Guns 101: Pennsylvania’s firearms laws

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Any conversation involving firearms has to start with the Second Amendment. It protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It was adopted in 1791. Some argue what our forefathers really intended, but here is where we stand on the issue more than 200 years later.

Right now, the entire country is regulated by the National Firearms Act. It regulates machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, suppressors, and destructive devices like grenades. Some are illegal to own, others are heavily regulated. Machine guns are not illegal, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops to own one and they are very expensive.

States can also make their own rules. Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and California have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, with California at the top of the list. These states regulate or ban what they call assault rifles, limit magazine capacities, and some have waiting periods to buy guns.

Texas, Kansas, Vermont, South Dakota, Alaska, Missouri, Wyoming, Kentucky, Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana have the least amount of gun laws on the books. They do not regulate so-called assault rifles and some of these states do not require permits for concealed carry.

Some states have unique laws. In Alabama, it’s illegal to disguise a gun as a walking cane. It could get you two years in prison.

Unlike most of our neighboring states, Pennsylvania does not have heavy gun restrictions, but we still have rules to follow. We decided to talk to an expert, which took us to Trop Gun shop in Elizabethtown.

Phillip Groff has a military and police background. He’s also an instructor at the gun shop where he runs operations.

“Safety and knowledge goes a long way,” Groff said.

Groff showed us around and filled us in on Pennsylvania gun laws.

“At 18, you are permitted to purchase shotguns, rifles, things of that nature. At 21, you pick up the ability to purchase handguns and with that the concealed carry,” he said.

To legally buy a gun, you have to go through a background check. You need a photo ID and you need to fill out a Form 4473. The information on that form is used to run your background check. The buyer has to answer questions about any criminal or mental illness.

Felons, certain domestic abusers, and people who have been involuntarily committed cannot buy or possess firearms.

In Pennsylvania, state police run the background checks. Last year, they ran nearly a million. There is no waiting period in Pennsylvania, so once you pass the background check, which can only take a few minutes, you can buy a firearm.

You do not have to register your gun in Pennsylvania, but state police do keep a sales database using the serial numbers on the guns. There is no limit on how many guns you can buy.

If you decide to sell one of your handguns, there are rules.

“Any transfer of ownership you have to come in and have them transferred and have a background check conducted,” Groff said. “Private transfer of long gun rifles, shotguns, those can be conducted as a private party transfer.”

We checked out Trop’s indoor range to learn more. Groff explained the difference between a magazine and a clip.

“This is one of those areas where Hollywood gets it wrong all the time. The quick way to tell is if you can see all of the cartridges, it’s probably a clip, if it’s completely enclosed and boxed in, it’s typically going to be a magazine,” he said.

Groff fired several semi-automatic guns and explained how many misunderstand the term semi-automatic.

“A semi-automatic means that every time the trigger is pulled, one shot will fire. Firearms of that type are common, everywhere from a little .22 that kids use at Boy Scout camp, up through modern sporting rifles capable of shooting more rounds in more rapid succession,” he said.

Another term that is hotly debated is assault rifle.

“Everyone in the shooting world tends to shy away from assault rifle because it’s not an accurate description of what the firearm is,” Groff said. “What the media has termed assault rifles for decades are simply semi-automatic centerfire rifles no different than hunting rifles other than some physical cosmetic appearance. A true assault rifle is a select-fire machine gun capable of full-auto fire.”

Part three of the ABC27 Investigators series on guns airs Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. You’ll hear from both sides of the debate and what a Midstate prosecutor believes is the real problem with guns.

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