Hand-painted signs in Amish country often advertise fresh eggs, shoofly pies or handmade quilts, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is trying to determine if the A Lancaster County farmer’s large gun collection was also his side business.
An ATF spokesperson said officers seized evidence during a “execute operation” on Jan. 12 at the Cattail Foundry in Leacock Township, Lancaster County, but declined to comment further. Two sources familiar with the investigation said around 600 firearms were seized during the operation.
Farm owner Reuben King declined to comment on the matter at home on Wednesday morning, but spoke to Lancaster Online several weeks ago. King told the outlet he was first and foremost a dairy farmer, but admitted to selling “some” firearms from his personal collection to other Amish and some non-Amish as well.
Sources said handguns were among the weapons taken by the ATF. King told Lancaster Online that he primarily sells long guns for hunting.
“I was not selling handguns, certainly not”, King said last month.
The ATF said the investigation is ongoing but no charges have been laid. King told The Inquirer that he did not hire a lawyer.
The Amish, in general, do not pose for photos, and therefore most do not obtain the photo ID needed to purchase firearms from licensed gun stores. Rifles and shotguns, called “long guns” can be sold between two parties without background checks or photo ID.
Joshua Prince, a Pennsylvania firearms attorney, said the ATF operation at King’s farm could lead investigators into troubled territory. It’s not clear, he said, how many guns a person would have to sell to be considered a gun dealer. The ATF’s own website states that licenses are required for people who “buying and selling firearms repeatedly with the primary goal of making a profit” but not for the “casual sales of firearms from your personal collection.”
“It’s so vague, and it’s going to be the government’s biggest hurdle,” said Prince. “It might turn out that they’re just saying ‘Listen, don’t do it again. “
Prince, who is not affiliated with the King case, sued the federal government in 2015 on behalf of an Amish man in Northumberland County who felt he should have a religious exemption from ID with photo required for the purchase of firearms. Prince said he couldn’t discuss the outcome of the case, but said any Amish person can produce any documents needed to get photo ID in the first place.
“I think it’s unconstitutional” Prince said of the photo requirement. “There is a way to prove our identity in the absence of photos. We are not born with photo ID.
U.S. Representative Bob Gibbs, a Republican from Ohio, introduced a bill in December to allow Amish to buy guns without photo ID.
Steve Nolt, an Elizabethtown College professor who has studied Amish society for decades, said the Amish are not a monolith and that customs and adherence to certain beliefs about photography and the use of technology vary by location.
“I would say there are a small number of Amish who get photo IDs,” he said.
At the Sportsman’s Shop, a large gun dealer and shooting range nine miles north of King’s home, an official said many Amish customers come with photo ID, especially during the hunting season.
“We’re selling a lot of new guns to the Amish,” said the director, who asked not to be identified.
There was no signage at King’s farm on Wednesday that suggested he was selling guns there. A non-Amish man wearing a shirt in support of the Second Amendment was driving around the property, also seeking to speak to him.
Most Amish families own a long gun, Nolt said, and their interest in hunting goes back centuries. This interest, however, grew beyond subsistence.
“Hunting has also become a recreational sport for them,” he said. “They own hunting cabins up north. They go hunting.
Nolt, however, was surprised by the sheer number of firearms the ATF reportedly seized during last month’s operation. He also said it was unusual for the Amish to use or own handguns.
“There is no real history of the Amish using firearms for personal protection,” he said. “There would be a bit of a taboo with handguns.”
Inquirer team writers Jeremy Roebuck and William Bender contributed to this article.