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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun-Seeking Amish Blast Photo ID Requirements

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) - A Pennsylvania Amish man who believes it is against his faith to have his picture taken wants a federal judge to exempt him from gun laws requiring buyers to present a valid photo ID.

Andrew Hertzler of Northumberland County notes that he has never been convicted of a crime or otherwise committed any act that would disqualify him from owning a gun.

Because the Amish community of which Hertzler and his family are lifelong members forbids adherents from having their picture taken, however, Hertzler says he has been denied his constitutional right to purchase a firearm for self-defense.

In a federal complaint he filed Friday, Hertzler notes that his faith's prohibition on photos stems from the Christian belief in humility.

Specifically, the Book of Exodus states, in Chapter 20, verse 4, "You shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth," Hertzler says.

Although Pennsylvania issued Hertzler a non-photo identification card, he says a state firearms dealer would not sell him a handgun this past June because he lacked photo ID.

Hertzler contacted U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey, who in turn reached out to the Bureau of Alcohol, Toboacco, Firearms and Explosives, the complaint states.

That agency's assistant director of public affairs Christopher Shaefer finally informed Hertzler "that there was no exception to the photo identification law," according to the complaint.

Hertzler contends, however, that the laws are ambiguous.

Section 1028(d)(3) of Title 18 does not require an identification document to have a photograph, but Section 922(t)(1)(C) of the same title requires a photo and does not provide a religious exemption, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, a person can apply for a federal firearms license without submitting photographs, since Section 923 of Title 18 includes an exception for cases where "the taking of such photograph would violate the person's religious beliefs," Hertzler says.

This demonstrates that "the requirement is only regulatory ... not statutory - and therefore it [the ATF] has the power to waive the regulation," the complaint states.

"While examination of a photographic identification card may be more convenient or efficient, it is not necessary," Hertzler says.

Noting that "Pennsylvania law provides religious exemptions in relation to drivers' licenses," the complaint pushes the commonwealth as a model for the government when it comes to "recognizing that certain religious sects and communities prohibit the taking of photographs of individuals, exempts those members from the photo ID requirement."

A non-photo ID or combination of documents would let any firearms dealer identify the name, address, date of birth, and signature of the potential purchaser, Hertzler says.

As such the government has sufficient alternative means to achieve its goal without infringing on an individual's right to freely exercise his right to practice religion, according to the complaint.

Hertzler says he does not want to sell any firearms and does not intend to go through the trouble of obtaining the firearms license to avoid showing photo ID, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit names as defendants the United States, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI director James Comey, Shaefer with the ATF and Acting ATF Director Thomas Brandon.

Hertzler seeks appropriate application of a religious exemption to the photo ID requirement in accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and to permanently enjoin the government from enforcing photo ID restrictions against those who are exempt.

He is represented by Joshua Prince of Bechtelsville, Pa.

The government has not returned a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Requests for comment also went unanswered by various interest groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association.

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