Firearm Owners with Disabilities Attacked by Anti-Gun Lobby

The anti-gun lobby's outrage over revelations that legally blind gun owners are being treated like "normal" gun owners in Iowa has fostered a fierce blow-back from advocates for the disabled.

The Des Moines Daily Register published an article on Sept. 8 documenting how three blind gun owners have been granted permits to carry since Iowa became a "shall issue" state in 2011.

Previously, Iowa sheriffs could legally deny gun permits for any reason, including inability to see. But now, gun permits can only be denied for a reason specifically cited in state or federal law -- such as a history of domestic abuse or felony convictions. Physical disabilities are not one of the reasons a gun permit can be denied.

And because the safety certification in Iowa can be completed online with no required shooting accuracy test, sheriffs say they cannot deny the permits even if the applicant is vision impaired.

The Des Moines Register article was accompanied by videos of two of the three blind Iowans to receive carry permits.

In one, Michael Barber, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, and his wife Kim shop for a gun in August. Kim shows him how the gun lock fits on the gun. "I think it's perfectly within the realm of possibility and within our rights that a blind person can safely carry a weapon if he or she decides they want to do that," Barber said in the video.

In a third video, Cedar County (Iowa) Sheriff Warren Wethington demonstrates how he taught his partially blind daughter, Bethany, 18, to use firearms. Wethington says his daughter should not be excluded from her Second Amendment rights.

"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 told The Register.

Rather than applaud inclusion, allegedly a core crusade of its liberal core constituency, the anti-gun lobby responded with knee-jerk scorn, calling for "common sense" restrictions on civil rights in the name of "public safety."

This catty chirp in the Sept. 10 Daily Kos was typical:

"Iowa needs to pass a law to protect the public from blind people carrying and possibly discharging a gun in public. This is only common sense. Public safety should take precedence over any perceived right to carry a gun. If blind people can't drive, how can they be handed a lethal weapon?"

Well, for one thing, driving on a public right-of-way is a privilege while owning a "lethal weapon" is a fundamental individual right.

Therefore, firearms regulations, like all other laws related to a fundamental individual right, must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means the same restrictions that apply to sighted people should also apply to the blind when it comes to guns, said Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa.

Concurring Opinions
"We don't believe there should be a blanket prohibition on blind people owning or carrying guns," said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, told PBS on Sept. 12. "It's certainly true that the blind person or visually impaired person needs to be cautious about using a firearm, but so does everybody else."

"This helps the public to understand that this is an issue of rights and responsibilities," said Richard Sorey, the director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, who is blind and a hunter, noting that blind Iowans have been legally hunting for years, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources even has a program to assist them.

"Anyone who uses poor judgment in the application of deadly force will most likely be prosecuted if they are blind or not," wrote Steve Hensyel, a gun safety instructor who sits on the executive committee of the Iowa Firearms Coalition on The Register's web site. "I would surmise that a blind person probably understands their liability and responsibility more than most citizens."