PA Self-Defense Laws
by: Ryan Cocron
CW: violence, police brutality, trans death, weapons
This is a blog that I hate having to write. But with all of the recent anti-trans laws being pushed and continued crime against the LGBTQ community, especially trans and nonbinary folks, it feels important and relevant to talk about self-defense. I live and work in Philadelphia, as do most of my clients, so I will be talking about Pennsylvania law.
With the increased violence directed at trans and non-binary individuals, especially trans-feminine people, it has never been more necessary to think about self-defense. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been 6 trans people fatally shot or killed so far this year and 50 last year. Regardless of how much someone passes (or being perceived correctly as the person’s correct gender), there is a significant need for conversations about safety and protection.
Pennsylvania law states that “the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful Force by such other person on the present occasion.” There are more stipulations about when this definition is no longer valid that can be read here.
The main complication I saw through my research is that many advertised or common self-defense weapons are either not legal in Pennsylvania, or are close enough to an illegal weapon that someone could get in trouble for having in their possession. For example, I have seen many advertisements for “cat claws” which look like cat faces with two pointy ears which can be used for self-defense. These, however, could technically be classified as brass knuckles and therefore could be considered illegal. Here is a list of what is considered illegal and legal in Pennsylvania, taken from the PA General Assembly website.
Illegal in PA
Any “offensive” weapon is defined as :
- a bomb
- machine gun
- sawed off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches
- any firearm which has been altered for concealment or silent discharge
- blackjack (weighted, usually leather, bludgeoning device)
- sandbag (similar to blackjack, a small bag filled with sand for bludgeoning)
- metal knuckles/brass knuckles
- daggers (automatic/spring loaded/push button)
- knife (automatic/spring loaded/push button knives or ones that do not have a common lawful purpose)
Legal in PA
- OC spray, pepper spray, mace are all legal and allowed to be carried without license for concealment
- Stun gun (must be 18 to own, and cannot be used for “offensive purposes”)
- Swiss Army or multipurpose tools
- Household/multipurpose items (mini flashlight, keys, metal keychain attachment)
- Gun (must have a license to carry) Must be 21 or older to apply for concealed carry permit
- Submit an application to your county Sheriff who will conduct a background check and determine suitability
- Gun safety information can be viewed here
All knives are illegal to have in public in Philadelphia. In addition, them being legal to own does not mean legal to carry.
Something that became evident to me is how confusing and complicated the laws are about self-defense weapons and defending oneself with one. It seems that it may be easier to own pepper spray, have a flashlight or other common item, or even go to a self-defense class.
Race or perceived race is also a factor here. Folks that are perceived as white will likely have less legal action or police violence than those who are Black.
Again, it is unfortunate that this is something that needs to be talked about. But it also does need to be talked about. Protect yourselves, empower yourself, and stay safe!