use deadly force without retreating against an attacker who is armed with a deadly weapon.

Note: State laws are subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law

Pennsylvania Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

Arrested for Violating Pennsylvania Gun Control Laws? Get Legal Help

If you or someone you love has been charged with a gun-related crime in Pennsylvania, you should consider getting legal advice. You can contact a local Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

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