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A Brief Overview of Pennsylvania's Firearms Laws

Recent tragedies have turned the public discourse to the topic of firearms, and with proponents of both sides of the debate arguing fiercely, there’s bound to be a large amount of misinformation and falsehoods that come out and make their way into the public consciousness. As a result, people all around the state and even around the country are confused as to what is and is not legal in regards to firearms. Are they legal to own? Can anyone buy one? Do you need to have a permit or a license? These are all valid questions that are being brought up and often times the answers you get aren’t straightforward. On this blog, we’ll briefly discuss the laws regarding firearms so you can be more knowledgeable, avoid trouble with law enforcement, and be a more responsible firearm owner if you choose to exercise your Second Amendment rights.

Purchasing a Firearm

Under Pennsylvania laws, all handgun sales are required to take place in one of two locations. If the sale is being conducted through a licensed and legal firearms dealer, the exchange must take place at their place of business. If the sale is a “private party,” meaning it’s a voluntary transfer from one person to another, the transaction must take place at a county sheriff’s office.

All sales conducted through a licensed dealer, including rifles, handguns, and shotguns, must include an instant records check of the purchaser, and dealers are forbidden from selling to anyone who has a felony on their criminal history, or who they believe, in their judgement may use the weapon to perpetrate a crime.

When there is no remuneration for a firearm transfer, there are a few exceptions. Handguns may be legally transferred between spouses, from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild, or between active law enforcement officers without going through the background check process. However, rifles and shotguns have no relationship requirements.


Rifles and shotguns do not require a permit to carry, either openly or concealed. However, all handguns require a permit that must be obtained from the state in order to be carried, either concealed or in the open. Pennsylvania recognizes concealed carry permits from most states, however a few states do not have all their permits recognized so it’s a good idea to check before traveling.

Illegal Possession

You’re not allowed to carry a firearm just anywhere you’d like. Here are a few places where carrying firearms is strictly forbidden:

  • School properties
  • Court facilities
  • On any public property during an emergency
  • On any public streets or property in Philadelphia at any time

The latter two prohibitions are subject to exemption by those who have obtained a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit, and is valid only for fishers or hunters and must be carried in conjunction with a license to partake in these activities. You may also obtain a license to carry firearms by applying with the chief of police or a sheriff in the county where you live.

Illegal Firearms

Any firearm that requires mandatory registration under the National Firearms Act, including machine guns, suppressors, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns, are prohibited in the state of Pennsylvania unless they are registered with the NFA. The only exception for possessing one of these firearms is if you can present evidence that the weapon is being used solely as a curio, in a dramatic performance, or was acquired by finding it or having taken it from an aggressor.

Have you been accused of a weapons crime? Get help from a Scranton criminal defense attorney today! Contact the Law Offices of William D. Thompson today by dialing (570) 666-1068!