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In Iowa, Blind People Can Carry Guns In Public; Not Everyone's A Fan

A debate is taking place in Iowa over the ability of people who are legally or completely blind to carry guns in public. The issue stems from a 2011 change in the state's gun permit rules, allowing visually impaired people to carry firearms in public.

"State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability," The Des Moines Register reported Sunday, in a feature that included several videos (we've posted one above).

The paper added, "Advocates for the disabled and Iowa law enforcement officers disagree over whether it's a good idea for visually disabled Iowans to have weapons."

One person with a unique perspective on the question is Warren Wethington, the sheriff of Cedar County, Iowa. He has taught his visually impaired daughter Bethany, 18, to use firearms.

"People have this preset idea that blind people are going to be shooting at voices, and it's just not going to happen," Wethington tells NPR and WBUR's Here & Now on today's show.

Wethington acknowledges that there are limitations — but he says that a blind person who is in close contact with an attacker could be more accurate with a gun than a sighted person who is 5 or 10 yards away.

In a filmed demonstration for The Register, Wethington and his daughter demonstrated how she handles and fires a weapon, using muscle memory developed with practice. In an open field, Bethany Wethington struck targets several times from close distance.

Still, other Iowans have different views — including many sheriffs, the newspaper reports. And they say the state's gun permit laws have several other flaws, as well.

"I'm not an expert in vision," Delaware Sheriff John LeClere says. "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."

Other advocates say that blocking blind people from the same gun laws that cover everyone else would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since The Register reported on the issue, the paper's Jason Clayworth writes that many media organizations have been in touch, from around America and Europe.

A legally blind 84-year-old man who has a permit to carry a gun and was featured in the paper says he welcomes the attention.

"This interest is good," Quintin DeVore tells The Register. "It shows we're like anyone else and we don't want to be left behind."

He added, "I think it might also help people realize that blind people aren't sitting in the corner twiddling our thumbs."

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