Gun permits for the blind? No offense, but no

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For those already weary from debating the pros and cons of a war with Syria, good news -- there's an opportunity closer to home to apply old-fashioned American logic to one of the most outstanding issues of the day: the issuing of gun permits to the blind.

Until this week, the average American probably wasn't aware that there was even a controversy about selling guns to someone who couldn't tell you how many fingers you were holding up at any given moment.

Tell that to the good people of Iowa, who have taken their state motto "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain" to ridiculous extremes. Iowa is now issuing permits to blind people that allow them to buy guns and to carry them in public.

Second Amendment absolutism aside, you would think that the ability to see a potential target would be a non-negotiable criterion among many for determining one's fitness to own or possess a firearm.

The ability to see should be at least as important as whether one is a minor, a felon, subject to a restraining order, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a deranged person who asks about the best ammo to use on the demons at a nearby middle school.

Consistent with its motto, Iowa doesn't deny any Iowan the right to carry a weapon based upon what other states would consider a disqualifying physical disability. According to a very literal reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act, to refuse a gun permit to a citizen who can't see or read the permit would violate the law.

The money quote that appeared in the Des Moines Register comes from Michael Barber, a blind gun owner who summed up his right to bear arms quite nicely: "When you shoot a gun, you take it out and point and shoot, and I don't necessarily think eyesight is necessary."

One would think that more than a few Iowans would be concerned by the prospect of blind people with access to guns, including rapid-firing weapons and no fool-proof way to aim and hit their targets.

A visit to the website of the National Federation of the Blind turns up a statement that could be used in this context, but is a distillation of the advocacy group's general philosophy:

"The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exists. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance."

Firearms training is offered to the blind, but the ability to squeeze the trigger is a poor substitute for actually seeing what you're shooting at. The possibility of tragedy grows exponentially in proportion with one's inability to see.

One could argue that blind people aren't allowed to drive, so they shouldn't be allowed to have gun permits or carry weapons. Even the least savvy National Rifle Association charter member would repeat the mantra that "driving is a privilege, but gun ownership is a right enshrined by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Meanwhile, each state continues to have its own rules limiting gun permits. Pennsylvania has yet to issue a gun permit to a blind person, but it isn't clear whether doing so is prohibited more by law or common sense. Not to be outdone, Texas is the only state that grants hunting licenses to blind people.

Some states, like Nebraska and South Carolina, risk lawsuits by requiring "proof of vision" from citizens who request gun permits. New Jersey had what was arguably the most infamous case of a blind man who didn't want to be parted from his gun collection.

In 2008, Steve Holper of Rockaway in northern New Jersey accidentally shot himself in the shin with his .357 Magnum. Though totally blind, Mr. Holper owned more than a dozen handguns. While he was in the hospital, several of his guns were stolen from his home. One of the stolen guns was used in a suicide.

New Jersey confiscated six of his guns and argued that his permits should be revoked because he was an "alcoholic," not because he was blind. Last year, a judge dismissed the state's argument and returned all of Mr. Holper's guns, citing his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

As a sighted person, I'm in no position to dictate to someone who can't see how afraid he or she should be. Everyone has their own fear threshold, but I don't think I'm being too presumptuous in suggesting that a blind man in Iowa has less to fear from his neighbors than most and that his gun permit is probably unnecessary.

I'm sure I'll be proved wrong in the comments section online, but the ability to aim and hit the broadside of a barn as a minimal condition for gun ownership should not be considered a Platonic ideal.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.


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