Buying Guns and Ammo in Pennsylvania

DISCLAIMER: It is your full responsibility to make sure the firearm, ammunition, or accessories you are purchasing is legal for you to own in your state or jurisdiction. The information contained throughout this web site, including the firearm and ammunition state guide provided below, is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.

One of the original states and the host of the 1787 Constitutional Convention where the Second Amendment was ratified, Pennsylvania has a long history with firearms.

When it comes to purchasing, owning, and carrying firearms and ammunition, Pennsylvania is substantially more permissive than many of the other states on the East Coast. With that in mind, there are several exceptions to this permissiveness, and the relatively lax state of PA’s gun laws might not remain the case in the future.

In this piece, we examine the ammunition and firearms laws in Pennsylvania. While it is not intended as legal advice, this guide is a great start for those looking to purchase, use, and carry firearms in Pennsylvania.

Most of the firearms law in the state is all in one place:  Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. Particularly, Chapter 61 contains the vast majority of firearms laws for the state, and thus it is the legal basis for most of this guide. Handily, Chapter 61 prohibits every locality in the state from making its own firearms laws except for Philadelphia, so once one has a good understanding of PA’s state laws and Philly’s few exceptions to them, that understanding applies in the whole state.

Ammo Laws/Buying Ammo in Pennsylvania 

First, we will cover the ammo laws of PA. 

Pennsylvania has fairly permissive ammunition laws. There is only one outright ammunition ban in the state, which is a statewide ban on polymer-coated, armor-piercing ammunition.  Aside from that ban, most of the regulations on ammunition purchases in the state are federal and come from the ATF.

The ATF’s rules on ammunition are twofold. First, the buyer has to be at least eighteen to purchase rifle or shotgun ammunition, and twenty-one to purchase handgun ammunition. Second, the buyer cannot be a prohibited person, which generally includes people who have been convicted of felonies or domestic violence, or those who have been ruled as mentally incapable by a court of law/admitted into a mental health facility against their will.

So, as long as the ammunition is not of the single banned type and the buyer is old enough and not a prohibited person, purchasing ammo in PA is simple and people can have ammunition shipped to residential addresses. Buyers should be aware, however, that carriers can impose their own rules such as asking for an adult with a valid ID to be present to sign for ammunition deliveries. All things considered, PA is a relatively permissive state in terms of ammunition purchasing and ownership.

This may not be the case forever, however. There has been a bill introduced in the state House to require that all ammunition sold in the state have individual serial numbers on each round (which no manufacturer currently does) and keep a database of everyone who purchases that ammunition. While the bill is languishing in committee as of the writing of this piece, it is an example of the substantially stricter laws that might gain traction in the future in the state. 

Gun Laws/Buying Guns in Pennsylvania 

Pennsylvania is generally permissive when it comes to purchasing firearms. As long as the person is of the age required by the ATF, no additional waiting periods are imposed by the state. What makes Pennsylvania different from some states is its differential treatment of long guns and handguns.

For long guns, the purchasing process is as permissive as allowable under federal law. Anyone over eighteen can go to a gun store, fill out Form 4473, pay for the firearm, and leave the same day assuming that the background check is clear.

Handguns are a little different: all handguns sales in the state, as per the above-linked Title 18 have to go through the state’s background check system, in addition to the federal one from Form 4473. This applies to both FFL sales and private sales: the law does enable both county sheriff's offices and FFLs to perform private-sale checks through the state system. The state also maintains a record of these handgun sales, meaning it is a registry of sorts. The differential treatment of handgun sales makes it a fair bit less permissive in terms of the purchasing of firearms within the state. 

Generally speaking, open carry is legal in the state. With that said, folks who are engaging in hunting are encouraged by the state to apply for its Sportsmans’ Firearms Permit, which gives permit holders an exception from the state’s prohibition on carrying a loaded firearm inside of a vehicle, but not on the owner’s person.

While open carry is legal without any kind of permit in the state, concealed carry is not. In PA, county sheriffs handle the concealed carry permitting process, which requires a small fee and a background check, and the state is shall-issue.

There is one exception to this, however: Philadelphia has its own version of the same process for folks who want to carry a firearm, whether open or concealed, within city limits. The process is virtually the same as the state-level permit, but is managed by the city government rather than a county government.

Even with legal open carry, transparent exceptions for hunting, and a concealed carry permitting system, PA has places where folks cannot carry firearms at all, including:

  • K-12 Schools

  • Correctional Facilities

  • Mental Health Facilities 

  • Casinos 

  • Court Buildings

  • VA and other Federal Buildings 

These restrictions are the norm even in the most permissive states, and do not stand out.

Overall, Pennsylvania is relatively permissive when it comes to buying and owning firearms, with the exception being the de facto handgun registry and the fact that Philly can make its own rules. There are some firearms manufacturers based in the state: for instance, Kahr Arms is headquartered there.

While the state is currently friendly to firearms for the most part, this might well change in the future. The proposed ammunition law, even though it seems to have died for now in committee, is an indication of at least some political will to model the PA gun laws more along the lines of  NY or CA, which would make the overall firearms landscape much more restrictive in the future. 

Sales Tax on Guns/Ammo in Pennsylvania 

The general sales tax rate in the state is 6%, but localities can impose up to 2% more on all goods and services.

This is one of the few states that have a separate firearms tax: an additional $3 is tacked onto the purchase of every firearm in the state. Every five years, this tax can be changed if the state police ask for more funding. This unusual tax doesn’t prevent anyone from purchasing a firearm on paper, but, especially for folks who are budget-wary, every additional fee certainly counts towards making it harder to own firearms and practice self-defense in practical terms. 

More Resources:

The Pennsylvania Firearm Owner’s Association has a lively form that has not only hunting information, but an active section about the laws in the state, as well as tips about where to find the best ranges, gunsmiths, etc.

Pennsylvania Gun Laws FAQ:

Yes, provided that the ammunition is not polymer-coated, armor-piercing rounds, the buyer is 18 (for rifle or shotgun ammo) or 21 (for handgun ammo), and the buyer is not a prohibited person. Also, carriers might ask for a signature and an ID upon delivery.

The state does not impose additional waiting periods for buying guns in the state. There is a second, state-run background check for handguns, though, and that can sometimes take a few days if there is a backlog.

Technically no: people can buy and sell long guns without any kind of registry in PA. But, the state does maintain records of every handgun sale in the state, including private ones, so there is, effectively, a handgun registry in the state.

On the state level, yes. But, to carry a loaded gun in the car, one has to have a hunting permit from the state. There are also exceptions to where people can carry a firearm, such as schools and hospitals.

The county sheriffs, of Philadelphia police, issue concealed carry permits. Aside from allowing people to carry in the state, PA’s permit has fairly limited reciprocity