Amish man sues to buy gun without photo ID

This isn’t your usual gun rights story. Nor is it the religious freedom tale you’re used to seeing in political forums. It’s both!

Andrew Hertzler, a man who apparently has no criminal record of note nor any other impediment which would prevent an adult American citizen from purchasing a gun, wants to do just that. But he’s not being allowed to. The somewhat complicated reason is that Mr. Hertzler, of Pennsylvania, is Amish. As such, he does not have a photo ID because knowingly having pictures taken of himself is against his religion. You can imagine the problems that’s causing. (Washington Post)

In a suit that brings together the Second Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), an Amish man filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania last week because he wants to buy a gun without the required photo ID — and because getting that photo ID would violate his religious beliefs…

Hertzler’s humility caused a problem when, in June, he tried to buy a gun from a Pennsylvania dealer “using a non-photo, state-issued identification.” This wasn’t enough, according to the dealer — Hertzler was told he needed a picture ID.

So Hertzler took it up with his senator. Alas, though Sen. Pat Toomey (R) forwarded Hertzler’s response to the ATF, he could not help his constituent.

“As the enclosed response [from the ATF] states, Federal firearm laws require photo identification when purchasing a firearm,” Toomey wrote. “There are no exceptions to this federal requirement.”

This seems to be a problem unique to the Amish for the most part. I’m unaware of any other established religious sect which forbids photographs on a regular basis. But what to do about Mr. Hertzler? As his suit notes, he’s been put in a position of forgoing one of two of his constitutional rights. He can either violate his religious beliefs or he can abandon his right to keep and bear arms. A bit of a conundrum to be sure.

But if the courts grant the plaintiff this exemption would it carry over to all other requirements for a photo ID? What if the area where he lives requires a photo ID to vote? Along a less serious line, I don’t think the Amish tend to be big on drinking but could he purchase alcohol or tobacco?

At first blush it seems as if an exemption is required for Mr. Hertzler and all his kin. But things could get complicated quickly. In the past we’ve seen cases where people attempted to claim to be members of Native American tribes so they could legally smoke pot or take peyote. Would those wishing to not be burdened with having to carry a photo ID simply begin “converting” to the Amish faith in droves? Religion is a tricky subject when it comes to rights and the laws particularly because it is so personal and internal. It’s easy enough to identify someone’s gender – or at least it used to be – as one example, but your religion is what you say it is. The courts have had to draw lines on this before, but they don’t particularly enjoy it.

I honestly don’t know what we do about Mr. Hertzler. I certainly don’t want to see him be denied his Second Amendment rights, but it’s also impractical to just abandon the ID requirements for a gun purchase. This is one case where I don’t have any good advice for the courts.

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