The Blind Can Carry Guns in Public in Iowa

Posted September 16, 2013 in gun rights by

Blind woman holding a gun at a shooting range


It seems too obvious to even be covered by a law: How can you legally carry a gun if you can’t see what you’re aiming at? But based on a law that went into effect two years ago, Iowans who are legally blind can get concealed carry permits and carry guns in public. 


Legally Blind Not Addressed by Law

Iowa in 2011 added a concealed carry provision to its gun laws, allowing people to secure permits if they meet the requirements, which range from not being an alcoholic to being free from convictions for serious or aggravated crimes.

Professor David Kopel headshot

Professor David Kopel

While the law “does not mention visually impaired persons specifically,” says David Kopel, a constitutional law professor at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law, one provision “is broad enough to provide discretion for a denial of a permit to persons who for various reasons would be likely to endanger others.”

Iowa’s law also requires passing a gun safety course. But because it is silent on whether permits can be denied based on visual impairment, it is not illegal for sheriffs to issue them to people who are legally blind.

Based on interviews with sheriffs and their staff, the Des Moines Register reported on Sept. 8 that concealed carry permits have been issued in a handful of cases to legally blind gun owners.


Constitutional Protections for All

Impairment varies widely for those considered legally blind, and some experts say they have every right to protect themselves with guns the same way fully-sighted people can.

The Constitution protects the right to bear arms and requires equal protection for everyone, and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation based on disability.

“The Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act both forbid irrational discrimination against visually impaired people, especially in the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms,” notes Kopel.

“The attack on the self-defense rights of visually impaired people shows why the Americans with Disabilities Act was necessary to protect disabled people from denial of their rights based on prejudice.”


States Vary Widely

Other than general laws that would seem to protect a visually impaired American’s gun ownership, federal law does not address whether vision is a requirement for gun ownership or carrying, and states can address the issue how they see fit.

And they are mixed, in fact, in the way they approach the issue, with some states, such as Nebraska and South Carolina, including specific vision requirements in their laws concerning gun permits, according to the Register.

States like Missouri and Minnesota require live fire tests, in which applicants must successfully shoot a target. Illinois’s concealed weapons law went into effect in July, and it requires firearm training and range instruction.

But states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Dakota don’t mention vision in their licensing laws.


Self-Protection for the Legally Blind

Despite all the press the issue is suddenly receiving, Kopel indicates there’s no need for alarm. “No one has offered a shred of evidence that persons with visual impairments actually are a danger to themselves or the public,” he says. “The experience of Iowa and other states proves just the opposite.”

Pointing to the fact that 80 percent of people who are legally blind have some ability to see, Kopel notes that they often have special reasons to be concerned for their safety and to carry guns. “Persons who have visual impairments may be more likely to be targeted by violent criminals,” he says.

“The vast majority of defensive gun uses are at distances of just a few feet,” he adds. “A woman who may not be able to read a street sign 50 yards away may still have sufficiently good vision to shoot a predator two feet away who is attempting to rape and strangle her. Moreover, a person who is totally blind can still identify the center of mass of a person who is trying to beat him to death.”

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