Amish, guns, and photo IDs

There’s been a change in Illinois:  Amish gun owners will now have to “say cheese” for their gun IDs.

According to this news story, if things stand Amish will apparently now need to have pictures on their Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) cards.

This story might shed some light on a couple of lesser-known topics: photo IDs for Amish and other religious minorities, and the Amish approach to hunting.

First of all, hunting.  Amish don’t bear arms against others, but do use them to put meat on the table.

amish deer hunting
Amish hunt deer and other game locally and sometimes take long-distance hunting trips

Hunting deer and other game is popular among Amish.  Amish use both firearms and bow weapons.  Amish farmers typically keep a shotgun for wiping out varmints, which I guess isn’t so much hunting as cleaning up the neighborhood.

Hunting has become an issue of concern for some Amish though.  For example, some have objected to more extravagant hunting practices.  Read more here:  Do Amish hunt?

If Amish were somehow prevented from hunting, they wouldn’t starve, though it would probably raise questions about restrictions on individual freedom and the 2nd Amendment.

The photo ID issue has come up a number of times for Amish.  Amish have traditionally been allowed photo-less passports (which might be used when traveling to Amish settlements in Canada or going for medical treatment in Mexico).

Some states, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, do issue nonphoto identification.  Individuals must provide a form stating their religious objections, along with the bishop’s signature (see The Amish and the State for more).

Occasionally changes in policy have affected Amish.   After the terrorist attacks of September 11, new passport photo requirements caused challenges for Amish traveling north and south of the border.  Read more about Amish objections to photography.

What’s interesting in the Illinois case is the change was made by the outgoing State Police Director–on his last day on the job.  Sounds like a make-a-mess-for-someone-else-to-clean-up type of situation.  Parties are working on the issue, and I imagine things will be resolved in favor of the Amish.

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    1. Lindsay

      It’s an interesting subject. I would think that perhaps they would make an exception for a photo ID. There are also problems that could arise for identity theft w/o a photograph of themselves.

      It reminds me of some of the issues in some places with muslim women refusing to remove their veil for photo ID’s.

    2. Richard

      Good morning. sounds like its a bigger issue than just one state, as other states are watching to see this outcome. But in the end my gut tells me the Amish will squeak by this one, for now. Richard. Penn

    3. Alice Aber


      Seems we have a lot of that sort of thing in Illinois. Bitter losers I call them. Someone loses their prize office and does something ridiculous when they leave just to create a mess. I am sure the Amish will win out on this one eventually. I know of no Amish causing problems by not having a photo on their ID and would think they would need grounds to make the change at this point.

      Blessings, Alice

    4. Marilyn in New York

      I see why Amish don’t want pictures taken, but I think that in this day of age with all that’s been going on in our country and the world that the Amish should have their pictures on passports and hunting licenses. I am not just picking on the Amish, but everyone should have their picture on licenses and passports no matter what their race, creed, color or religious beliefs.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        I’m Old Order, and both my wife & I have photo ID and passports. I never gave it any thought… While we don’t have family pictures on the wall, we do have a few.
        Looking through books on early Amish & Menn. immigration I see several portraits taken of early immigrants. Personally I don’t really mind if someone I know takes a picture but I won’t pose and I find it annoying when tourists take my picture like I’m an animal in a zoo. It happens a lot where we live. How would you like to find yourself on a postcard or tourist brochure? 🙂

        1. Dan

          say what

          In the words of Weird Al Yankovic: “If any Amish people are looking at this, I’d just like to say: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!? YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LOOK AT THIS!”

      2. CJ

        I don’t have my photo on my hunting license and I have never heard of anyone who does….

    5. Lucy

      “If Amish were somehow prevented from hunting, they wouldn’t starve, though it would probably raise questions about restrictions on individual freedom and the 2nd Amendment.”

      Gun ownership is not a right, it’s a priviledge.Guns are weapons and therefore should be limited to a minority.A right is a basic human need like the need for education, the need for freedom of speech &c.. guns do not come into it.

      Stringent rules on gun ownership in Europe does not hinder my freedom- I feel safe knowing that I will not be atttacked by someone with a gun and I feel safe because the few people who get to own a gun are throughly checked before hand.

      1. Anon

        While this is an old post, I’ll just point out that in the USA gun ownership IS a constitutional right at the same level as freedom of speech.

    6. Forest

      Well, the whole subject of the apropriateness of gun ownership in the US is a touchy one, and I don’t plan to open that can of worms. From reading the story however, I was unclear about whether this new policy was aimed at the Amish, or if is was simply a “no exceptions” kind of change. Hopefully this will be resolved soon. Many folks I know avoid the whole question by hunting with bow and arrow, altho most still own guns as well.

    7. Bob Rosier

      Since hunting is less of a necessity for the Amish these days, I suspect most would just stop hunting if photo ID became a requirement. I would suspect, however, they would be exempt.

      2nd amendment specifically state “militia” and not individuals, but as someone mentioned, I won’t open that can of worms !

      1. Anon

        Sorry, but the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” shoots your “non-individual” theory right in the rear.

    8. That’s interesting. That’s also quite a mess that has been left behind. I hope that it works out in favor for the Amish. I can totally understand why they could be hesitant about having their photos taken for id’s. I just pray that everyone will deal with the issue with sensitivity for everyone…and that dignity/respect will remain intact.

    9. Mary Brandenburg

      A while back I was talking with my Amish friends (Old Order) in Mt. Hope and I asked them about the i.d. issue. According to the Mrs., in their district they don’ have a problem with photo i.d.’s because it’s not about vanity, it’s about identification for travel and legal matters. They rarely even take their photo i.d.’s out of their wallets and as she said, “they aren’t very flattering photos anyway, so vanity/pridefullness is not the issue”. I think many of the Holmes County Old Order folks feel this way….

    10. Do Amish permit photos for IDs?

      On photos on Amish IDs, Mary that’s an interesting point and distinction your Amish friends make (I also like how she acknowledged that they “aren’t very flattering”–I guess the drawbacks of DMV shots are universally recognized no matter the culture!) And to me, it sort of “makes sense”.

      Of course other Amish might not (and I’m sure some don’t) see it that way. I suspect some would see permitting any sort of photo even under the rationalization that they are for “ID purposes only” as simply opening the door to other types of photos.

      I do know Amish that have photo IDs and don’t see it as such a big deal though.

    11. Mary Brandenburg

      Erik, I agree. Most likely the Dan Churchers and the Schwartzentrubers wouldn’t have photos on their i.d.s -if they even have i.d.’s to start with.

    12. I’m glad you shared Mary, I love hearing examples like this. I do know some Amish with photo IDs, and it’s just not that big of a deal for them.

      Having an ID in your pocket is a lot different than hanging the family portrait over the living room couch. It’s just a much larger chasm to cross. Kind of like cell phones in the pocket vs. phone lines running into the house.

    13. Richard I haven’t been following the issue too closely but that’s interesting to hear the topic is up in other states.

      From the article it looked like there was another larger controversy over making data about gun owners public, which might intertwine with the Amish issue. Sounds like the Illinois police were quite against it though.

    14. Mary Brandenburg

      Hey, we are heading down to Mt. Hope for the first full week of May – I can’t wait – it’s been a very long winter in Michigan! I’ll try to get some spring-time photos for everyone to enjoy. Take care and travel safe!

    15. Monica

      People always equate Amish having guns with hunting, and while that is true, most Amish homes have at least one gun whether it’s a farm or not, or whether anyone hunts or not. Fact is, those guns get handed down through the family and are always hot items at family sales. It wouldn’t take a lot of searching to find, say, and Amish expert on Winchesters. Plain people are fond of guns, and are generally responsible and knowledgeable gun owners. Just my 2 cents.

    16. Debbie Welsh

      Sorry everyone but in my opinion the only people who should have a gun is military personnel and the police. And quite frankly, I’m really surprised that the Amish would even own such a thing as a gun, given their stance on non-violence and serving in the military.

      However, things being as they are, I have to agree with Marilyn in New York that no one should be exempt, and if they are going to own a gun then they have to play by the rules like everyone else, even if it means getting a photo ID.

    17. Alice Mary

      OK, I understand no photos. how about a fingerprint, or a retina scan? Erik, have you ever asked your Amish friends how they’d feel about either of those options? I’m curious…

      Alice Mary

    18. Retinal scan or fingerprints to ID Amish?

      As for using fingerprints or retinal scans to identify Amish, I don’t really think you’d have a lot of strong objections from Amish themselves, especially if that were the alternative to mandatory photos. Although I’m pretty sure they’d prefer neither.

      The objection to photos is primarily pride and drawing attention to oneself, not so much graven images as is often reported. A fingerprint or retinal scan is almost like another bodily measurement, like taking one’s weight or other body “stat”. Amish also undergo X-rays and other hi-tech procedures when in hospital with no objection.

      So if this type of thing were available, I’m sure it would be preferable to a photo requirement for purposes of identification. Although it’s possible a minority of the more conservative Amish in particular would object.

      But I’m also curious, are the fingerprint/retinal scans even in regular use anywhere when it comes to gun ID/registrations?

    19. Bob Rosier

      I agree with Debbie that the only people who should have a gun are military personnel and the police. They have accountability and are trained.

      I worked for Ma Bell and we provided 911 service to everyone. Even if a phone service was discontinued, the phone could still dial 911. With this service, and with most everyone having cell phones, PROFESSIONAL help is on the way in minutes.

    20. OldKat

      Lucy, gun ownership MAY be a privelege in the country where you reside. However, in the US (which happens to be where the state in question is located) it IS A RIGHT. In fact it such a fundamental right that it has be stated in numerous court cases, including several Supreme Courtdecisions, that it is one of THE essential rights upon which our country was founded.

      It is also why we will never have a dictatorship in this country; the armed populace WILL NOT STAND FOR IT. Sorry Lucy, you statement has no validity in this discussion.

    21. OldKat

      As far as putting something like this, or any other regulation in place as the office holder is heading out the door; wouldn’t it be logical that the person coming IN to that office could decide to revoke it or simply not enforce it?

    22. Michelle V from FL

      I’m not the “Annie get your gun” type and I really don’t like to have my pic taken. Perhaps its because my mom had me modeling at a young age.

      What I was hoping for …. was to read and see more of your recent trip memba’ that.

      Thanks –
      Michelle V from the best weather yet FLA
      (not that I’m rubbing it in 🙂

    23. Richard

      Hey folks…… I see some have been busy with this controversial topic, and a good topic Erik because it evokes debate among a lot of people. I’ve belonged to the NRA a few times in my life, so my feelings on the 2nd amendment are strong and non -negotiable. What id like to see are not the abolishment of guns, only stronger back ground checks. I feel the buying of a gun needs to be tougher, with more checking involved as if your going for your “concealing permit”. When you buy a gun you go through a standard check, with a concealed permit the FBI also checks you out, and it can take a few months until you either get a yes or no. Id like something more in the middle when buying a non- concealed gun. Now I’m not crazy about guns folks, lets just say i respect them like no ones business. And i know the Amish hunt, and i just plain don’t have the heart for killing an animal, i think id most likely starve before i killed anything with 4 legs. So I’m a animal lover and proud to admit it, the crooks well that’s another story. And Lucy even though I’m not agreeing with a lot of what your saying, i do respect it. You feel safe and that’s a good thing, and i hope your lucky enough in staying that way. And me, ill be also hopeful in being safe along with practicing my 2nd amendment rights, and i hope i never have to carry it out to save my own life. Richard from the great state of Pennsylvania.

    24. Alice Aber

      OldKat,,, that is easier said than done. When George Ryan left office as Governer here he wreaked havoc by doing a lot of crazy things before he left. Of course he did this out of spite because he knew he would most likely go to prison. Anyhow, most of the things he did could not be over turned, but some were. However, it took a long time. Politics is a strange thing.

      As for whether or not ordinary citizens should have the right to own guns I fully support that right. But I also support strict regulations and background checks to get that gun. I myself would prefer to eat wild game than store bought, commercially raised garbage we are sold in the stores today. Just my opinion.

      Blessings, Alice

    25. Dizipoo

      I feel far more concerned about the difficulty we are having in eliminating or regulating weekend gun show sales that require no identification for the purchase of ‘beyond hunting’ weapons and extended ammunition clips. Why worry about I.D. photos when so many guns are placed in the hands of fully anonymous buyers.

    26. Michelle, will have quite a few more posts on the trip, thanks for asking–I am rationing them out over a few weeks here so they last!

      BTW Florida has most of us beat weather-wise in March but I don’t know about July 🙂

    27. Levels of crime and violence in Poland

      The guns issue is of course one that a lot of people feel strongly about. In Poland as in other European countries, there are not so many guns in circulation as laws are much more restrictive. To own a personal handgun you have to jump through a lot more hoops, and when using one for protection the burden of responsibility falls more heavily on the person using it, than say on the home intruder, even when it’s used in self-defense.

      I don’t know statistics for violent crime here but my impression is you don’t often hear about murders and shootings. However that doesn’t mean violence goes away, as you have it manifested in other forms–for instance soccer/sports hooligans, a phenomenon we don’t really see in the US, and of course there is mafia activity. To be honest, even though there are less guns, I feel a degree safer when I’m in the US.

      On the other hand with the amount of guns in circulation in the US, along with the long gun tradition, even if there were a case for cracking down and heavily restricting gun ownership, I don’t know how effective it would be.

    28. Lindsay

      I don’t mind people using guns for hunting or for protection, but no one needs an AK47 or any automatic gun in the home. Those were not meant for protection or for hunting…they are killing machines.

      My inlaws (from the UK) find it fascinating visiting a Wal-Mart in the US and seeing all the guns!

    29. Matthew

      I think the Amish & Mennonite objections to photographs has morphed over time. Today, one is likely to hear in Amish circles that they don’t have their photos taken because of pride or vanity, as mentioned by others here. But that doesn’t seem to be the original reason. I have read in multiple places that when the technology of photography was developed there was a belief from a number of religious groups (not only the Amish), that photography “stole the soul” or “took a part of the soul” out of the person being photographed. The Mennonites (Old Order and Conservative alike) haven’t objected to photography for many years, but they were united with the Amish originally on their rejection of this technology as well. I’ve never received a good answer from any Mennonite acquaintances or in any book as to why and when they began to accept photography.

      Many times the reasons change for why religious folks do things in order to keep their traditions alive, yet allow for some progress or development in certain areas. Photography amongst the plain groups seems to be one of them.

    30. Interesting thought Matthew. You know now we laugh at the “steal your soul with a photo” idea–it seems to me it is used in popular culture as a trope to make fun of “primitive peoples” with superstitious beliefs–but I guess these things have an origin somewhere.

    31. EAS


      Just a drive-by post by me to deliver an FYI — this issue is gaining serious attention among Second Amendment proponents. So you might be experiencing an unusually high volume of web traffic on this one sole page of your site from people doing Google searches on the issue.

      Have a nice day!

    32. Jim Lehman

      Amish voters in PA

      You may have read that voters in Pennsylvania will be required to have a photo ID to vote in the upcoming presidential election in 2012. Most Amish near my home in Central PA are of the Old Order. Many will not get a photo id, so it will be handled like this:

      They have to present a printout form that says, ‘I have a religious objection to being photographed. I’m a member of XYZ church,’ and then the Amish bishop must sign off on the bottom of the form.

      PennDOT will check the bishop’s name in its records and issue a nonphoto ID. This ID will be acceptable when shown at the polling place.

      Under the bill, a free photo ID would be available through PennDOT.

      Those who choose not to apply for a government ID to vote would still be able to cast a provisional ballot, but the legislation would require them to return to the county courthouse within six days to prove who they are.

      Hope this helps clear up how voting Amish will be handled for the upcoming election.

    33. Jim Lehman

      Amish Voters follow-up

      As a follow up to the above comment of Amish Voting in PA. I asked an Amish bishop about this today. (He was a fare in my ‘taxi’) He told me that most Amish will not be participating in the vote, although some do vote. He said that most will probably not want to go through the trouble to do all this, but those that really want to vote, will comply. He also told me that there will be no “greksin” (complaining) to the government by the Amish if this is what they must do to vote. Interesting outlook compared to the “greksin” you hear from the populated urban areas of non-Amish.

    34. Anon

      Am I the only one that finds a specail id to own guns to be disturbing?

    35. Michelle

      Amish photo IDs

      No one should be excluded from having a photo on their ID. Besides, it’s my understanding that it’s against Amish religion to have a photo in their home or on their person, not on the fishing and game website.