The following is a video transcript.

What do you do when you inadvertently carry into a place you’re not supposed to and you need to use your gun in self-defense?


The first thing to know is that there’s a difference between “no gun” zones that are enforced by state or federal law, such as courthouses, post offices and schools, and “no gun” areas that are posted by private businesses. Should you carry into a “no gun” zone that is enforced by law, you will likely be convicted for the offense.

This is different than private businesses with “no gun” signs. There is no specific crime in Pennsylvania for carrying past a “no gun” sign on a private business. However, if you carry into a private business, such as a restaurant with a “no gun” sign, then you may well be charged with a misdemeanor offense of trespassing. But to actually be convicted or proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of trespassing, the government would have to prove that you had carried your firearm into that location knowing that you were not privileged to do so. This may be tough for the prosecution to do unless you are told to leave and refuse to do so, or you admit that you knew you were not supposed to have a gun in this location.


Should you be near a gun-free location, such as across the street from the post office, when you see someone go into the post office and begin shooting the place up, then you have a legal concept on your side known as the doctrine of necessity. The doctrine of necessity is a common law defense that will excuse you rushing into the legally prohibited place with your weapon to stop the grave threat to the lives of others. The doctrine of necessity could be applied in emergency scenarios both in places where firearms are prohibited by law, and in places where firearms are prohibited by policy, such as private businesses.


Just because you are in an area where firearms are restricted does not mean that you lose all right to self-defense. It may however mean that you have a duty to retreat if you can do so with complete safety.

In Pennsylvania, for stand your ground to apply (which would remove your duty to retreat) you have to meet three conditions:

  1. You would have to be somewhere you legally have a right to be;
  2. You cannot be participating in other criminal activity; and
  3. Your attacker must be wielding what is or appears to be a deadly weapon.

If you unlawfully enter a gun-free zone, you arguably are either not in an area where you are legally permitted to be, or arguably may be participating in other criminal activity. If this is the case, you would have a duty to retreat if you could possibly do so with complete safety. Only if you had no avenues where you could retreat with complete safety and you met all the other conditions for self-defense would you be justified in defending yourself.

For more information about where you can legally carry your firearm and what to do when you inadvertently carry into a gun-free zone, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with an Independent Program Attorney.