Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Please note that I didn’t say convicted: arrest and conviction are very different things. Arresting is what cops do and it doesn’t mean you are guilty. Neither the police nor Prosecutors decide if you are guilty; that’s up to a jury.
With that said, let us get into why you can be arrested for displaying a firearm in Pennsylvania in self-defense. The answer is simple and disturbing at the same time. With no pun intended, cops, prosecutors, and the public are gun shy. It seems more and more police react first to a situation where a firearm is brandished than they do analyzing the situation. Simply put, it is arrest first and then leave it up to the courts.
When police hear a report of a gun being displayed, they roll out hard and in packs. That’s mostly understandable. There are simply too many instances of people who are bad and use firearms in a dangerous way for them not to take a call of a firearm seriously. We expect them to do that. However, we as citizens also expect them to investigate what actually happened. That seems to be done less and less. In the past three months my firm and I have represented three different people for brandishing their licensed concealed carry pistols that they used to keep from being harmed. In each of the three instances they legitimately used their firearms to actually diffuse the situation to get the aggressor to back down and go away. However, because the bad guys called the cops first, they were charged. Now they had to hire us to protect them after they legitimately protected themselves.
This article isn’t about using firearms in an irresponsible way. That is usually a crime. For instance, if you are driving and someone in front of you starts acting like a jerk and frightening you, you can’t pull out your pistol. This is not good. I had this situation last year. The case ended with a citation and not a misdemeanor or felony conviction, but it was not the right way to use a firearm.
The use of a firearm is deadly force. Deadly force can only be used to avoid death, serious bodily injury, robbery, and rape in PA. Where these situations get grey is when is someone facing serious bodily injury or death without being shot at, stabbed at, robbed, or assaulted sexually? The variations are endless. It is judged upon by the reasonable person standard. Another uncertain term in situations like this but the reasonable person standard analysis is for another post.
There are many appeals court cases where people thought they were justified in brandishing a firearm and using it or just displaying it. In some of them the appeals court overturned the convictions. In others they didn’t. Some of those cases that I read even surprised me that the person wasn’t justified.
Here is the bottom line. If you are in a situation where you feel threatened with serious bodily injury, death, robbery, or rape and you are not the aggressor you will do what you have to. When the situation is over, get to a safe place and call the police. Say you were threatened with whatever occurred and you had to brandish your firearm because you were afraid of one or several of those four things. That is ALL YOU SAY. Once the police arrive, cooperate if they ask you for your firearm but do not talk about what happened. Politely tell them thanks for coming to help you and you want to speak to a lawyer before you give any further statements. Don’t say anything else. Then call a lawyer as soon as possible.
Your lawyer and your freedom and your right to further own a firearm will thank you later.