Pennsylvania: State Firearms Laws

(As of May 1995)

Please Note: In addition to state laws, the purchase, sale and (in certain circumstances) the possession and interstate transportation of firearms is regulated by the Gun Control Act of 1968, as amended by the Firearm Owners' Protection Act. Also, cities and localities may have their own firearms ordinances in addition to federal and state laws. Details may be obtained by contacting local law enforcement authorities, and by consulting the State Laws and Published Ordinances--Firearms, available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 20402.

Quick Reference Chart

                          Rifles and
                          Shotguns     Handguns
Permit to Purchase           No          No 
Registration of Firearms     No          No
Licensing of Owner           No          No
Permit to Carry              No*         Yes

 * Pennsylvania law defines "firearm" as any pistol or
   revolver with a barrel of less than 15 inches, any 
   shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, or any 
   rifle with a barrel of less than 16 inches.

State Constitutional Provision

"The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned." Article 1, Section 21.


No license is required to possess rifles and shotguns, or to possess handguns kept in one's home or place of business. It is unlawful for any person convicted of a crime of violence (murder, rape, assault, burglary, etc.) to own or possess a handgun.


Any "seller" (the term "seller" includes private individuals as well as dealers) of a handgun is required to wait 48 hours from the time of application for purchase before delivering the handgun to the buyer.

The buyer must sign an application for the purchase of a handgun, which contains his name, address, a description of the buyer, and a description of the handgun to be purchased.

The seller must send copies of this application to the state police and to the local police of both the buyer's residence as well as the seller's residence. The seller must also keep one copy for six years.

No seller may deliver a handgun to any person under the age of 18, or to a person who he has reasonable cause to believe has been convicted of a crime of violence, or to a drug addict, an habitual drunkard, or a person of unsound mind.


Any person carrying a firearm "in any vehicle or concealed on or about his person" is required to have a license to carry or a Sportsman's Firearm Permit (good only for hunting and fishing).

Exceptions: No license is required:

  1. to carry a firearm in one's home or fixed place of business.
  2. when engaged in target shooting or while going to or from their places of assembly or target practice, so long as the firearm is unloaded and the ammunition is carried in a separate container.
  3. for law enforcement personnel, including: policemen, jail wardens, sheriffs and their deputies.
  4. to carry an unloaded and wrapped firearm from place of purchase to one's home or place of business, to or from a place of repair, "or in moving from one place of abode or business to another."
  5. to carry while hunting or fishing or going to the place of hunting or fishing, provided one has a hunting or fishing license and a Sportsman's Firearm Permit.
The Sportsman's Firearm Permit is valid only for sporting purposes and does not authorize the carrying of a loaded handgun in a vehicle. It is obtained by applying to the county treasurer. The applicant must present his hunting or fishing license and pay a fee of $6.00. The permit is valid for five years, but must be carried with a valid hunting or fishing license.

Application for a license to carry may be made to the chief of police, in a city of the first class, or county sheriff where the applicant resides.

The license is valid for five years from the date of issuance unless sooner revoked for good cause. The license fee is $12.50.

The issuing officer shall, within 45 days, issue the license unless good cause exists to deny. Denial may be based upon any of twelve factors, to include (but not limited to):

  1. presenting a danger to public safety.
  2. having been charged with or convicted of certain crimes.
  3. being an habitual drunkard or abuser of controlled substances.
  4. being of unsound mind or having been committed to a mental institution.
  5. dishonorable discharged from the Armed Forces.
Further, in cities of the first class, the applicant must have good reason to fear an injury to person or property before the licensed is issued.

The license to carry must be produced when so demanded by a law enforcement officer.

A license revocation must be sent by certified mail and must list the reasons for the revocation.

No person shall carry any firearm in a city of the first class upon public streets or public property unless such person is licensed to carry a firearm or is exempt from licensing (see exceptions under "Carry").

Transportation in a Vehicle

A handgun being transported in a vehicle without a license to carry must be unloaded and must be carried under one of the exceptions listed above under "Carry." Rifles and shotguns may be transported in a vehicle as long as they are unloaded.

While transporting a firearm without a license, it is up to the person carrying the firearm to demonstrate that one of the exceptions under "Carry" applies. A law enforcement officer may demand such evidence of an exception.


Non-residents must conform to Pennsylvania law. Out-of-state licenses and permits generally are not honored.


"Antique firearm" means:
  1. Any firearm, including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap or similar type of ignition system, manufactured in or before 1898, and
  2. Any replica of any firearm described in paragraph (1) if such replica:
Antique and replica handguns cannot be carried without a license or possessed by convicted felons.

Machine Guns

"It is a defense under this section for the defendant to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he possessed or dealt with the weapon solely as a curio or in a dramatic performance, or that, with the exception of a bomb, grenade or incendiary device, he complied with the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. Sec. 5801 et seq.), or that he possessed it briefly in consequence of having found it or taken it from an aggressor, or under circumstances similarly negativing any intent or likelihood that the weapon would be used unlawfully."

Miscellaneous Provisions

The state legislature has preempted the field of firearms regulation: "No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession or transportation of firearms when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth."

It is unlawful to deface or alter the serial number or other identifying marks on any firearm. Possession of any firearm which has been so defaced or altered creates a legal presumption that the possessor committed the offense.

Pennsylvania statutes relating to firearms are in the Uniform Firearms Act, Title 18, sections 908, 6101-6124.

Caution: State firearms laws are subject to frequent change. The above summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law. To determine the applicability of these laws to specific situations which you may encounter, you are strongly urged to consult a local attorney.

                  Compiled by:
        NRA Institute for Legislative Action
              11250 Waples Mill Road
              Fairfax, Virginia 22030

   (c)  1995, NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

NS 01350                              Rev. 5/95