Pennsylvania: State or National Parks: What’s the Difference?

A common question often asked is whether it is legal in Pennsylvania to carry a firearm in state or national parks. With regards to Pennsylvania State parks, firearms and archery equipment used for hunting may be uncased and ready for use only in authorized hunting areas during hunting seasons. In areas not open to hunting or during non-hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment shall be kept in the owner’s car, trailer, or leased campsite.

Exceptions include: law enforcement officers and individuals with a valid Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms are authorized to carry a firearm concealed on their person while they are within a state park.

A word of caution! Even though the Pennsylvania legislature passed a preemption law that prohibits local governments from enacting firearms regulations which are more restrictive than those provided by the state legislature, not all cities are abiding by the law. In 2013, Philadelphia effectively banned the carrying of firearms in city parks in Philadelphia. Through its own local regulation ―PA Phila. Code § 16-306― Philadelphia granted authority to “The Commissioner of Public Property and the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation . . . to promulgate regulations prohibiting the carrying of any firearm or deadly weapon in or around any City-owned or City-occupied facility.”

Recently, a Pennsylvania court struck down an Erie ordinance which restricted carrying in city parks, calling the ordinance “erroneous and unenforceable.” Dillon v. City of Erie, 83 A.3d 467 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2014). Nonetheless, we do not encourage anyone to become the “test case” to challenge the Philadelphia regulations!

Until a few years ago, firearms were not permitted on federal parklands. However, the law governing possession of firearms inside a national park or forest changed on February 22, 2010.

The law changed so that visitors may possess firearms within a national park unit provided they comply with federal, state, and local laws.

So guns are allowed in all but about 20 of the park service’s 392 locations, including some of its most iconic parks: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park. In Pennsylvania, guns are allowed in national parks, including the Valley Forge National Historical Park. However, more than 30 national parks span more than one state, so visitors need to know where they are in those parks and which state law applies.

Guns will not be allowed in visitor centers or rangers’ offices, because firearms are banned in federal buildings, but they could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

While visiting National Forests in Pennsylvania, you may carry a weapon. However, in addition to state laws, you must comply with Federal Regulations pertaining to the use of a firearm on National Forest System lands.

A firearm may not be discharged in the following National Forest areas:
1. Within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or occupied area; or
2. Across or on a Forest Development road or an adjacent body of water, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge; or
3. Into or within any cave. [36 CFR 261.10 (d)]

Some forest or districts have additional restrictions on discharging a firearm. You are advised to check with the authorities in the areas you will be visiting.

In accordance with 16 USC 1a-7b, in any national park, a person may possess a firearm if such possession is in compliance with the laws of the State in which the national park area is located. Therefore, in any national park in the State of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s laws would apply.

Another Federal statute, in particular 18 USC 930, prohibits firearms or other dangerous weapons within a “Federal facility,” defined as a “a building or part thereof owned or leased by the Federal Government, where Federal employees are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties.” In national parks, such facilities may include visitor centers, administrative offices, and/or maintenance buildings. Any such facilities will be clearly marked with signs at all public entrances.

For more information about national parks, and park-specific regulations, visit the National Park Service website and search by park name, location (state), activity, or topic.

In summary, Pennsylvania licensed holders are permitted to concealed carry in Pennsylvania’s National Parks but not inside buildings within the park, and in all state and municipal parks—except in Philadelphia . . . for now!

Comment moderation is in use. Please do not submit your comment twice — it will appear shortly.