Iowa grants gun permits to the blind

Jason Clayworth, The Des Moines Register 1 a.m. EDT September 8, 2013

No one questions the legality of the permits, but some officials worry about public safety.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Here’s some news that has law enforcement officials and lawmakers scratching their heads:

Iowa is granting permits to acquire or carry guns in public to people who are legally or completely blind.

No one questions the legality of the permits. State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability.

The quandary centers squarely on public safety. Advocates for the disabled and Iowa law enforcement officers disagree over whether it’s a good idea for visually disabled Iowans to have weapons.

On one side: People such as Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, who demonstrated for The Des Moines Register how blind people can be taught to shoot guns. And Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, who says blocking visually impaired people from the right to obtain weapon permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. That federal law generally prohibits different treatment based on disabilities

On the other side: People such as Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos, who said he wouldn’t issue a permit to someone who is blind. And Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, who says guns may be a rare exception to his philosophy that blind people can participate fully in life.

Private gun ownership — even hunting — by visually impaired Iowans is nothing new. But the practice of visually impaired residents legally carrying firearms in public became widely possible thanks to gun permit changes that took effect in Iowa in 2011.

“It seems a little strange, but the way the law reads we can’t deny them (a permit) just based on that one thing,” said Sgt. Jana Abens, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, referring to a visual disability.

Polk County officials say they’ve issued weapons permits to at least three people who can’t legally drive and were unable to read the application forms or had difficulty doing so because of visual impairments.

And sheriffs in three other counties — Jasper, Kossuth and Delaware — say they have granted permits to residents who they believe have severe visual impairments.

“I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere said. “At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.”

Training the visually impaired

In one Iowa county, blind residents who want weapons would likely receive special training.

Wethington, the Cedar County sheriff, has a legally blind daughter who plans to obtain a permit to carry when she turns 21 in about two years. He demonstrated for the Register how he would train blind people who want to carry a gun.

“If sheriffs spent more time trying to keep guns out of criminals’ hands and not people with disabilities, their time would be more productive,” Wethington said as he and his daughter took turns practice shooting with a semi-automatic handgun on private property in rural Cedar County.

The number of visually impaired or blind Iowans who can legally carry weapons in public is unknown because that information is not collected by the state or county sheriffs who issue the permits.

Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, said the range of sight among people who are classified as legally blind varies greatly. He believes there are situations where such applicants can safely handle a gun.


8 thoughts on “Iowa grants gun permits to the blind

  1. The mind boggles. I’m not on board with this attitude that everyone can do everything regardless of ability. I’m never going to be a professional basketball player or a supermodel, and I’m ok with that. I choose to work with what I have, not what I do not have.

  2. Where’s the fun in that, they won’t be able to see what they killed or be able to see the photo of them posing with the dead animal!
    Good luck to the ones in that hunting party…

  3. Why not? So many Amendment II advocates own guns, and are blind with hatred and rage. At least the article is discussing functional blindness. We’ve always been told that when people lose a sense, that the other senses compensate. Maybe blind people will show good sense. Maybe they’ll carry to a Ted Nugent concert.

  4. The problem with common sense is that it is not very common.
    This has nothing to do with descrimination, I hate when people pull that card when it’s complete b.s.
    Fair enough you want to be treated as an equal citizen, but know your limitations. When you are in possession of a firearm, it’s not a damn toy and should not just be handed out to anyone just because they want it. Guns are tools designed with the specific purpose of ending the life of another living being. I don’t think a lot of gun owners truly appreciate the gravity of that fact. There are many accidents or “accidents” caused by those without visual impairments and these can not simply be written off as someone just being stupid or incorrectly wielding a firearm.

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