Summary of Pennsylvania Gun Laws
Pennsylvania is a shall-issue state with concealed weapons licenses issued at the county level by the sheriff’s office or if a resident of a city of the first class, with the chief of police of that city.
There is no permit required to purchase firearms and although there is no comprehensive firearms registration, the state police maintain a database of all handgun buyers. Private-party transfers of handguns must be conducted through a licensed dealer or at a county sheriff’s office, and a background check is required. These requirements do not apply to transfers between spouses, parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren.
Open carry is legal in Pennsylvania for anyone 18 or older who is legally allowed to possess a firearm. Be aware that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a decision in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Darren Montgomery, 234 A.3d 523 (PA 2020), holding that sometimes a visible firearm is a concealed firearm. This decision has created uncertainty about the definition of open carry. You will need a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms (LCF) or a permit/license from a state with which PA has reciprocity in order to open or conceal carry in a vehicle and to open carry in the city of Philadelphia. Some areas are off-limits, including schools and courthouses.
Concealed carry is legal for residents with an LCF and for non-residents with a license/permit that Pennsylvania honors. Pennsylvania LCFs are issued to residents and non-residents that are at least 21 years old. Non-residents must already have a permit to carry in their home state in order to obtain a Pennsylvania license. There is no training requirement. In terms of reciprocity, Pennsylvania only honors resident CCW licenses from states with which it has a reciprocity agreement.
Pennsylvania is a Castle Doctrine state and has a “stand your ground” law. There is no duty to retreat in your residence or any place where you have a legal right to be if confronted with a deadly weapon or an object that appears to be one. Under the law, the use of force against another person is justifiable if the person who acts in self-defense believes that the use of force is: “immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself [or herself] against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.”
Use of Force for the Protection of Property
The use of force is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary:
- To prevent or terminate an unlawful entry or other trespass upon land or the unlawful carrying away of tangible movable property; or
- To effect an entry or re-entry upon land or to retake tangible movable property.
Use of Force in Self-Protection or the Protection of Others
The use of force is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself or herself or a third party against the use of unlawful force. Deadly force is only justifiable if an actor believes it is necessary to protect one’s self or a third party against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual assault. However, such force is not justified if the actor knows that he or she can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating; except the actor is not obliged to retreat from his or her dwelling or place of work, unless he or she was the initial aggressor or is assailed in the place of work by another person whose place of work the actor knows it to be.
An actor is presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself or herself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat if both of the following conditions exist:
- The person against whom the force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered and is present within, a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle; or
- The person against whom the force is used is or is attempting to unlawfully and forcefully remove another against that other’s will from the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.
[18 Pa. Cons. Stat, §§ 505, 506 & 507]