If you have a criminal record, you may have discovered that it can be a stumbling block to one of the most basic rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights – the right to keep and bear arms from the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law may offer an option for you to regain your gun rights through expunging or sealing your criminal record or by obtaining a pardon.
Pennsylvania Convictions that Affect Your Gun Rights
In Pennsylvania, people convicted of certain crimes or with a court order in place may not be able to purchase, carry, or possess a firearm. For instance, you can't own a gun if a court issues a final Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against you. Federal law, including the Gun Control Act of 1968, sets a baseline standard for those who can't purchase, own, or carry a firearm. This law prevents anyone convicted of a felony from purchasing, owning, or carrying a firearm. It also prevents anyone convicted of an act of domestic violence, even if it was a misdemeanor, or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years in jail, from purchasing, owning, or carrying a firearm. See 18 U.S.C. § 921 (2018).
But Pennsylvania law also prohibits people with a whole host of criminal convictions from owning a firearm, including:
- Possessing, using, making, repairing, selling, or dealing in certain “offensive weapons.” These offensive weapons include machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, firearms with silencers, and stun guns
- Offensive weapons related to organized crime
- Possession of a weapon on school property
- Manslaughter that involves reckless use of a firearm
- Aggravated assault
- Stalking, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass
- Sexual assault
- Burglary or robbery
- Impersonating a police officer
- Intimidating a witness or victim
- Possession of a firearm by a minor or corruption of minors
- An offense involving making weapons of mass destruction
- Unlawfully selling weapons or explosives
If convicted of any of these offenses in Pennsylvania, you may no longer own, purchase, or possess a firearm. However, if you are eligible to seal a conviction or obtain a pardon, you may have your gun rights restored.
Pennsylvania Expungements, Sealing, and Pardons
While Pennsylvania law only allows expungements in limited situations, you may be eligible to have your record sealed or request a pardon.
- Expunging Your Pennsylvania Conviction
An expungement is a court order granted by a Pennsylvania judge to destroy all the court and administrative criminal history record information related to your arrest or conviction. Expungements are only available in Pennsylvania in limited situations, including underage drinking convictions, summary offenses, or arrests not followed by a conviction, such as a not guilty verdict or dismissal. In Pennsylvania, you cannot expunge misdemeanors and felonies.
- Sealing Your Pennsylvania Conviction
Under Pennsylvania law, you can have some nonviolent misdemeanors “sealed” after ten years with no arrests or charges. This sealing is also known as a Limited Access Petition. As of 2019, the courts will now automatically seal some of your records, including:
- Criminal arrests with no conviction
- Nonviolent criminal convictions after ten years
- Misdemeanor offenses involving fewer than two years in prison
You will typically have to wait ten years after completing your sentence and have no additional arrests or convictions to seal a conviction.
While Police can still see sealed convictions, you don't have to disclose them on a firearm application. An expungement or sealing of your record can also restore your gun rights under federal law. Under federal law, expunged or sealed offenses “shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter.” See 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) (2018).
However, some crimes are never eligible for sealing under Pennsylvania law, these including offenses punishable by more than 20 years in prison, murder, and first-degree felony convictions. Some first-degree misdemeanors are also ineligible for limited access, including:
- Offenses that involved a danger or violence to another person, such as assault or battery
- Firearms or dangerous weapons charges
- Offenses against your family, which include child endangerment, bigamy, and incest
- Offenses involving corruption of a minor like truancy and statutory rape
You'll need to seek a Governor's Pardon to restore your gun rights for crimes that aren't eligible for expungement or sealing in Pennsylvania.
- Obtaining a Pennsylvania Pardon
A Governor's pardon is essentially an act of forgiveness granted by the Governor. The pardon restores your rights, making it as if you've never had a criminal conviction. The Board of Pardons oversees the process, making recommendations to the Governor. While the BOP makes recommendations, the Governor has the final say and doesn't always follow the endorsements of the BOP.
To obtain a pardon, you'll need to go through many steps, including:
- The application
- A background investigation
- Sending notice to all interested parties
- Board of Pardons hearing
- A recommendation from the BOP, and finally
- The Governor's decision
The pardon process is arduous, long, and the Governor rarely grants them. However, if you are successful, a pardon will fully restore your gun rights. While a pardon doesn't expunge your record, you are eligible to have your Pennsylvania record expunged after obtaining one.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Expungement Attorney
Pennsylvania doesn't require you to hire a lawyer to expunge your record. But the process can be long and complicated. A skilled Pennsylvania expungement attorney can guide you through the process quickly and efficiently and help you restore your rights. If you need to expunge your record or have questions about whether you can regain your right to own a firearm, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many Pennsylvanians through the expungement process, and they can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options.