A fight outside a high school in Philadelphia was cleared away when an unknown adult brandished what seems to have been a firearm. The situation presents an opportunity to go over the limits of Pennsylvania's “stand your ground” laws, as well as an important exception to a gun owner's right to bear arms: School grounds.
Fight Outside Philadelphia High School Disbursed by Gun-Wielding Adult
Cellphone footage taken across the street from Philadelphia's Northeast High School on Thursday, February 28, shows a fight involving about a dozen teenagers. As one of the altercations spilled over the curb and into the street, an adult who appeared to be trying to gain control of the situation pulled out what looked like a gun. Students quickly scattered as the footage stops abruptly.
While the adult never fired the weapon, police are looking for him in connection with the incident.
Stand Your Ground Not a Defense When No Shots Fired
Using force, including deadly force, for self-defense is a crucial right to have. In Pennsylvania, your right to use a firearm for self-defense is found at 18 Pa.C.S. § 505.
There are, however, numerous requirements that need to be met in order to lawfully use deadly force in self-defense. While subsection 505(b)(2.3) permits people in Pennsylvania to “stand their ground” and not retreat from an altercation before wielding deadly force, how the altercation began, in the first place, makes a big difference: The person claiming self-defense cannot have initiated the altercation.
Of course, Pennsylvania's stand your ground law is moot until deadly force is actually used. With no shots fired, there is no self-defense issue – the stand your ground law only "triggers" when the gun is discharged. It cannot be used to justify merely brandishing a weapon.
Brandishing a Firearm in School Zones
What police are likely more concerned with is the fact that the adult in the cellphone footage pulled out what looked like a gun, with Northeastern High School in the immediate background of the scene. 18 Pa.C.S. § 912 makes it a first-degree misdemeanor just to carry a firearm on school property, let alone brandish it. Convictions carry between 2.5 and five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
While state law only reaches to the end of “school property,” the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of a public school. While there are exceptions – such as for unloaded firearms that are stored in a locked container, and for people who are duly licensed to carry a firearm in the state – violators risk facing up to five years in jail and $5,000 in fines.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who legally represents those who have been accused of a crime in or near the city of Philadelphia, including for firearms or weapons charges. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 for legal help if you have been arrested or are being charged with a crime.