Before you plan that elaborate Halloween costume and set out the carved pumpkin on your doorstep, let’s discuss the mischief and dangers that lurk around the Halloween season. Like most things, Halloween will be different in 2020. In the age of COVID, some people are opting for virtual Halloween parties. Others may choose to go trick-or-treating as usual; after all, it is one of the few activities during which most people wear a mask, regardless of the pandemic.
Defending Against Halloween Mischief
It is not uncommon for teenagers to perform acts of mischief around the Halloween season. But if people are coming onto your property uninvited, how are you to know whether they are a threat or not?
Keep in mind that in Pennsylvania, it is unlawful to defend property with deadly force. If people are coming onto your property and your only fear is that they will harm your property rather than harm you or other people, then you cannot use deadly force against them.
To stay out of trouble, our recommendation is to call the police and allow them to deal with unwanted trespassers. This analysis can change if people start breaking into your home. In Pennsylvania, you receive the “Castle Doctrine” protection against those making unauthorized and forcible entry to your home and attached structures. 18 Pa. C.S. § 505(b)(2.1). This “Castle Doctrine” protection not only removes your duty to retreat from intruders, but also provides you a rebuttable presumption that you were justified in using deadly force against such intruders.
Weapons and Costumes
When it comes to putting costumes together, we advise against incorporating real weapons. Depending on the weapon, you may run afoul of Pennsylvania’s Prohibited Offensive Weapons Act. Among other outlawed weapons, 18 Pa. C.S. § 908 prohibits any “blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise.”
While the law does not clearly define items like sandbags and blackjacks, the idea is that clubs, batons, switchblades, and metal knuckles are prohibited.
An exception exists for possession of a prohibited offensive weapon solely as part of a “dramatic performance,” although it is unlikely that this exception would extend to Halloween costumes. Furthermore, from a practical position, carrying a real weapon as part of a Halloween costume may confuse others and cause law enforcement to question your motives.
You may, however, wear a mask, (either for medical reasons or as part of a costume) when carrying a firearm. Neither federal law nor Pennsylvania law prohibits carrying weapons while wearing a mask.
Carrying a Firearm
If you are accompanying a group of trick-or-treaters and want to carry your firearm for the safety of the group, you need to consider where the group will go. So long as you are otherwise lawfully able to carry a weapon, you may carry a firearm either concealed (with a valid License to Carry Firearms) or openly without a license (outside of the city of Philadelphia). However, if your group heads to an area like a school, your weapon may be prohibited. Plan ahead and make sure your group has no plans to visit prohibited areas.
Stay safe this Halloween season, and for any other questions regarding activities and home defense during the Halloween season call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with an Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.