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What Qualifies as a Deadly Weapon in Pennsylvania

Assault with a deadly weapon is a serious crime to be charged with. Using a deadly weapon in a crime will almost always carry with it a felony consequence. Being convicted of a felony has implications beyond criminal penalties. You will be put on a government database for the rest of your life. Employers are often wary of hiring convicted felons or will not hire them outright. Felons may not be able to obtain certain loans and cannot own firearms.

A lawyer can help you fight these charges and get the justice you deserve. Effective legal representation is paramount because of the serious penalties after a conviction. We can provide you with experienced legal counsel, prepare a defense, and represent you in court.

Call our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free, confidential case review.

Definition of Deadly Weapons in Pennsylvania

18 Pa.C.S. § 908 details certain weapons and items a person cannot own for any reason in Pennsylvania. These items are considered deadly weapons. It is a first-degree misdemeanor to possess, make, repair, or distribute any of the items listed in this statute. Our Delaware County criminal defense lawyers can help determine whether a weapon you possess is considered a deadly weapon and form a defense for your case.

Machine Guns

Fully automatic weapons are considered deadly weapons under Pennsylvania law. 26 USC §5845(b) legally defines a “machine gun” as any firearm that shoots multiple bullets with a single pull of the trigger. In other words, if you hold the trigger down, the weapon will continually fire until the magazine is empty. This differs from a semi-automatic weapon, which fires only one bullet with each trigger pull.

Some aftermarket parts can make a semi-automatic weapon act like a machine gun. For example, a “bump stock” is a replacement shoulder stock that tricks a semi-automatic weapon into firing like a machine gun. The law is still in flux regarding these aftermarket parts, so they may be considered machine guns themselves and, therefore, deadly weapons in Pennsylvania.

Short-Barreled Shotguns

Short-barreled or sawed-off shotguns are regulated under the NFA and considered deadly weapons in Pennsylvania per 18 Pa.C.S.§ 908(c); a short-barreled shotgun is any shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches long. These weapons have the barrel made shorter or “sawed off.” Often, a sawed-off shotgun will also have the stock removed to give it a pistol grip for concealment or close-in maneuvering purposes.

Suppressed Weapons

18 Pa.C.S. §908(c) also considers firearms modified or created for “silent discharge” deadly weapons. The most common way a weapon would be adapted to be quiet is with a suppressor. Suppressors, colloquially known as “silencers,” are devices that attach to the barrel of a firearm and, through a variety of mechanisms, make the report of the gunshot quieter.

Explosive Devices

Bombs, grenades, and incendiary devices are also prohibited under the NFA and are considered deadly weapons in Pennsylvania.

Various Blunt Weapons

Pennsylvania law classifies many handheld weapons as prohibited items. The statute specifically lists blackjacks and knuckledusters.

 Tasers and Stun Batons.

Tasers and stun batons are listed in18 Pa.C.S. §908.1. However, they are legal to own and can be used in self-defense under some circumstances.

Items With No Common Lawful Purpose

Other items with “no common lawful purpose” are also prohibited. So while a baseball bat or golf club could certainly be a deadly weapon, they are not on the list of prohibited by statute in Pennsylvania. Throwing stars and machetes are examples of items with no common lawful purpose.

Assault With a Deadly Weapon in Pennsylvania

In addition to mere possession of some weapons being a crime in Pennsylvania, using those weapons, as well as other items, in criminal activity could be a felony.

Definition of a Deadly Weapon for Assault

Under Pennsylvania law, for purposes of the assault statute and other similar laws, a deadly weapon is any firearm or anything designed to inflict serious bodily injury or any other thing that could inflict serious bodily injury in the way it is used.

All firearms, not just “offensive weapons,” are considered deadly weapons under this law.

This definition refers less to the item in particular and more to its use. Many everyday items are not designed to be deadly weapons but could be used in such a way as to hurt someone badly or kill them. Kitchen knives, golf clubs, baseball bats, or a piece of metal piping are all not designed to hurt people but could easily be used to cause serious harm or death to another person. All of those items would be classified as deadly weapons under Pennsylvania law if they were used in a crime.

Aggravated Assault

In Pennsylvania, aggravated assault is intentionally causing serious bodily injury to another or an attempt to do the same. Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon is also aggravated assault in Pennsylvania.

The use of teargas or an “electric incapacitation device,” such as a taser, is covered in this section as well.

Depending on the severity of aggravated assault, you could be facing conviction for a first to third-degree felony.

Pennsylvania Deadly Weapon Enhancements

Pennsylvania courts have some discretion to use a “deadly weapon enhancement” when sentencing someone for a crime. Pennsylvania uses a sentencing matrix to determine how much of an enhancement is warranted in each case. This matrix is broken down into “possession” and “use,” with use of the weapon in the crime being more serious than mere possession of a weapon during a crime.

Prosecutors usually seek deadly weapon enhancements for serious crimes like robbery. Some crimes that use a deadly weapon as a potential element, like aggravated assault, cannot have a deadly weapon enhancement applied during sentencing. To use this enhancement, the prosecution must show, by a preponderance of evidence, that you not only possessed the deadly weapon but intended to use it in the crime to get the sentence enhancement.

Weapons Exceptions in Pennsylvania

Exceptions to prohibited offensive weapons law allow you to have certain items in your possession, even though the statute criminalizes them.

National Firearms Act Compliance

If you have the required National Firearms Act paperwork, 18 Pa.C.S. § 908(b)(1) allows you to legally possess a machine gun, short-barreled rifle, suppressor, or other NFA item in Pennsylvania. This exception does not apply to bombs, grenades, or incendiary devices.

Law Enforcement Exceptions

Members of law enforcement are allowed to use regulated firearms, tasers, and blackjacks (i.e., a police baton) for their job.

Brief Possession

Possession of a prohibited item briefly or in passing can be a defense. For example, if you find an illegal machine gun and pick it up to turn it in to the police, you are not culpable under the statute.

If you come to possess a prohibited item by wresting it away from an attacker, you are also not culpable.

Call Our Pennsylvania Defense Lawyers Today

Get in contact with our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free review of your case.