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Iowa Debates Permitting Blind People To Carry Guns In Public

By Zack Ford on September 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm

"Iowa Debates Permitting Blind People To Carry Guns In Public"

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Michael Barber of Altoona, Iowa, examining a gun with his hands. Barber is blind and doesn't believe eyesight is necessary to fire a weapon effectively.

Michael Barber of Altoona, Iowa, examining a gun with his hands. Barber is blind and doesn’t believe eyesight is necessary to fire a weapon effectively.

CREDIT: Andrea Melendez/The Des Moines Register

As lawmakers across the country debate gun safety laws, law enforcement officials in Iowa are split on whether the state should continue issuing guns to blind people. So far the state has already issued several such permits, though it has not tracked how many.

Advocates for the permits make a strong legal case. Refusing to issue permits to people with visual impairments could very well violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits people with disabilities from being treated differently under the law. Likewise, unlike driving, which is considered a privilege, gun ownership is generally understood to be a constitutional right, making it difficult to impose limitations on it. In Iowa, people with visual impairments are already allowed to own guns privately, so the question at hand is whether there is a different safety concern when it comes to letting them carry guns in public.

Warren Wethington, sheriff of Cedar County, Iowa, strongly supports the public permits because he understands that it is possible for blind people to learn how to shoot guns. His own daughter is legally blind, but he has taught her how to operate firearms and she expects to obtain a permit when she turns 21 in a few years. According to Wethington, “If sheriffs spent more time trying to keep guns out of criminals’ hands and not people with disabilities, their time would be more productive.”

As the Des Moines Register explains, there are other states that, unlike Iowa, require either a vision test or a live fire test, in which the applicant for the permit must prove an ability to shoot and hit a target. Indeed, some Iowa sheriffs have denied permits to blind applicants on the basis that they might be a danger to themselves or others, though those individuals can appeal. In 2012, a New Jersey man successfully won a legal case to keep his gun collection despite the fact that he is blind. The National Federation of the Blind generally opposes vision-related restrictions, because as its director of public relations Chris Danielsen points out, “presumably [blind people] are going to have enough sense not to use a weapon in a situation where they would endanger other people, just like we would expect other people to have that common sense.”

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