Living with Private Transfer Prohibitions

Pennsylvania has long prohibited private transfers of “firearms,” which are defined legally in our Uniform Firearms Act as:

Any pistol or revolver with a barrel length less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches.

Our transfer prohibition is not quite as draconian as what the folks in Colorado will have to endure, and nor is it nearly as bad as what Chuck Schumer has proposed federally. But nonetheless, when it comes to living under such a prohibition, lax enforcement and prosecutorial discretion is what makes it possible to live with, because the truth is that Pennsylvanians are violating the state’s transfer prohibition on a regular basis without even knowing it. That prohibition can be found here:

(c)  Duty of other persons.–Any person who is not a licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer and who desires to sell or transfer a firearm to another unlicensed person shall do so only upon the place of business of a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or county sheriff’s office, the latter of whom shall follow the procedure set forth in this section as if he were the seller of the firearm. The provisions of this section shall not apply to transfers between spouses or to transfers between a parent and child or to transfers between grandparent and grandchild.

Additionally, Pennsylvania prohibits “lending or giving” a “firearm,” with the following exceptions:

  • The person who receives the firearm is Licensed to Carry Firearms
  • The person who receives the firearm is exempt from licensing (e.g. cops)
  • People engaged in hunter safety, a firearm training program or competition sanctioned by the NRA.
  • Persons under 18, directly supervised by someone over 21 who is not prohibited.
  • To a person lawfully hunting.
  • Any transfer occurring only in the home or place of business.
  • Any bequest or inheritance

This was a blanket prohibition until 1995, when this admittedly weak set of exceptions was added. It’s unclear whether any firearm training program is exempted or only training programs sanctioned by NRA are exempted. What constitutes loaning is pretty well defined, but the law also prohibits giving, which is less well defined. Presumably handing a pistol to a fellow IHMSA (not an NRA competition) competitor who’s pistol went down might constitute illegal giving if he doesn’t have an LTC. Our law is still not very clear, despite far broader exceptions than federal and other state proposals currently. The exception for LTCs, which most Pennsylvanians who shoot have, at least removes quite a bit of ordinary legal hazard.

The big problem with “Universal Background Checks,” or more accurately, banning private transfers, is that you have to define transfers. Our opponents clearly want to define this as broadly as possible, to include even handing a gun to someone to shoot. Even with our exceptions, Pennsylvania law is only tolerable because of lax enforcement. For instance, I bought Bitter a little .22 revolver for Christmas one year. The “gift” is really just sort of an agreement. Legally, it’s my gun. She can take it shooting because she has an LTC. She can also carry my guns, again, because she has an LTC. If she did not, she can handle it in the house, but not take it outside the house. If she and I split, I’d have to formally transfer the gun into her name before she could remove it from my possession on a permanent basis. Many Pennsylvanians are unaware this is the law, and routinely commit serious crimes without realizing it.

If the anti-gunners have it their way in other states, and at the federal level, routine criminal acts will be in your future too, only worse, because the anti-gun folks have shown they aren’t willing to accept exceptions even as narrow as ours.

9 thoughts on “Living with Private Transfer Prohibitions”

  1. Indiana had a UBC for handguns from 1974 to 1998. It was never prosecuted and the law was widely ignored, even at gun shows in front of the police. Even with police officers sitting across my father’s dining room table it was violated.

    The law was so worthless is that it was repealed without objection in 1998 when Indiana implemented the Instacheck system.

  2. “Many Pennsylvanians are unaware this is the law, and routinely commit serious crimes without realizing it.”

    It’s a minor semantic nit, but I’d rephrase this as crimes with serious penalties. I refuse to call lending a 22 to someone who legally owns dozens of other guns a ‘serious crime’.

  3. The trouble with the lax enforcement dodge, is that it makes law enforcement completely discretionary. As Beria said, “show me the man and I will show you the crime”.

  4. It does not matter so much what the text of the law appears to imply. What matters is the case law from when people have gone before a judge/jury.

    By the way, does anyone know if PA residents can legally put firearms ownership into a trust? I’m NOT talking about NFA items, but just plain old every day guns and rifles. Can one transfer them to a trust? I seem to recall somewhere seeing that in PA only individuals can own guns, not corporate or other entities. I’m not sure about that, and again it would matter most what the case law is, but does anyone have any info about this? Michael Bane talked last week in his podcast #306, I believe) that he was transferring all of his guns and magazines into a trust so that he can share them with his sweetie and not run afoul of Colorado’s laws regarding “giving” or “lending” firearms. Can we do that in PA?

  5. “any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches.”

    So that means handguns and short barreled rifles and shotguns are the only “firearms” under state law?

    Normal length rifles and shotguns are what then? If not firearms?

  6. I have been waiting for Sen Schumer, et al, to suggest national use of the PA system as a “compromise.”

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