Packing Heat? You Can Show it in Philadelphia

Posted February 23, 2012 in Criminal Law by

A police officer spots a citizen on a crowded city street with a handgun proudly strapped to his hip. The officer draws his own gun, and asks the gentleman to kindly get on the ground (using slightly stronger language.) The man insists that he has the right to carry his gun openly. Who’s right?

  • Open carry legal in Philadelphia with concealed carry permit
  • Man suing city for civil rights violations after being detained for openly carrying
  • Laws vary by state; know before you strap on


Get on the Ground

Gun rights activist Mark Fiorino is suing the City of Philadelphia after an incident last year in which he was detained for 40 minutes by police for walking around in public with a pistol holstered on his hip, for all the world to see. The altercation, which was captured on audio tape, features an agitated police officer telling Fiorino he can’t open carry in the city, and Fiorino lecturing the officer that he can, too. Backup soon arrives  and Fiorino is made to lay down on the ground, but eventually the police concede that he is right, and send him on his way.

It wasn’t over, though — Fiorino posted his audio to Youtube, and police were annoyed enough to arrest him after the fact for disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering another person. Fiorino spent 16 hours in jail before posting bail and eventually being cleared. Last week, he filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the ACLU for civil rights violations.


 The audio recording of Fiorino’s confrontation (contains profanity)



Special Exception

Fiorino was right when it comes to the law, and police officials acknowledged as much. Pennsylvania is fairly hands-off in general when it comes to gun laws (much to the consternation of Philadelphia public safety officials.)

There is no requirement to register a firearm in Pennsylvania as long as you aren’t disqualified via certain factors, including most violent crimes, multiple DUIs or an involuntary commitment to a mental institution. In most of the state, you don’t need a permit to carry a gun openly, though you do need one to carry a concealed weapon. Philadelphia makes a special exception.

“In Philadelphia county, if you’re in the street with a firearm, you need a permit to carry regardless of whether or not it’s concealed. In the rest of Pennsylvania, you can carry unconcealed,” says Brad Shuttleworth, a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia.

Fiorino had his concealed carry permit. What the police on the scene didn’t realize was that the concealed permit grants the bearer the right to carry both concealed and openly on city streets.

Reckless Endangerment

That’s not to say there aren’t limits. Regardless of your permit status, it would be extremely unwise to pull a gun and fire it unless you were in immediate danger.

Attorney Brad Shuttleworth

“You can’t just fire a gun,” Shuttleworth says. “If you fire a gun, especially in Philadelphia, without some type of justification, you could be charged with various things,” among them reckless endangerment, or firing a missile into an occupied structure if you shoot into a building.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams even made a special announcement on New Year’s Eve to remind people to keep their finger off the trigger. “Firing guns into the air on New Year’s Eve is not only dangerous, it is illegal,” the DA’s statement read. “Anyone caught shooting a firearm into the air could be charged with Recklessly Endangering Another Person (REAP), which could result in several years in prison if you are convicted.  If a bullet hits someone the shooter could be charged with Aggravated Assault, Attempted Murder or even Murder.”

Should you be legally carrying a concealed weapon and get stopped by the police, it’s probably in your interest to alert the officers before they find out on their own. “If they’re about to frisk you or do something like that, you want to warn the police first,” Shuttleworth says. “You don’t want them to be surprised.”

Permit Not Required

While the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment, states have various interpretations about how lenient or restrictive they want to be. Open maintains maps showing the various permutations of open carry laws in different states.

  • Open carry is permitted in 42 states
  • In 26 states, no permit is required to open carry
  • Most of the mountain states, as might be expected, offer open carry with no restrictions
  • Texas, surprisingly, does not allow open carry

 Pennsylvania has more lenient open carry laws than Texas– who would have thought?

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