/ 11 September 2013

Why is America giving gun licences to blind people?

Gun sales at Smith & Wesson have hit a record high.
Gun sales at Smith & Wesson have hit a record high.

In a short interview with Piers Morgan earlier this year, Stevie Wonder suggested a novel idea for demonstrating the problem with US gun laws. He was going to try to buy a weapon. "Imagine me with a gun," said the singer, who has been blind since shortly after birth. "It's just crazy."

Not everyone would agree. Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register, an Iowa newspaper, ran an in-depth report on the fact that the state has been granting gun permits to people who are legally or completely blind. In one county, officials say they have granted gun permits to at least three people whose visual impairments are such that they can't legally drive.

This doesn't contradict the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits drug addicts and those who have spent more than a year behind bars from possessing firearms, but not those who can't see. State laws vary, with some requiring proof of vision, but Iowa is not alone in allowing the blind to carry guns.

Ian Macrae, who is registered blind and edits the UK website Disability Now, says this is the logical conclusion of the second amendment. "The fact is, US law says anyone has the right to bear arms, and if that's the case, then, in the interests of full equality, that should include blind people."

But isn't this dangerous? Potentially, says Macrae, pointing out that it's dangerous for anyone to carry a gun. "I wouldn't say it was more dangerous. I'd say we would have to be more responsible in the way in which we behaved with those weapons, discharged them and so on – the person would need to behave responsibly, rather than it being on society to say: 'Oh, sorry guys, this is too dangerous, so we're going to exclude you.'"

Last year, a blind man from New Jersey won his legal battle to keep and shoot guns – his collection had been confiscated by police in 2008, after he accidentally shot himself in the leg. And in Texas and Michigan, blind people are permitted to hunt, in the company of a sighted partner. Macrae says he recently heard a story by US humourist David Sedaris on blind hunting, and was tickled by his line, "'how do they find whatever it is they just shot?' Being a blind person, I found that quite amusing." –  © Guardian News and Media 2013