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Iowa law-enforcement officials are debating the wisdom of granting gun permits to blind people after some sheriffs granted licenses to carry firearms to state residents with visual impairments.
Changes to state law that took effect in 2011 do not allow sheriffs to deny permits based solely on physical disabilities, The Des Moines Register reported Sunday.
While some sheriffs have been granting gun permits to blind people, others have been denying them -- citing public safety.
Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said keeping legally blind people from obtaining weapon permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Other states, including Nebraska, require anyone applying for a gun permit to provide proof of visual ability by supplying a driver's license or doctor's statement.
Hudson believes someone could successfully challenge Nebraska's vision-restriction guidelines because federal law requires states to analyze situations individually before denying 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.
No one collects information about how many people with visual impairments have permits to carry weapons in Iowa, but John LeClere, sheriff of Delaware County, questioned whether the practice should continue.
"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 years old, 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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