September 13, 2013 (DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Iowa law enforcement officials are debating the wisdom of granting gun permits to blind people.
The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa law doesn't allow sheriffs to deny a permit to carry a gun in public based on physical ability.
Some sheriffs have been granting gun permits to people with visual impairments while others have been denying them. Blind people and other Iowans can obtain the permits for carrying a weapon in public because of changes to state law that took effect in 2011.
Jane Hudson with Disability Rights Iowa said keeping legally blind people from obtaining weapon permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some other states, including Nebraska, require anyone applying for a gun permit to provide proof of their visual ability by supplying a driver's license or doctor's statement.
Hudson said she thinks someone could successfully challenge Nebraska's vision restriction because federal law requires states to analyze a situation individually before denying a service.
"The fact that you can't drive a car doesn't mean you can't go to a shooting range and see a target," Hudson said.
Polk County officials said they have issued weapons permits to people who can't drive legally because of vision problems at least three times. Sheriffs in Jasper, Kossuth and Delaware counties say they've also granted permits to Iowans with severe visual impairments.
"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 office, referring to a visual disability.
It's not clear how many people with visual impairments have permits to carry weapons in Iowa because no one collects that information.
Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere questioned whether visually impaired people should be able to obtain these weapons permits.
"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," LeClere said.
Even Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, said guns may be a rare exception to his philosophy.
"Although people who are blind can participate fully in nearly all life's experiences, there are some things, like the operation of a weapon, that may very well be an exception," Clancy said.
But in Cedar County, blind people would find a welcoming audience if they applied for a weapons permit. Sheriff Warren Wethington has a legally blind daughter who is 19, and she plans to apply for a permit when she's eligible at 21.
"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 said.
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