See our Domestic Violence and Firearms policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Firearm Prohibitions for Domestic Violence Misdemeanants
Only persons prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms as a result of a domestic violence misdemeanor are subject to Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting firearm possession by domestic violence misdemeanants.1
For information about temporary delays in the background process that allow the Pennsylvania State Police to determine whether a misdemeanor involved domestic violence, see the Pennsylvania Background Checks section.
Firearm Prohibitions for Persons Subject to Domestic Violence Protective Orders, and Relinquishment of Firearms When Domestic Violence Protective Orders Are Issued
Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone subject to a current domestic violence protective order from possessing a firearm if the protective order provides for the relinquishment of firearms,2 and a court issuing a domestic violence protective order must order the abuser to relinquish all firearms under his or her possession or control, as well as any firearm license.3 Any family member or current or former sexual or intimate partner who has been subject to abuse may seek such an order.4 When ordered to relinquish firearms, the abuser must relinquish his or her firearms to law enforcement or a licensed dealer within 24 hours.5 Any firearm license must be relinquished to a sheriff.6
A plaintiff may also petition for a “temporary” order for protection from abuse if he or she alleges immediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children, in which case the court shall conduct an “ex parte” proceeding (without notice to the defendant).7 In an ex parte proceeding, the court may direct that the defendant temporarily relinquish to the sheriff any firearms or ammunition for the duration of the temporary order if the petition demonstrates abuse which involves a firearm or other weapon, or an immediate and present danger of such abuse (based on a list of factors).8
Pennsylvania law requires the State Police to maintain a registry of temporary and final protection orders, court-approved consent agreements and foreign protection orders.9 This registry indicates whether firearms or ammunition were ordered relinquished in each protection order or consent agreement. A court that has entered a protection order or consent agreement must make the information available to the Pennsylvania State Police within 24 hours of the order.10
Removal of Firearms at the Scene of a Domestic Violence Incident
Pennsylvania law grants a police officer a right of arrest without a warrant whenever he or she has probable cause to believe the defendant has committed involuntary manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, or stalking against a “family or household member,” even if the offense did not take place in the officer’s presence, if the officer first observes recent physical injury to the victim or other corroborative evidence.11 Pennsylvania law requires the arresting police officer in this situation to seize all weapons used by the defendant in the commission of the offense.12
In addition, Pennsylvania law grants a police officer a right of arrest without a warrant whenever he or she has probable cause to believe the defendant has violated a protection order, even if the violation was not committed in the presence of the police officer.13 Subsequent to the arrest, the police officer must seize all firearms and ammunition used or threatened to be used during the violation of the protection order or during prior incidents of abuse, and any other firearms in the defendant’s possession.14
- 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(33), 922(g)(9); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(9). The relationship need not be an element of the offense to meet these requirements, so long as the offense was committed by a person in any of the following relationships: (i) the current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim; (ii) a person with whom the victim shares a child in common; (iii) a person who cohabits with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or (iv) a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(9)(iv).
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(6).
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6108(a)(7).
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6102(a), 6108.
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6105.2.
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105.2(g)(1).
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(1).
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3). The factors to consider include whether the defendant has previously violated a protection from abuse order, whether past or present abuse to the plaintiff or any of the plaintiff’s minor children resulted in injury, whether the abuse occurred in public, and whether the abuse includes: i) threats of abuse or suicide; (ii) killing or threatening to kill pets; (iii) an escalation of violence; (iv) stalking or obsessive behavior; (v) sexual violence; or (vi) drug or excessive alcohol use. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6107(b)(3)(ii).
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(e).
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(e)(2), (4).
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(a). See 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6102 (defining “family or household member”).
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(b).
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6113.