Open Carry in Pennsylvania
Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only as a service to the public, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.
This is an information page for GAPP students considering whether to carry a firearm open in Pennsylvania. GAPP does not normally advocate open carry for several reasons (which will not be debated here), we simply state carrying concealed is preferable. However, carrying a firearm open may be better than not carrying at all and given the recent law change in Pennsylvania regarding CCW permit reciprocity, the only option for nonresidents who would carry is to carry a firearm open. There are several considerations people should research regarding the legal, safety/security, and common sense aspects of open carry. Please consider the information and links below; the information will help you structure your research on whether open carry is for you.
A definition of "Open Carry"
Let us start off by saying we are only concerned with open carry of handguns, not longarms. Open carry refers to carrying a holstered firearm in a manner that makes it clearly visible to those around the wearer, as opposed to concealed carry in which the wearer hides the firearm from view. If an article of clothing covers the handgun, even for a moment, the firearm ceases to be openly carried and becomes a concealed firearm. Carrying a concealed firearm without the propper license in Pennsylvania (and most other states) is a serious crime. People choosing to carry openly, should wear clothing and use a carry method that ensures their firearm will be visible at all times.
The Legal basis for Open Carry in Pennsylvania:
The right to carry a firearm openly is protected under Pennsylvania state constitution:
Article I, Section 21The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
You are allowed (using your UT or FL permit) to carry a firearm open in a vehicle under 18 PA. C. S 6106:b:11. A vehicle is defined as any mode of transport (car, motorcycle, atv, bycicle, horse, etc).
Where is it NOT legal:
Carrying openly in Philadelphia and any other city of the first class is illegal. A first class city is designated by the population, as of 12/14 Philadelphia is the only first class city.
No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless:
(1) such person is licensed to carry a firearm; or
(2) such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106(b) of this title (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license).
Other places of concern or considered “no carry zones” in Pennsylvania:
A. Court Facilities - PA Title 18, Chapter 9, Subsection 913
B. Grounds and buildings of Elementary and Secondary schools(K-12 grades), whether the school is private or public. - PA Title 18, Chapter 9, Subchapter 912 . Colleges are not prohibited by law, however the college could levy their own infractions such as banning a person from campus, expulsion of a student, or other civil punishments.
C. Some State buildings – best to ask before visiting
D. Private property where a landowner, tenant or person so authorized to maintain property has asked you to leave because you are carrying, or where the property owner or tenant has placed signs or placards denoting that guns are forbidden – PA Title 18, Chapter 35, Subsection 3503
***If a place is not in the list above doesn’t mean its NOT off-limits in Pennsylvania. All places prohibited by federal law (federal buildings, correctional facilities, airports, etc) still apply as a no carry zone. Concealed Carry is legal in State Parks if you have a PA CCW (called a LTCF) and PA Title 18 6109 (m.3) should nullify the Open Carry regulation (but there is no case law determining it) Please keep in mind, no carry zones apply just the same for concealed carry as they do open carry
Suggested items (which should be requirements) for open carry:
1) An outside the waistband holster with retention, such as a serpa or other level three retention holster. Keep in mind, these type of holsters require special training and practice to master.
2) A voice recorder or an app on your phone which records at least voice (download the ACLU Police tape app on your smartphone, it uploads to the ACLU website immediately and cannot be deleted). Record any interaction between you and law enforcement (more on that below)
3) The bulletin to law enforcement cited below. Make sure you understand the content and can have an intelligent conversation with law enforcement.
4) Your CCW from UT or FL. While the permits are not accepted in PA for carry purposes, they show you have passed an FBI background check and are an upstanding citizen.
5) Clothing that allows a clear view of your firearm at all times. Heavy winter coats and baggy sweatshirts may block someones view of your firarm so purchase clothing (or use a carry method) that allows for clear visibility.
Interacting with Law Enforcement and curious (or hostile) citizens
First and foremost, know the laws and know your rights. Be comfortable in that knowledge and be prepared to deal with police and others who question you. A firearm is to be carried as a self defense tool, not a political statement, so use discretion when engaging others in a debate about whether it SHOULD be legal... it IS legal and you are exercising your right to self defense.
Law enforcement officers are not the enemy of firearm owners. Many times they question a person carrying a firearm, they are responding to a “man with a gun” call or are curious why a person chooses to openly carry a firearm. They are concerned with officer safety in addition to public safety… so interacting with them politely and cooperating (to a degree) with their requests makes any interaction you have with them less stressful for all involved. That being said, openly carrying a firearm (in a holster), absent an indication of criminal activity, is NOT a crime nor a valid reason to stop, detain, or arrest anyone. It may only require a single concurrent fact to create a valid reason (muttering to oneself, suspicious behavior, or anything else that would lead a reasonable person to believe crime is afoot. A citizen does not need to show ID during such an encounter and are not required to surrender (even temporarily) their firearm. If you choose not to show identification the police may detain you longer while they attempt to identify you.
These facts do not mean that an arrest or detainment will not happen. If you are stopped, start your voice recorder as soon as an interaction with law enforcement starts (but do not make any motions toward your firearm). Explain what you are doing is completely legal and show them the bulletin you are carrying regarding open carry in PA. Using polite, yet blunt phrases such as “I do not consent to any searches” or “Am I being detained?” and “Why am I being detained?” will go a long way toward your defense (keep in mind these statements and answers are being recorded). If you are detained, comply with DEMANDS made by the officers (but consenting or agreeing to requests for searches normally mean you waive your rights). Keep in mind, you should politely state you do not agree with their actions nor consent to searches, but you have the right to remain silent and have legal counsel present for questioning… USE THAT RIGHT!!! Do not let any LEO bully you into waiving your rights. Having a lawyer on retainer goes a long way to having legal representation show up quickly.
There is legislation regarding the stop and frisk for “man with a gun called” in PA. Here is the case law on Terry stops:
This bulletin has been distributed to all PA police informing officers how to interact with citizens choosing to exercise their constitutionally protected right.
Curious and hostile Citizens:
It helps your case and the cause of open carry to be friendly when someone approaches you asking about your firearm. If you are going to engage people in a conversation about gun rights, be polite. Regardless of how you are being spoken to, being rude does nothing for you or for public opinion of the second amendment. Never, under any circumstances, act aggressively toward someone or brandish your firearm… being armed in a heated exchange could work against you if law enforcement get a “man with a gun” call. Also, be knowledgeable on the subject…avoid passing on information that you are not sure of and direct the other party to the state attorney general’s website for actual statutes and more information. A firearm should be carried for self defense and is protected under the PA constitution as such. DO NOT CARRY OPENLY TO MAKE A POLITICAL STATEMENT!!!
We present all of this information and links as we know them to be legal and accurate at the time of this writing. GAPP encourages our students to adhere to all the local, state, and federal laws wherever they may travel (these change frequently and vary state to state). For further clarification or more information, please contact the state attorney generals office for the individual state or consult an attorney