The Amish are a profoundly insular and private religious sect that makes every effort to remove themselves from modern culture physically, mentally, and culturally.
At the same time, the Amish are fixtures of tourism and history in the areas where they live — especially Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
As a result, the Amish tread a fine line between living separately from the rest of the world while still engaging with it.
Naturally, this can lead to some changes within the belief systems of individual communities. The Amish are non-violent Christians by their history, but the modern world has regular instances of violence in it.
So if you’re someone who’s looking at the Amish for the first time, you may have a surprisingly specific question about them — especially if you’re American.
Do the Amish own guns?
The short answer is simple: Yes, the Amish are able to own guns.
The long answer is a little more complicated and a lot more important to understand.
To give the long answer, we’ll take a look at two main factors.
- Why the Amish are non-violent
- Why the Amish may own guns
- What kinds of guns the Amish would own
To start, let’s talk about the context behind why people want to know whether the Amish own guns.
1. Why the Amish Are Non-Violent
The history of the Amish is almost entirely predicated on the ideas of non-violence and separation from the world. This is such an important cornerstone of the Amish belief system that to this day, the Amish don’t grow mustaches because of their 1700s association with military officers.
All of this comes from the fact that the Amish are a breakaway denomination of Mennonites. Mennonites were founded when Menno Simons lost his brother, Pietr, in a raid by militant Catholics.
Afterward, Menno renounced his Catholic priesthood, joined the Anabaptists — a new sect of Christians that arose alongside Protestants — and declared his views on non-violence.
This was a huge departure from the norm at the time, which was intra-Christian warfare among Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists. All three groups persecuted one another in a long-standing cycle of violence.
Menno Simons was the first to say no to the cycle. Despite starting in Holland, his views gained popularity across central Europe — particularly with a group that would come to be known as the Swiss Brethren.
The Swiss Brethren were, in a nutshell, Swiss Mennonites. One of their number was named Jakob Ammann, who was a strict, vocal, and somewhat problematic individual.
Ammann’s views stressed simplicity, liberal use of excommunication, and living outside of the machinations of modern life.
Ammann eventually broke with the Brethren in what is known as the Schism, and formed his own sect called the Amish.
Ammann and his followers lived away from Switzerland, mostly in Alsace-Lorraine. However, they maintained many of the Brethren’s beliefs — including Menno Simons’s original viewpoint on non-violence.
Even today, the Amish are known as a non-violent sect. In fact, they were one of the first groups of people to be given conscientious objector (CO) status in the United States Selective Service, essentially saying that they’re exempt from combat roles in war.
(Most Amish are farmers though, so many Amish men would be exempt from the draft anyway.)
While CO status is fairly common these days, this was almost entirely unheard of in the 1940s. Today, the Amish retain this status and their enduring ideology in non-violence.
All of this background is to arrive at another important question.
If the Amish are (and have been) non-violent, why would any of them own guns?
2. Why the Amish May Own Guns
Worldwide, firearms are mostly viewed in the context of violence between two or more people. This is perhaps even more true in the United States where gun laws are treated as borderline sacred.
The Amish tie into this in that they have the same Second Amendment rights as any other American, despite their stance against violence.
However, the main purpose of firearms isn’t self-defense, threats, sport shooting, or politics — at least not in terms of Amish ideology.
For the Amish, firearms are used primarily for defending livestock that could otherwise be eaten or killed by wild animals.
Hens, roosters, and even sheep are all at risk, depending on the geography of the Amish community in question.
For example, the clear skies and tree clusters in Lancaster County make predatory birds a big problem for local Amish. One example of this is a national news story that covered an Amish man who shot an immature eagle that he alleged threatened his farm.
But the Amish use firearms for other purposes as well — namely, hunting.
Many Amish communities are somewhat isolated from modern “English,” which is what the Amish call anyone who’s non-Amish.
In Lancaster, they’re fairly integrated into everyday life.
But in other places, their communities may be in isolated valleys or smaller towns that have almost no non-Amish presence at all.
In these cases, firearms may be used to hunt — usually deer.
While it’s not necessary for the Amish to know how to hunt from a sustainability standpoint, it’s a hobby that they can start in the middle of nowhere with very little support or learning curve.
This makes hunting a popular hobby in places that have very little going on in terms of community engagement or entertainment.
So with this in mind, let’s talk about one last question that you may be wondering.
If they can own firearms, what kinds of guns would the Amish own?
3. What Kinds of Guns the Amish Would Own
For the most part, the Amish own one of two types of firearm:
- Low-caliber rifles
- Low-gauge shotguns
These two firearms cover almost all of the purposes for which an Amish person would need to use a gun — hunting and protecting livestock.
Most of the time, you’ll see this with low-caliber, short-range rifles. The Amish may use these for hunting small game. They may also upgrade to a more powerful rifle to hunt larger game like deer, particularly if they live close to gamelands.
Otherwise, an Amish family may have one or more low-gauge shotguns that are used to take out small predators like fox or hawks. These shotguns wouldn’t be able to kill larger predators like a bear, so areas that are prone to wandering bears may merit more powerful shotguns.
But in Pennsylvania — particularly Lancaster County — the Amish will pretty much only have low-caliber hunting rifles or low-gauge shotguns.
You won’t, for example, see an Amish person with an AR-15 or a shotgun designed for combat use. This is because guns made explicitly to hurt other people have very little value to the Amish unless someone happens to be a hobby shooter.
The same is true for any kind of handgun.
But, to be honest, the Amish don’t have much time to spare for something like range shooting. They’re constantly working, in one way or another, and their large families necessitate parental involvement.
So if an Amish person is a hobby shooter, they may be one in a million.
More likely, they would have a BB gun to shoot cans off of a fence in the backyard.
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