When it comes to self-defense weapons, packing the right one for your lifestyle is an important part of maximizing your personal readiness. Just like not every shoe will fit on every foot, not every weapon is suitable for every situation and every personal preference.
But, state laws tend to complicate the matter because what weapons are legal or illegal can vary hugely from one state to the next. A common weapon that’s completely legal in one state might be totally forbidden in the next.
Let’s look at the laws in Pennsylvania. What self-defense weapons are legal there?
Pennsylvania law generally permits guns, knives, various self-defense sprays, and stun guns or tasers for civilian self-defense. Other weapons like clubs, saps, blackjacks and so forth are questionable or illegal.
It really is all about the basics in Pennsylvania, and although the state is not the most pro-self defense one around, it’s generally acceptable.
Most of the gun laws are agreeable or adequate, and the state is surprisingly permissive when it comes to knives. But common weapons like batons and other types of club exist in a murky legal gray area that you probably don’t want to chance.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the self-defense weapon laws in Pennsylvania…
As always, guns tend to be the preferred self-defense weapon for the concerned citizen, and they are legal in Pennsylvania.
The state allows both long guns and handguns to be used for self-defense, though they may only legally be carried concealed on or about your person, or in your vehicle, with the benefit of a lawfully issued license to carry firearms.
Doing otherwise is a significant felony, though there are some exceptions in Title 18 of the Pennsylvania consolidated statutes. And of course, any firearm that you use for self-defense must be legal under federal and state law.
That means no full automatics or short barrel weapons that aren’t stamped and completely legal in your possession. Even if they are, think twice before using these guns for self-defense; a prosecutor will paint a grim picture of you to a jury.
Basically, if you want to have a firearm for self-defense at your home, you can, if you want to carry it concealed anywhere else you’ll need a permit.
Make sure you check out some of the most relevant exceptions from the lengthy list in section 6106 of title 18 below:
6106. Firearms not to be carried without a license.
(a) Offense defined.–
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license under this chapter commits a felony of the third degree.
(2) A person who is otherwise eligible to possess a valid license under this chapter but carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license and has not committed any other criminal violation commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.
Pennsylvania is a knife-friendly state, and as of the beginning of 2023, pre-existing restrictions on the possession and carry of automatic knives, commonly called switchblades, have been done away with.
Those restrictions have been around since the mid-1950s, so that’s a good thing!
There is no state-level law concerning the public carry of any kind of knife except in restricted locations were weapons cannot go, or the carry of any knife with criminal intent.
However, it’s definitely a good idea to familiarize yourself with the deadly weapon statutes of Pennsylvania, because there is a loose and somewhat nebulous definition for knives “designed as weapons and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury”.
Generally, if such a knife is carried legally and used for lawful self-defense, it isn’t a problem…
You can find the definition for “deadly weapon” in section 2301 of Title 18, included below for your convenience. Also, keep in mind that there is no statewide preemption concerning knife regulations in Pennsylvania.
This means that your local city or county laws might well be more stringent than the state laws. It’s up to you to check, determine and follow the local laws of any county or city you live in or travel to, or even travel through!
For instance, Philadelphia is one infamously restrictive state that has issued a blanket ban on the carry of all knives that aren’t being used, at the instant, for professional purposes in the course of professional work.
You cannot even carry the smallest of pocket knives anywhere on a public street or in a public place…
“Deadly weapon.” Any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, or any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury, or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner in which it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.
“Serious bodily injury.” Bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
3. Self-Defense Sprays
Self-defense sprays, be they pepper spray, tear gas, or some other non-lethal chemical formula, are legal and broadly permissive for self-defense in Pennsylvania.
Small devices or canisters that are sold for the purpose may be carried openly or concealed on or about your person anywhere that weapons may go.
However, it’s up to you to be sure that whatever your chosen device or formula, it is not designed, intended or capable of producing serious bodily harm or death.
This means it is a good idea to stick with known units sold by major manufacturers with a proven track record of reliability and safety.
If your spray, whatever the brand and formula, through its intended use inflicts significant injury then you might be in trouble, but otherwise all such sprays and devices are legal if carried for lawful purposes of self-defense only.
Notably, it’s illegal to carry any such spray, of any size, for any non-lawful purpose and the misuse of such sprays for any other purpose is a crime.
And again, there is no statewide preemption concerning the regulation of pepper spray or other common defensive sprays.
County and city laws might enforce blanket bands on the carry of any such spray, regulations on the formula, restrictions on size or capacity and more.
As always, it’s up to the poor, beleaguered citizen to keep up with this patchwork of laws and avoid running afoul of them if you want to stay out of trouble.
4. Stun Guns
Stun guns are legal as self-defense weapons in Pennsylvania, despite some seriously concerning wording in the state statutes, specifically section 908 of Title 18; prohibited offensive weapons.
Namely, that section, included below, specifically defines stun guns, stun batons, tasers, or any other electronic or electric weapon or device capable of the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common purpose as being expressly illegal.
But there’s the catch, right there: “serves no common lawful purpose”.
Basic stun guns and tasers both serve lawful purposes and furthermore are not designed for the infliction of serious bodily injury.
As long as your stun gun is designed to inflict pain or minor injuries only, it is legal to carry at the state level, and can go anywhere that you can legally possess weapons (though the regulations on carrying it into restricted areas still applies).
And, and I promise you’ll be tired of hearing me say this by the end, you must once again check all your local municipal and county laws concerning possession and carry of stun guns.
Several areas in Pennsylvania are significantly more restrictive concerning stun guns and other electric weapons then the state government is, and Philadelphia in particular is heinous.
908. Prohibited offensive weapons.
(c) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:
“Offensive weapons.” Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, any stun gun, stun baton, taser or other electronic or electric weapon or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.
Tasers are mechanically distinct from stun guns even though they work using similar principles.
The main difference between a taser and a simple stun gun is that a taser is a ranged weapon, capable of keeping the user at a safe distance by firing electrodes which are connected to the main unit by trailing wires.
Once both electrodes stick in the target, the circuit is completed and the juice starts flowing! Ideally this will drop the attacker and allow you to get away.
In Pennsylvania, it’s commonly thought that tasers are outright illegal because of the same statute reference to above on stun guns concerning offensive weapons.
But tasers fall into the same exemption because they do serve a common lawful purpose, and they are not designed for the infliction of a serious bodily injury.
Accordingly, tasers may be readily bought in the state and carried anywhere that you can legally take a weapon. But once again, make sure you check out those local laws and regs.
Also note that some municipalities permit tasers to be possessed and carried, but they might be categorized in the same way as firearms and require a permit in order to be carried concealed.
6. Are Clubs Legal for Self-Defense in Pennsylvania?
Clubs inhabit a truly murky, vague area of the law in Pennsylvania concerning civilian self-defense.
Once again, if we look at section 908 of Title 18 under prohibited offensive weapons, we see that blackjacks, sandbags and other implements designed for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose are forbidden.
This doesn’t say anything about any given type of club one way or the other, except the blackjack which is arguably a subset of club; more on blackjacks in a moment.
Clubs are not commonly used for civilian self-defense, not anymore, and case precedent has indicated that at least some types of weapons are not exempted as having a “common lawful purpose” for self-defense.
Accordingly, I cannot recommend you carry any type of club, be it short or long, solid or collapsible, in Pennsylvania.
7. Are Blackjacks and Slungshots Legal for Self-Defense in Pennsylvania?
No. Concerning the flexible, weighted type of club typified by the blackjack, the sap and sometimes by the slungshot, none of these weapons are permissible for self-defense, carried openly or concealed, under Pennsylvania law.
Blackjacks and sandbags are mentioned by name on the prohibition of offensive weapons, and this is compounded by the following exemptions which do not list civilian use or self-defense at all for blackjacks. See section 908 (d) of Title 18.
8. Are Brass Knuckles Legal in Pennsylvania?
No. Brass knuckles, defined as “metal knuckles” in the Pennsylvania state statutes, are mentioned by name under the prohibition of offensive weapons.
Carried openly or concealed, they are a no-go.
Also, don’t try to get cute and wear them or get a pass on them as part of a belt buckle, necklace, or some other clever trick. It won’t work and you’ll get busted.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.