Quirk in Pennsylvania Law Leads to Charges Against Armed Citizen

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

When an intruder broke into a home belonging to Vincent Yakaitis last February, the property owner shot and injured the burglar. Now Yakaitis is facing criminal charges; not for the shooting itself, but because he didn't have a concealed carry license at the time. 


While most states allow gun owners to carry on their own property without the need for a carry permit, the law in Pennsylvania is quirky in that respect. In the Keystone State, legal gun owners can only lawfully carry without a license in their 'place of abode' or 'fixed place of business'. Carrying anywhere else, even a house you own but rent out, is a misdemeanor offense, and now Yakaitis is looking at the possibility of spending time in prison for unlicensed carry on his own property. 

If convicted, Yakaitis faces up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Quite the price to pay for protecting your life on your own property. The misdemeanor charge also implies that Yakaitis has no history of using his weapon inappropriately, or any criminal record at all, as Pennsylvania law classifies his particular crime—carrying a firearm without a license—as a felony if the defendant has prior criminal convictions and would be disqualified from obtaining such a license. In other words, we can deduce that Yakaitis was a law-abiding citizen and eligible for a permit, which means he is staring down five years in a cell for not turning in a form and paying a fee to local law enforcement. OK.

Prosecutors have the discretion to file charges based on individual circumstances, and it's appalling that Schuylkill County District Attorney Michael O'Pake has concluded that the interests of justice demand that Yakaitis face criminal charges for carrying on his own property without a concealed carry permit. O'Pake hasn't charged the property owner, who's in his mid-70s, with any sort of violent crime in connection with the shooting. His only "offense" was assuming that he could lawfully carry in his house, even though it's not his place of abode. 


Over at Reason, writer Billy Binion says it doesn't have to be this way. 

So where do we go from here? Those skeptical of rolling back concealed carry restrictions may take comfort in the fact that this doesn't have to be black and white. Governments, for example, can "give eligible persons a 30-day grace period to seek and obtain a permit after being charged, then automatically drop charges and expunge record once obtained," offers Amy Swearer, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, or "remove the criminal penalty entirely" and perhaps "make it a fineable infraction," like driving without a license. 

In Yakaitis's case, the answer is even more simple... at least in theory. The Pennsylvania legislature could rewrite the statute to make it clear that concealed carry licenses are not required when you're carrying on your own property, be it your home, business, farmland, or a dwelling that's rented out to others. Unfortunately that would require Democrats, who hold a two-seat majority in the state House, to go along with that change, and there's no guarantee they'd be willing to do so. 

Still, I'd say it's worth the effort for Republicans to draft "Vincent's Law"; highlighting his case and the absurdity of the charges he's facing to demand the law be changed. Yakaitis's attorney also has a compelling Second Amendment argument to make if the property owner ends up going to trial. Requiring someone to have a license to carry on their own property doesn't comport with the history, tradition, or text of the Second Amendment in the slightest, and his case would be a great vehicle to have the law tossed out entirely. I hope Mr. Yakaitis will choose to fight his charges on Second Amendment grounds, but in the meantime lawmakers can still get to work fixing this flaw in Pennsylvania's carry laws. 


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