Iowa lawmakers are split on a law that allows blind residents to obtain gun permits to carry firearms in public.
Legally blind applicants only have to complete an online course. There isn’t a visual component or hands-on training involved. Several permits have already been issued, although the state is not sure how many.
While “state law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability,” law enforcement officials are worried about public safety, according to Salon.
Private gun ownership for the legally blind is nothing new in Iowa, but 2011 gun permit changes made it possible for blind gun-owners to carrying firearms in public. Since then, people who are not legally allowed to drive a car are legally allowed to carry a gun in public.
Polk County officials said they have given three permits to individuals not legally allowed to drive due to visual impairment.
“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, the spokeswoman for the Polk County sheriff’s office.
“There’s no reason solely on the [basis] of blindness that a blind person shouldn’t be allowed to carry a weapon,” said Chris Danielson, the public relations director of The National Federation of the Blind.
He said public safety concerns are unfounded.
“Presumably, they’re 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,” Danielson said.
Permit advocates say that to take away the right to carry a gun in public from blind citizens is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While gun ownership is considered a Constitutional right, driving is considered a privilege.
Federal law does not prohibit blind people from gun ownership, but many states do enforce provisions, like vision tests, in order to obtain a permit.
“At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm?” asked Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere. “If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.”
Sheriff Warren Wethington of Cedar County, Iowa, said he supports the law because blind people can learn to effectively use firearms. His daughter, who is legally blind, can operate a gun and plans to obtain a permit when she turns 21.
“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.