Iowa grants gun permits to the blind

Dylan Stableford
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17: An empty chair is seen during a gun control demonstration in front of the White House June 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. The demonstration was organized by a "group of concerned citizens" to "reinstate the assault weapons ban"; "ban high capacity ammunition magazines"; "enforce a 28 day waiting period and require universal background checks"; "require gun safety training"; and "outlaw bullets that shatter in the body." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In what might seem to be an alarming development in the gun control debate, officials in Iowa say they have been granting weapons permits to blind people.

According to the Des Moines Register, the Polk County Sheriff's Office says it has issued 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 officials in at least three other counties say they have granted permits to visually impaired residents because state law forbids sheriffs from denying the right to carry a weapon based on a physical disability.

“It seems a little strange, but the way the law reads, we can’t deny them (a permit),” Sgt. Jana Abens, a spokeswoman for the Polk County sheriff’s office, told the newspaper.

Just exactly how many blind Iowans have permits to carry guns is unclear. State officials say they do not collect that information when the permits are issued.

But the visually-impaired people who are given permits say they are perfectly capable of handling their weapons.

"When you shoot a gun, you take it out and point and shoot, and I don't necessarily think eyesight is necessary," Michael Barber, who is blind, told the paper.

Some lawmakers, though, do.

“I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware Sheriff John LeClere said. “[But] 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.”

Federal laws do not prohibit blind people from owning guns, but some states have laws that restrict visually impaired from obtaining weapons permits. Not Iowa.

Several Iowa country sheriffs said they would not willingly issue a gun permit to someone who is visually impaired, but acknowledged that person would likely win an appeal.

“The fact that you can’t drive a car doesn’t mean you can’t go to a shooting range and see a target,” Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said.

“There’s no reason solely on the (basis) of blindness that a blind person shouldn’t be allowed to carry a weapon,” Chris Danielsen, PR director of the National Federation of the Blind, told the Register. “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.”