Amish Farmer Challenges Constitutionality of Federal Firearms License
Amish Farmer Challenges Constitutionality of Federal Firearms License

By Beth Brelje

Amish dairy farmer Reuben King’s farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was raided on Jan. 12, 2022, by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which charged King with dealing in firearms without a license and confiscated 615 guns.

An undercover ATF agent bought five guns from King between October 2019 and March 2020, court papers filed by the ATF say.

On June 11, 2020, the ATF served King with a cease-and-desist letter advising him to get a Federal Firearms License (FFL) before selling any more firearms. King told the ATF that he did not sell firearms as a business and only occasionally sold personal long arms for which he had no further use.

After that letter, King sold four firearms to undercover state troopers in November 2020, March 2021, and December 2021, prompting the charges.

But King doesn’t need an FFL, his attorney, Joshua Prince, told The Epoch Times. He will argue the FFL itself is unconstitutional.

Firearms sellers—those who sell occasionally from a private collection, and those who hold an FFL— have come under more scrutiny since June 2021 when President Joe Biden declared “zero tolerance for rogue gun dealers that willfully violate the law.”

As of Fiscal Year 2022, the ATF reports there are 136,563 active FFLs in the United States.

Since Biden took office, there has been an uptick in FFL revocations, Mark Oliva, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told The Epoch Times. Anecdotally, attorneys defending clients facing FFL revocations, or warnings to get an FFL, say they have seen more cases in the last two years.

FFL Revocations

The ATF inspects FFL holders and began publishing that inspection data in Fiscal Year 2022.

In October 2021, it inspected 438 FFL holders, issued 11 warning letters, and revoked four licenses.

In February 2023, the ATF inspected 699 FFL holders, issued 10 warning letters, and revoked 19 licenses.

In total, between those two dates, the ATF inspected 9,940 FFL holders, issued 171 warning letters, and revoked 168 licenses.

“They are now revoking permits for what was previously listed as a ‘finding’ during the inspection. And that could have been a minor clerical error, misplaced decimal, putting the date in the wrong column, something may have not been signed correctly,” Oliva said. “Those are all minor findings that during inspections would have been noted as, ‘you need to make these corrections.’ Now they are being termed as ‘willful violations’ and are grounds for the ATF to revoke Federal Firearms Licensees’ license.”

A revoked FFL means the loss of a livelihood, Oliva said.

“Most of your firearm retailers are mom and pop shops. This is their livelihood. By and large, your firearm retailers are doing the best they can to be able to stay within the laws and within the regulations that protect, govern the firearm retail industry,” Oliva said. “The crackdown on this, the zero tolerance policy has not been in one particular region or state. It has been across the country and we’ve seen that it has affected people that have lost their licenses.”

Enforcement and interpretation of the law changes, depending on who is in the executive office, Prince said.

“We see that administrative agencies, especially the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is influenced heavily by the administration in office,” said Prince, “And that’s extremely disconcerting, because that violates all tenets of what our Founding Fathers intended with our Constitution. The law is the law. It should not change dependent upon the administration currently in the White House.”

The Epoch Times asked the ATF for a response to Prince’s comment, and for comment on increased FFL revocations. A spokesman provided a link to statistics but did not offer comment.

Look to Original Law

Written in 1791, the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms.

“You will not find any laws in existence around the time of the founding that required an individual to obtain a license to be able to sell firearms,” Prince said. “It wasn’t until 1938 that the first Federal Firearms Act, requiring sellers of firearms to become licensed, was enacted.” That was 147 years later.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said the understanding of the Second Amendment around the time of the founding is the best measure of what the founders intended.

“What the U.S. Supreme Court said you would look to, are laws that were passed in close proximity to the enactment of our Bill of Rights or at least the Second Amendment, that would suggest that those laws were not believed to be violative of the Second Amendment,” said Prince, a Republican who is currently campaigning to become a judge in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court. “The Court said that looking to laws passed in the 1850s is too late and that those really cannot shed any light on the understanding of the Second Amendment.”

“It is the government that must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” Prince said. “The government has to establish that any current day law is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

No Photo, No License

During the January barn raid at King’s property, the ATF said it recovered ample evidence of an ongoing gun selling business, including 615 guns, many marked with price tags; approximately 10,000 rounds of ammunition; detailed records showing thousands of purchases and sales of guns over many years; receipts for advertisements placed in a local newspaper offering firearms for sale under several names and phone numbers; and plastic bowls containing numerous pre-marked price tags sorted by denominations.

King had approximately 30 brand-new, Savage Axis rifles (26 in the same caliber)—each in an unopened factory box, and all in a larger palleted shipping box—as well as a similar stack of 19 Silver Eagle shotguns (18 in the same gauge), also new in box, court papers say.

“We’re talking about hunting rifle and shotguns. We’re not talking about handguns,” Prince said. “The ATF has on their own website that it is not unlawful to sell firearms that you’ve purchased.”

And the ATF does not have a rule for how many firearms a person can sell before they would need a license.

King is “absolutely astonished,” Prince said of his client. “He never believed that anything he was doing could be construed as being unlawful.”

But if King did need a license to sell guns from his barn, the ATF would not issue him one because the ATF requires photo identification to obtain an FFL, with no exceptions. Because of his religion, King cannot allow his photo to be taken. That is why his driver’s license says “no photo required,” where the photo would be. King drives a horse and buggy. Pennsylvania allows religious exemptions for photos on driver’s licenses and concealed carry gun permits.

That is another constitutional issue, Prince says, because requiring a photo is a violation of King’s religious freedom.

Rights Versus Privilege

The government aims for the disarmament of law-abiding citizens and loathes the idea of lawful, private firearm ownership, Oliva said, and Americans should be concerned.

“Your rights are sacrosanct. Your rights belong to you. They don’t belong to the government to dole out to you. If that were the case, these would be privileges. But these are rights that existed prior to the creation of our nation. They are endowed to you by your creator,” Oliva said. “If we start to relegate any of our rights to second class rights, then there are no longer rights at all, and any of those rights can fall at any time. … It is your right to own a firearm in America provided you are a law-abiding citizen. And these are attempts to chip away at those rights, undermine the Second Amendment, and eliminate it, ultimately.”

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