PREACH Act Aims To Ease Amish Gun Purchases

(Jose F. Moreno/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

About two or three years ago, my part of rural central Virginia began experiencing an influx of new residents coming down from Ohio and central Pennsylvania; Amish families looking for cheaper land and a quiet spot to settle down. I’ve gotten to know a few of the new arrivals since they started trickling in to the Farmville area, and I’ve probably asked way too many dumb questions about how they navigate living in the modern world while adhering to their religious convictions, but the folks that I’ve befriended have been awfully patient with my queries.

Oddly enough, though, I’ve never thought to ask any of my recent acquaintances about their gun-buying habits. In fact, I never really thought about it until I ran across the news that Ohio congressman Bob Gibbs has introduced legislation that would allow Amish gun buyers to complete their transaction without having to use a photo ID, which is prohibited under Amish religious practices.

In an effort to resolve a conflict between his Amish constituents’ desire to comply with the Second Commandment while taking advantage of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Gibbs on Wednesday introduced legislation that would let people whose religious beliefs interfere with possessing photo identification buy guns with state-certified IDs that lack pictures.

The PREACH Act (or Protecting Religious Exemptions for Amish Communities and Households) is a simple proposal, but it remains to be seen whether there’s enough support among Democrats to advance the legislation out of committee. Democrats are already inclined to vote against any measure that might lead to more Americans embracing their Second Amendment rights, and letting groups bypass existing gun control regulations because of religious convictions doesn’t sound like something that would appeal to the Left, at least given their recent hostility towards religious exemptions to, say, vaccine mandates.

Still, Gibbs is right when he says the status quo poses real issues for his Amish constituents.

“The lack of photo identification for those in the Amish community ultimately serves as a roadblock to their ability to exercise their constitutional rights. This situation creates a unique problem in which those practicing the Amish faith find it difficult to legally purchase a firearm without a photo ID, even though they have sufficiently proven their identity to the state. The PREACH Act will fill this regulatory gap that inadvertently stifles those for whom a photo ID is against their religious beliefs and allows them to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights.”

Frankly, not only does the current law create problems for the Amish, it may also end up creating crimes out of thin air. I would not be surprised in the slightest if some Amish gun purchasers technically engaged in a “straw buy”; paying cash to someone else to purchase a firearm for them. Not because they’re legally prohibited from possessing a gun, mind you, but because they simply can’t purchase one on their own without a photo ID.

Obviously we don’t want that to happen, and Gibbs’ legislation proposes a reasonable remedy by allowing non-photo IDs to be used for commercial firearm sales that require a background check and the completion of a Form 4473, at least for those claiming a religious exemption.

The courts haven’t really weighed in on whether or not the photo ID requirement is a violation of the religious liberties of would-be Amish gun owners, though an Amish man in Pennsylvania did file a lawsuit over the issue back in 2015. According to press accounts, however, Andrew Hertzler withdrew his lawsuit before a final judgement was made, so for now the federal photo ID requirement remains in place.

If there was ever a gun bill that should draw bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle, you’d think legislation removing a severe burden on the Second Amendment rights of Amish Americans would be it. Really, what is the “gunsense” objection to allowing an Amish gun buyer to use a non-photo ID when going through their background check?

I’m sure they’ll come up with something. I suspect that Gibbs’ legislation, even as narrowly focused as it is, will be a step too far for anti-gun Democrats in Congress, and I doubt this bill will even make it to the House floor for a vote. Thankfully in most states with sizable Amish communities it’s still possible to conduct private sales of personal firearms without having to put the buyer through a background check. There’s still a workaround for most Amish who are looking for a new firearm, but there are tens of thousands of Amish in states like New York, Maryland, and Illinois who are simply out of luck thanks to the federal law forcing them to choose between exercising their freedom of religion and their right to keep and bear arms.