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How an Innocent Mistake Can Lead to Felony Weapons Charges in Pennsylvania

Can a misplaced stroke of a pen make you an accidental felon? It can if you make it on a gun application. In Pennsylvania, intentionally making a false statement on a firearms application is a felony. But when you check the wrong box on a form, how can authorities tell if you intended to lie or simply made an innocent mistake? The answer is they can’t, but they may prosecute you anyway. The York Daily Record recently reported on a rash of prosecutions against county residents for just such mistakes. If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights, you need to be very aware of the pitfalls that await you on a gun application.

Here’s a question that frequently trips applicants up: Have you ever been convicted of a crime that could have resulted in imprisonment for more than one year? Suppose you were arrested and charged with a crime, but you negotiated a plea bargain, were sentenced to probation, and never spent more than a night in jail.  It would be easy to think the correct answer is no. But the question isn’t asking about your actual sentence; it’s asking about the potential sentence you could have received.

Think about how you might answer this question: Have you ever been committed to a mental health institution? Most people think such a commitment means a long-term stay in a facility dedicated to treating the mentally ill. But Pennsylvania allows for a “302 commitment” for psychiatric evaluation at a hospital over a 72-hour period. Many such patients are seen in the Emergency Room and never even admitted to the hospital, but their 302 commitment counts for a firearms application.

Finally, certain juvenile offenses will disqualify an applicant, but most firearms purchasers think the forms are only interested in adult offenses.

If you have a question about your eligibility, the worst thing you can do is fill out the form and submit it. This is not a situation where a red flag goes up and you’re asked to clarify a statement. When the red flag goes up, you can be prosecuted for a crime.

Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law provides aggressive criminal defense representation for gun owners in Pennsylvania. Call 814-483-7075 or contact my office online to schedule a consultation.