Among comparable cities, Philadelphia is the fifth-ranked city for the number of gun-related homicides. The U.S. is ranked 28th in the world for the number of violent acts that involve firearms. In 2017, 74% of murders were committed using a firearm. In recent years there has also been a rise in the number of seemingly random mass shootings. These are some reasons why many Americans now favor more gun control laws.
New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts are the only U.S. states that require all gun owners to be licensed. Pennsylvania is viewed as being among the states that have less stringent gun laws. For example, many other states have prohibited individuals from owning or possessing “assault” weapons. The City of Philadelphia has implemented some unique local laws that restrict the possession of firearms on public property.
Federal Law on Firearm Sales
Under federal law, firearm dealers must conduct a background check on individuals before selling a firearm. This background screen uses the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. The Pennsylvania State Police also must issue an approval number before completing these transactions in the state. This does not apply to those sold among private parties.
Pennsylvania has additional requirements when dealer transactions involve handguns and some rifles and shotguns that have shorter barrels. This requirement involves mailing the original copy of the purchase application to the Pennsylvania State Police and other provisions. Pennsylvania law also requires that individuals be at least 18 years old unless accompanied by a parent or guardian to possess a firearm.
Hunting and Firearms in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Game Commission does require hunters to obtain a license. They also prohibit hunting with semi-automatic and other types of assault weapons. A Sportsman's Firearm Permit allows for individuals to possess a concealed firearm only when traveling to hunt or while hunting.
Pennsylvania License to Carry a Firearm
Those who own a firearm may “open carry” the weapon without licensing. This would include having a gun that is visibly carried in a belt holster. A Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms may be obtained by residents that are 21 years of age. An application is made through the sheriff of the county or the City of Philadelphia Police Department.
The sheriff or police department will investigate the applicant's background using the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS). The application may be denied when there is “reason to believe” that the individual may behave in a way that is a risk to the safety of the public. The decision will be made within 45 days. When an application is denied, individuals are notified of the denial and receive an explanation.
This license allows individuals to carry a concealed firearm or have one in their vehicle. The license is valid for five years. Those who otherwise are found to be unlawfully in possession of a concealed firearm may be charged with a third-degree felony.
Revocation of License to Carry a Firearm
The agency that issues a license may revoke it when there is reasonable cause. After being notified, the individual is required to surrender the license. There are many reasons why an applicant may be denied a license or have a license revoked including convictions for the following:
- Murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter by recklessness associated with a firearm
- Aggravated assault, stalking, kidnapping, or unlawful restraint
- Rape, involuntary sexual intercourse, indecent assault, or luring a child
- Arson, burglary, felony-level criminal trespassing or robbery
- Felony theft offenses including §3921, 3923 or 3925
- Witness intimidation or retaliation
- Various felony-level weapons charges
- Offenses punishable by two years of imprisonment relating to The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act
- Three or more DUI convictions within five years
- Has been deemed as incompetent or “involuntarily committed to a mental institution”
- Is an illegal alien
- Is the subject of a protection from abuse (PFA) order or was convicted of domestic violence offenses
Appealing a License Denial or Revocation
An applicant or licensee may appeal an adverse decision in their judicial district court. An example may include challenging the findings of a criminal background check when the records are erroneous. Individuals that are bringing an appeal in these matters are strongly encouraged to consult with an attorney.
The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) will respond to challenges within 20 days and have the burden of proving the accuracy of records. If the PSP affirms their reasoning for the denial or revocation, the applicant or licensee has a right to appeal to the Attorney General within 30 days. The Attorney General will conduct a hearing under the Administrative Agency Law and a further appeal may be made to the Commonwealth Court.
Carrying Firearms on Public Property in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania's Uniform Firearms Act prevents the state from regulating many rights related to carrying a firearm. The City of Philadelphia implemented a controversial local law that prohibits carrying a “firearm, rifle, or shotgun at any time upon public streets or upon public property.”
Exceptions to Concealed Carry Laws
The following parties are exempt from the licensing requirement:
- Law enforcement officers, sheriffs, jail or prison wardens, and peace officers
- Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and National Guard that are on duty
- Those participating in “target shooting” or traveling to participate in “target practice” with an unloaded firearm
- Certain authorized United States officers or employees
- Those working for common carriers, banks, and other firms that are responsible for protecting and transporting money or valuables
- Individuals working in the firearms industry such as manufacturing, repair, dealing, etc.
- Those possessing a firearm that is not loaded and in a “secure wrapper” such as transporting from a place of purchase
- Individuals that are licensed who are hunting
- Those who are lawfully training dogs and some others
Temporary (Emergency) Firearm Licensing
In certain situations, the sheriff or police department of jurisdiction may allow for a temporary license to carry a concealed weapon. This applies to individuals who are proven to be in “imminent danger” or those with a minor child that is in danger. These temporary licenses are valid for 45 days and the licensee is subject to the same process of background screening.
Defense Lawyer Represents Clients in Firearm Licensing Appeals
Pennsylvania's laws regarding gun control are increasingly stringent. The agencies responsible for firearm licensing have some discretion in making decisions to deny or revoke firearm permits based on “character and reputation.” Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney that will aggressively defend your rights. Contact the office today at (215) 535-5353 for a consultation.