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Legal Information: Pennsylvania

State Gun Laws

Laws current as of December 15, 2023

If the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser is ordered to give up his/her guns at the court hearing for a final PFA, s/he must give them up within 24 hours of the time the judge makes the order. In the case of an ex parte temporary order, s/he must give them up within 24 hours of the time s/he receives a copy of the order.1 The abuser can give the guns to the local sheriff, to a “third party” for safekeeping, or to a licensed dealer for safekeeping or sale. If the abuser gives his/her guns to the sheriff or to a third party, that person will keep them until the PFA expires. If the abuser gives them to a licensed dealer, s/he can ask that the dealer to keep them until the PFA expires, or s/he can ask that the dealer sell them.Note: The “third party” must be the abuser’s attorney or a commercial armory.2

Once a temporary or final protection from abuse order has been dismissed or expires, the abuser would fill out a “weapons return form” and submit it to the sheriff or other law enforcement agency. You are then supposed to be notified that the abuser has requested to have his/her firearms, other weapons or ammunition returned.3

However, if a person is prohibited from having guns due to another reason other than having a protection from abuse order against him/her, s/he has up to 60 days to sell or transfer them to another eligible person who is not a member of same household​.​4

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(a)(7)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§§ 6108.3; 6108.2; 6108.1
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108.1(a), (a.2)
4 18 Pa.C.S.A. §​ 6105(a)(2)(i)

Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the State Police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our PA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Pennsylvania on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our PA Advocates and Shelters page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.1

1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

What is the penalty for violating Pennsylvania state gun laws?

If the judge orders the abuser to give up his/her firearms as part of your PFA, and the abuser fails to do so in the time given by the judge, s/he could be charged with a misdemeanor in the second degree, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.1 S/he may also possibly be charged with the crime of contempt for violating the PFA, which could carry a penalty of a fine of between $300 - $1,000 and imprisonment or supervised probation for up to six months.2

If the abuser was convicted of one of the felonies which makes it illegal for him/her to own a gun, and s/he has a gun anyway, s/he could be charged with a felony in the second degree, which carries a penalty of a fine of up to $25,000 and prison of up to ten years.3

In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person’s right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes or if there is an order of protection against him/her that meets certain requirements. Violating federal law carries additional criminal penalties than the ones mentioned above. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

1 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(a.1)(2); 1101; 1104
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6114(b)(1)
3 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6105(a.1)(1); 1101; 1103

What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from legally buying a gun. Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system. Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

1National Criminal Justice Reference Service website