Pennsylvania Gun Laws: Self-Defense with a Firearm

The right to bear arms and the freedom to protect yourself are essential liberties and, generally, the most-cited reasons for gun ownership. These freedoms come with the responsibilities of knowing how to operate your gun, how to keep it out of the reach of others, and when to use it for self-defense. In this article, we’ll explain the latter responsibility, defining self-defense according to Pennsylvania law, outlining misconceptions about gun laws, and reviewing some frequently asked questions.

Pennsylvania Self-Defense Laws Explained

Self-defense in Pennsylvania is regarded as a justification defense, establishing that you claim the act of self-protection was intentional and was not an accident. To have acted in self-defense, you must have intentionally decided to protect yourself from impending bodily harm by another person. Pennsylvania Code §505.

Pennsylvania acknowledges four situations in which the use of deadly force in self-defense is justified:

  1. Death
  2. Rape; sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat
  3. Kidnapping
  4. Serious bodily harm

The act of self-protection must be proportional to the threat of harm against you. This means, in the circumstance where you are severely threatened and fear for your life, you may use deadly force as a means of self-defense. However, if someone is threatening to slap you, you may not legally respond with deadly force. Your use of self-defense must also be “immediately necessary” or imminent for your safety.

Of course, the question of what’s “reasonable,” “immediately necessary” for survival, and “proportional” can always come into question. In these cases, it’s crucial to have an experienced, knowledgeable Pennsylvania defense attorney by your side.

Self Defense Gun Law Misconceptions in Pennsylvania

Now that we’ve covered how Pennsylvania defines self-defense let’s discuss common myths and misconceptions about firearms and self-protection. Often, people assume that when you are in a situation that requires deadly force, you must first warn the perceived assaulter before doing so. However, you are under no obligation to provide any type of warning before using deadly force in self-defense. This means, when using deadly force, you have no legal duty to do any of the following:

  • Fire a “warning shot”
  • Give the perceived assaulter the chance to surrender or retreat
  • Give verbal warnings
  • Shoot superficially with intent to wound before using deadly force
  • Provide a statement to the authorities or responding officer after defending yourself; in fact, it’s crucial that you have an attorney present when making a statement to police after using deadly force

Frequently Asked Questions about Pennsylvania Gun Laws

What is considered self-defense with a gun in Pennsylvania?

The justification defense protects people who initiate self-defense by deadly force in PA. This means that an act that would otherwise be illegal (killing someone) is justified because of the imminent threat of bodily harm, which caused the self-protection/deadly force. Pennsylvania acknowledges the justified use of deadly force in situations that include rape, death, kidnapping, or serious bodily harm. Note that self-defense must be proportional to the threat to which you are responding.


What is the stand your ground law in Pennsylvania?

The “Stand Your Ground” law has to do with self-protection. According to Pennsylvania Legal Code, citizens have the right to stand their ground, not retreat, and use force, including deadly force, if they believe it immediately necessary to protect themselves against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat. Pennsylvania Code §505(B)(2.3).


What is considered deadly force?

Pennsylvania defines deadly force as “force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” It’s important to note that when you fire a gun for self-defense, legally, you are using “deadly force.” If a firearm is discharged, it has the capability of causing death or serious bodily injury, no matter the caliber of the weapon, the type of gun, or any modifications made to the firearm.


Do you need a permit to carry a gun in PA?

Yes, pursuant to carry permit laws in PA, you need a license to carry a concealed gun in Pennsylvania. However, you are allowed to carry a firearm without a license while in your home or fixed place of business. While most people are required to have a license to carry a concealed gun, according to Pennsylvania Code § 6106, there are some exceptions such as:

  • Members of the US Military
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Firearm safety instructors

Are any firearms illegal in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania prohibits machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and firearms specifically modified for concealment or silent discharge.


How do I legally obtain a firearm in Pennsylvania?

To legally obtain a gun, you must meet several requirements, such as:

  • Be 21 years of age or older
  • Be sound of mind and never involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • Not be addicted to the unlawful use of certain drugs, including marijuana or a stimulant, depressant, or narcotic drug
  • Not be addicted to alcohol, habitually intoxicated
  • Not have a dishonorable discharge from the United States Military
  • Not be barred from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, purchasing, selling, or transferring a firearm

Who is legally prohibited from owning a gun?

People who are prohibited from gun ownership in the United States include:

  • Civilians who have been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • Fugitives
  • Those deemed incompetent
  • Someone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • A person who is illegally in the United States
  • Those under active final protection from abuse order

What penalties exist for carrying firearms illegally?

Penalties for the illegal carrying of firearms range in severity, depending on the violation. A violation could result in a misdemeanor or a felony. Typical penalties for gun law offenses include:

  • Misdemeanor of the third degree, which is punishable up to one year in prison and up to a $2,500 fine
  • Misdemeanor of the second degree, which is punishable up to two years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine
  • Misdemeanor of the first degree, which is punishable up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000; this is the punishment for carrying a gun on or near school grounds
  • Felony of the second degree, which is punishable up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Felony of the first degree, which is punishable up to 20 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine

Consult an Experienced Pennsylvania Defense Attorney

If you have questions or require legal advice regarding self-defense and gun laws, James Bonner is here to help. Contact Bonner Law by calling 610-450-4555 or toll-free at 833-GET-OUT1 (for criminal cases) to schedule a free consultation. You can also fill out our convenient and confidential online form, and a member of our team will reach out to you as soon as possible.