Trends: Gun Ownership in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania

Mass shootings like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino have a history of spooking Americans into buying guns — and that seems to apply in Pennsylvania as much as anywhere else.

Stories like Peter Breslow’s aren’t uncommon. As the newly initiated gun owner himself recently learned, mass shootings like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino have a history of spooking Americans into buying guns — and that seems to apply in Pennsylvania as much as anywhere else.


Pennsylvanian interest in concealed-carry permits spiked last December after attacks in California and Paris, mirroring a national trend.

Officials at sheriff’s offices across the greater Delaware Valley say that following those attacks, gun license application numbers soared. In Chester County, Sheriff Carolyn Welsh saw them double after the shootings in Paris, and once tragedy struck in San Bernardino, they really took off — from about 200 applications a week to between 60 and 80 a day.


Gun Permits Issued in Philadelphia, 2004–2014

Gun Permits Issued in Pennsylvania, 2004–2014


Earlier this winter, WNEP and the Morning Call found similar trends upstate in Lehigh and Lackawanna counties. “You never know who’s going to do something, so you have to be prepared,” one Scranton resident told WNEP, after waiting a mere 10 minutes required to get his permit.

There’s another kind of fear that’s been driving firearm sales in recent years — paranoia about President Obama. The thinking goes that if the commander-in-chief is going to enact gun control legislation, it’s best to stock up while the getting is good. In Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and across the country, sales have climbed during Obama’s time in office, and they’ve spiked when he’s tried to advance gun restrictions.

Smith & Wesson manufactured Peter Breslow’s gun. The company’s stock price swelled to an all-time high last month following the shooting in San Bernardino and Obama’s announcements about new gun restrictions. Chart courtesy of Bloomberg.

Smith & Wesson manufactured Peter Breslow’s gun. The company’s stock price swelled to an all-time high last month following the shooting in San Bernardino and Obama’s announcements about new gun restrictions. Chart courtesy of Bloomberg.


Guns Sold or Transferred in Philadelphia, 2004–2014

Guns Sold or Transferred in Pennsylvania, 2004–2014


NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide says that Philly-area residents should consider owning guns if they’re worried about the security of their homes, families, or businesses (in other words, he says, “If they feel there’s need for self-protection”), but Shira Goodman, executive director of advocacy group CeaseFirePA, begs to differ.

“It does happen, that people interrupt crimes,” she says. “But it doesn’t happen that much.”

The numbers, it turns out, come down on Goodman’s side: last summer, a Washington Post analysis found that for every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocents die.

The truth is that despite protests to the contrary, more guns really do mean more gun violence — and that’s according to years of research. Studies have shown that an increase in guns correlates with an increase in homicides, and with an increase in suicides. While mass shootings are harrowing events that demand serious attention, the disproportionate media coverage that they have received threatens to muddle the truth, which is that the average American is much more likely to die from a gun-related suicide than from a gun-related homicide.

In some ways, Pennsylvania is ahead of other states when it comes to gun safety legislation. We have our own state-run background check system, so when a resident buys a gun, he or she is processed not only by the local system, but also by the national one run by the FBI. And the Keystone State requires that all handgun sales be accompanied by a background check, which isn’t the case in some states.

But we can also buy firearms here without a license, registration, or training, and Pennsylvania does not limit how many guns we can buy. Our neighbors New Jersey, Delaware, and New York all have more restrictive gun laws than we do.

Goodman urges Philadelphians to speak with their local representatives about gun legislation. “Let’s have rules that protect us,” she says. “Just like you have the right to carry that gun, I want the right to be safe.”

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