LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — A Lancaster County man is fighting charges that he sold thousands of firearms without a federal license, claiming the charge violates his First and Second Amendment rights.
Reuben King of Leacock Township was under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) since 2019, according to court documents.
After three undercover buys of firearms, ATF agents gave King a cease-and-desist letter in 2020 ordering him to stop selling firearms until he obtained a federal license. He continued selling guns, according to court documents.
ATF agents raided King’s farm in January 2022. They found 625 rifles and shotguns and more than 10,500 rounds of ammunition. Court documents said agents found “detailed records showing thousands of purchases and sales of longarms over many years.”
In June 2022, King was charged with dealing in firearms without being licensed to do so.
ATF’s website states a person needs a Federal Firearms License (FFL) if they repetitively buy and sell firearms for a profit, but not if they only occasionally sell firearms from their personal collection.
In a motion to dismiss the case in December, King’s attorney Joshua Prince argued the law is too vague.
He wrote in a statement,
“ATF itself has stated that there is no bright line rule as to whether an individual requires a federal firearm license and the underlying statute is unconstitutional on multiple grounds.”
A federal judge denied the motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, writing that even though there is no clear line, “King’s alleged conduct clearly trips that trigger because it goes well beyond the occasional buying and selling that occurs with maintaining a personal collection or for pursuing a hobby.”
King’s attorney also said the licensing process violated King’s First Amendment right to practice his Amish religion, because getting a license requires a photo ID, and the Amish faith discourages posing for photographs.
That argument is also vulnerable in court, according to legal experts, because King never tried to get a license without a photo ID.
“The problem that the judge seemed to indicate in denying the motion to dismiss is, you never even tried or applied for an exemption, so it’s almost not in good faith the defense that you’re making,” said attorney Scott Cooper of law firm Schmidt Kramer.
Other requirements to get an FFL include a minimum age of 21, no convictions of certain crimes and a physical location for operations. The processing time for an FFL is currently two months, according to ATF’s website.
If convicted, King could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
King’s next court date is a pre-trial hearing on May 3.