Cedar County (Iowa) Sheriff Warren Wethington has been teaching his daughter, Bethany, to use firearms. A brain tumor left Bethany, 18, partially blind, but he believes that once she becomes of legal age to purchase firearms, she should not be excluded from her second amendment rights.
(Photo: Bryon Houlgrave, The Des Moines Register)
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Here's some news that has law enforcement officials and lawmakers scratching their heads:
Iowa is granting permits to acquire or carry guns in public to people who are legally or completely blind.
No one questions the legality of the permits. State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability.
The quandary centers squarely on public safety. Advocates for the disabled and Iowa law enforcement officers disagree over whether it's a good idea for visually disabled Iowans to have weapons.
On one side: People such as Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, who demonstrated for The Des Moines Register how blind people can be taught to shoot guns. And Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, who says blocking visually impaired people from the right to obtain weapon permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. That federal law generally prohibits different treatment based on disabilities
On the other side: People such as Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos, who said he wouldn't issue a permit to someone who is blind. And Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, who says guns may be a rare exception to his philosophy that blind people can participate fully in life.
Private gun ownership - even hunting - by visually impaired Iowans is nothing new. But the practice of visually impaired residents legally carrying firearms in public became widely possible thanks to gun permit changes that took effect in Iowa in 2011.
"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, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff's Department, referring to a visual disability.
Polk County officials say they've issued weapons 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 sheriffs in three other counties - Jasper, Kossuth and Delaware - say they have granted permits to residents who they believe have severe visual impairments.
"I'm not an expert in vision," Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere said. "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."