Jul 30, 2014

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.

Gun Control Laws and Legislation: Where Does Pennsylvania Stand?

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 2011, 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. 

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