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Gun Control Laws and Legislation: Where Does Pennsylvania Stand?

In the wake of recent mass shootings in Newtown, CT. and elsewhere, Patch examines the recent history of gun-control legislation in Pennsylvania.

On the books, Pennsylvania's gun laws are somewhat tougher than those found elsewhere in the United States, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The gun-control group gives Pennsylvania a 25 out of a possible 100-point rating on its state scorecard—the 10th-strictest rating in the country.

"While Pennsylvania has some common-sense gun laws, including the requirement of Brady criminal background checks on all handgun purchasers, more needs to be done to stop illegal gun trafficking," according to the Brady Center website.

Current Law

In Pennsylvania, a person does not need a license to "open-carry" a gun by wearing it in a holster or in similar fashion anywhere but in Philadelphia, state police spokeswoman Diana Bates told the Scranton Time-Tribune.

A permit obtained from law enforcement, usually the county sheriff's office, is needed to carry a concealed gun in Pennsylvania.

By law, Pennsylvanians cannot purchase a gun if they:

  • Have been convicted of or are currently under indictment for a felony or any other crime with a potential prison sentence of more than one year.
  • Are fugitives from justice.
  • Illegally use or are addicted to a controlled substance.
  • Have been adjudicated mentally defective or been committed to a mental institution.
  • Have been dishonorably discharged from the military.
  • Are subject to a court order restricting contact with a partner or child.
  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
  • Have ever renounced  U.S. citizenship.
  • Are illegal immigrants.

There are no state restrictions on the number of guns which can be purchased, including assault rifles. Private sales of handguns must go through a licensed dealer, although long guns may be sold privately without the use of a licensed dealer.

Gun Control Legislative History

October 2012

  • PA Senate Bill 1438. The pending legislation would penalize municipalities that have enacted laws to curb illegal gun sales by requiring them to pay damages and penalties to plaintiffs who challenge those laws in the courts, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The bill is awaiting action by the state Senate.

June 2011

  • Expanded Castle Doctrine Bill Enacted. This legislation expanded the right to use deadly force against attackers in places other than homes. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, eliminated a requirement that people first attempt to retreat from threatening situations before using deadly force.

Rendell Administration—2003-2011.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell tried several different times during his eight years in office to enact gun control legislation.

He sought to limit sales to individuals to one handgun a month. He wanted owners to be required to report lost or stolen weapons. He wanted to close a loophole in state law that he said he believes permits criminals to use gun permits obtained in other states.

At each turn, the Legislature—including some of his allies in the Democratic-controlled House—knocked down the proposals, the Post-Gazette reported.

Pennsylvania's current Gov. Tom Corbett, in his previous role as the state's attorney general, joined with attorneys general from other states to challenge handgun bans in Washington, D.C. and Chicago,according to his campaign website. 

Corbett, a Western Pennsylvania Republican who took office in January, described himself on his campaign website as a "strong supporter" of the constitutional right to bear arms and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. 

What do you think about current laws governing gun use in Pennsylvania? Tell us in the comments below.

Roger December 18, 2012 at 11:07 AM
"... I will use all the power of this office to make changes ...." This is a quote from Sunday night - words may not be exact,but the essence is there. Monday, the political rhetoric from Washington was filled with promises to make changes. And, the charge to make the changes now. With so much talk about living in fear, the rhetoric that has followed gives us reason to fear our lawmakers. When has a knee-jerk reaction piece of legislation worked out well in the end? To be sure, the knee-jerk reactions gains many political points, but will it: (1) Be put together so that unintended consequences does not become the significant impact, and (2) Make an immediate difference? The calls of Sen Feinstein includes nothing about existing weapons. I believe reports are speaking about 2.5M assault weapons presently in circulation. The calls of change on Monday speak only about bans for manufacturers or imports from this point forward. How many years (decades?) will pass before the existing inventory will be rendered inoperable? Will such legislation make any difference in 2013? In 2023? Will such legislation make political hay in 2013? Yes! I am not writing about pro-gun, or anti-gun positions. I am writing about the political process to effect change. Returning to the opening line, the fear we should have is how the aftermath, albeit very tragic, is being played out in the political arena.
Ted Taylor 4 December 18, 2012 at 01:16 PM
@Roger - Although I do not agree with you on all of your opinions, this one rings very true to my own beliefs. There is not doubt that this was truly a VERY tragic event - Heart wrenching, especially when you are a father of three young children. Why our government has to use tragedies to pull at the heart-strings of voters and politicize everything, is beyond me...You are very right with your views on this issue. May God also continue to protect these families in Newtown, CT - it is just awful. :-/
Steve Morreale December 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Garbage legislation made by ignorant people. More than 200,000 PA victims and counting being violated, shamed and stigmatized by moron bureaucrats who have no respect for the sanctity of a trusted physician-patient relationship. Nor any true respect for the value of law as the right of an individual to not consent to forced hospitalization is made punitive and permanently scarring even more so now embarassing and expensive to challenge in any forum. They hardly can succeed. When a person lacks a trusted rapport and could use help... we stigmatize them! Fools! Violating privacy, coercing and labeling individuals as imperfect never works because it fuels anger and retaliatory creative alternatives. So you take away one implement... they will innovate another... meanwhile you cut off the hands capable of helping guide them through whatever crisis and mental perspective was hurting them. Politicians need to get out of the practice of medicine and need to make themselves accountable for bad laws written with good intentions.

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