Except for intermittent floods and quadrennial presidential contests, Iowa doesn’t generally make a lot of news.
But people around the world in general, and CNN’s Piers Morgan in particular, went crazy this week after Iowa's premier newspaper, the Des Moines Register, published a story about how the state’s new gun law allows blind people to own and carry firearms in public.
You read right: Blind people may not be able to drive to the gun store, or even sign the permit application without assistance, but they may legally carry a gun in public.
The Register story, which included video of a blind Altoona man named Michael Barber gun shopping with his wife, was part of a much bigger series that looked at the effect of the state’s new gun law, which prohibits sheriffs from denying weapons permits except in very limited cases. Previously in Iowa, sheriff’s could deny gun permits at their discretion.
Jason Clayworth, the Register reporter who wrote the series, told me he got interested in the new law after watching Iowa lawmakers ram the legislation through in 2010.
“I knew from sitting in a few legislative meetings on this bill that legislators had overlooked tons of issues,” Clayworth said in an email. “And I felt like the bill had been unbelievably rushed, especially considering the gravity of the issue.”
Because there was no clearinghouse for gun information in Iowa, Clayworth had to contact each of Iowa’s 99 sheriffs, often more than once, to ferret out the effects of the law. He discovered that in the two years after the law’s enactment, 99.6% of gun permit applications had been approved.
And though the law requires training in the handling and use of firearms, Clayworth discovered that for many Iowans, that training consists of a free, online course offered by the state of Maryland that involves no shooting practice at all.
He also discovered that background checks on mentally ill are nearly impossible to perform, that law enforcement has no way to verify whether a permit is legitimate and that people who have committed violent acts or sex offenses are sometimes allowed to buy and carry guns. (There’s a video interview with one convicted sex offender who demonstrates how he tucks his gun under his shirt to conceal it.)
But of course, it was the stories about blind people carrying guns that got the most attention. The idea seems so insane on its face. But is it?
Many defend the right of disabled people to carry weapons, saying a prohibition would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Others, including some advocates for the blind, think it’s not such a great idea.
One defender, Cedar County, Iowa, Sheriff Warren Wethington, says he can teach a blind person to safely use a gun. In a Register video, Wethington coached his 18-year-old sight-impaired daughter Bethany as she shot a handgun at a couple of targets in a barren field. She didn't do badly, but she was standing kind of close to the white targets.
“Obviously there are limitations,” Wethington told the Register. “They’re not going to be able to defend themselves against every situation, but then again, a sighted person can’t either. If we had some sort of a conflict in a dark room, you’re not going to be able to do anything that a blind person couldn’t.”
If blind people want to hunt or shoot targets with seeing companions to guide them, by all means, they should be allowed to do so. This is America, dammit. Everybody gets to shoot a gun.
But should a blind person be out in the public square carrying a gun for protection?
No. Please. Get a German shepherd, not a Glock.