Pennsylvania’s hate and gun laws have significant gaps that allow some people to keep and access guns, including assault weapons, after they have been convicted of violent hate crimes.
Access to Guns for People Convicted of Hate Crimes in Pennsylvania
|Violence with Severe Bodily Injury||Violence with Bodily Injury||Other Crimes Involving Intentional Use of Force||Threats with Deadly Weapons|
Other Credible Threats to Physical Safety
|Federal Law||Very limited or no access||Very limited or no access||Some access||Very limited or no access|
Very limited or no access
|State Law||Very limited or no access||Some access||Significant access||Significant access|
Pennsylvania makes it an offense (called “ethnic intimidation”) to commit specified (mostly assault-related) crimes with malicious intention “motivated by hatred” toward the race, color, religion or national origin of a victim or victims.1 (Disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation are not included as protected categories). Under this law, ethnic intimidation offenses are generally treated as one degree higher than the underlying crime, so certain misdemeanors are reclassified as lower-level felonies when perpetrated as hate crimes.2
Pennsylvania prohibits people from accessing guns if they have been convicted of any specified, mostly violent crimes, regardless of whether the offense is a felony or misdemeanor.3 This list of firearm-disqualifying offenses does not include ethnic intimidation, so hate crime offenders are generally not prohibited from accessing guns under Pennsylvania law. Hate crimes also do not become firearm-disqualifying under state law when they are reclassified as felonies.
Federal law, however, generally prohibits people from accessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony punishable by over one year in prison, or a state law misdemeanor punishable by more than two years.4 In Pennsylvania, “first degree” misdemeanors are punishable by up to five years,5 so both felony and first degree misdemeanor convictions in Pennsylvania trigger federal firearm restrictions.
As a result, people convicted of violent hate crimes involving serious physical injury, injury with a deadly weapon, or stalkingare generally prohibited from accessing guns under both Pennsylvania and federal law.6 Those convicted of offenses like hate crime assaults and “terroristic threats” of violence,7 are generally subject to federal firearm restrictions only.
People convicted of other violent hate crime misdemeanors, however, like violent harassment (striking, shoving, or kicking a victim), remain eligible to access guns under both state and federal law, as well as people convicted of assault if their crime is not prosecuted as “ethnic intimidation.”8
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- 18 Pa.C.S. § 2710(a) and (c). People may be convicted of ethnic intimidation without being separately convicted of another underlying offense, so long as the judge or jury finds that the person committed acts constituting the underlying offense. Commonwealth v. Magliocco, 584 Pa. 244, 265-66 (Pa. 2005).
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 2710(b); Se 18 Pa.C.S. § 106.
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105.
- 18 U.S.C. § 922 (g)(1); 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)(B).
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 106(b)(6).
- 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 6105; 2702(a) (felony aggravated assault); 2709.1 (stalking reclassified as felony pursuant to § 2710);
- 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 2701 (simple assault reclassified as first degree misdemeanor); 2706 (terroristic threats reclassified as felony).
- See 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(1) (reclassified as second degree misdemeanor).