Article I, section 21 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution states: “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”

In 1875, in the case of Wright v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, summarily holding that the defendant had “no protection under the 21st section of the Bill of Rights, saving the right of the citizens to bear arms in defence [sic] of themselves and the state.”1 More recently, in the 2003 case Lehman v. Pennsylvania State Police, the Court held that the denial of appellant’s application to purchase a rifle due to a conviction for larceny decades earlier was not a violation of article 1, section 21, stating that “[w]hile the right to bear arms enjoys constitutional protection, like many other constitutional rights, it is not beyond regulation.”2

Pennsylvania’s lower courts have also consistently rejected article I, section 21 challenges to gun laws. For example:

  • In Minich v. County of Jefferson, a court upheld an ordinance prohibiting the possession of weapons in county buildings, noting that the right to bear arms may be restricted “for the good order of society and the protection of the citizens.”3
  • In Morley v. City of Phila. Licenses & Inspections Unit, a court upheld the denial of a firearms license, stating that “although the right to bear arms is a constitutional right, it is not unlimited, and restrictions are a proper exercise of police power if they are intended to protect society.”4
  • In Gardner v. Jenkins, a court held that “[t]he right to bear arms…is not unlimited and may be restricted in the exercise of the police power.”5
  • In In re Firearms, Eleven, a court held that the right to bear arms is lost through a felony conviction.6
  • In H.S. v. Allegheny County Dep’t of Human Servs., a court noted that “the right to bear arms is not unlimited; it may be restricted in the exercise of police power for the good order of society and protection of citizens.”7
  • In Commonwealth v. McKown, a court held that a Pennsylvania resident could not carry a concealed firearm without a valid Pennsylvania concealed carry license, even if he had a concealed carry license from a state that has reciprocity with Pennsylvania.8
  • In Stewart v. FedEx Express, a court held that neither the Second Amendment, nor the Pennsylvania Constitution, grants the right to carry a concealed firearm, or transport a loaded firearm in a vehicle.9
Notes
  1. Wright v. Commonwealth, 77 Pa. 470, 471 (1875). ⤴︎
  2. Lehman v. Pennsylvania State Police, 839 A.2d 265, 273 (Pa. 2003). ⤴︎
  3. Minich v. County of Jefferson, 919 A.2d 356, 361 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007); see also Perry v. State Civil Serv. Comm’n (Dep’t of Labor & Indus.), 38 A.3d 942 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2011) (holding that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s prohibition on the possession of weapons in the workplace was constitutional, because the right to bear arms was not unlimited, and could be restricted for the good of the order of society and the protection of citizens. ⤴︎
  4. Morley v. City of Phila. Licenses & Inspections Unit,844 A.2d 637, 641 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2004); see also Caba v. Weaknecht, 64 A.3d 39 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013) (holding that the revocation of a firearm license based on a finding that the licensee was “a person whose character/reputation indicated danger to public safety” did not violate the state right to bear arms). ⤴︎
  5. Gardner v. Jenkins, 541 A.2d 406, 409 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1988). ⤴︎
  6. In re Firearms, Eleven, 922 A.2d 906 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007). ⤴︎
  7. R.H.S. v. Allegheny County Dep’t of Human Servs., 936 A.2d 1218, 1229 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007). ⤴︎
  8. Commonwealth v. McKown, 79 A.3d 678 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013). ⤴︎
  9. Stewart v. FedEx Express, 114 A.3d 424 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015). ⤴︎