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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Iowa Sheriff: Blind People Can Use Guns Safely

Sheriff Warren Wethington shows his visually impaired daughter how to shoot a firearm. (Screenshot from the Des Moines Register video)

Sheriff Warren Wethington shows his visually impaired daughter how to shoot a firearm. (Screenshot from the Des Moines Register video)

Advocates for the disabled say denying the visually impaired the right to carry a weapon would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Iowa state law currently does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability or disability.

People have this preset idea that blind people are going to be shooting at voices, and it’s just not going to happen.
– Sheriff Werthington

Private gun ownership by the blind is not new in Iowa, but gun permit changes passed in 2011 now allow the visually impaired to legally carry firearms in public.

Warren Wethington, the sheriff of Cedar County, Iowa, whose daughter is visually impaired, agrees that people with visual disabilities should be able to carry guns.

“People have this preset idea that blind people are going to be shooting at voices, and it’s just not going to happen,” Wethington told Here & Now.

While Wethington agrees there should be regulations on what visually impaired people can or cannot do for public safety reasons — for example, operating a car — he thinks visually impaired and blind people can be trained to use a firearm safely.

“I see no way a visually impaired person can operate a motor vehicle safely,” Wethington said. “But a firearm can be drawn and discharged, and truthfully it’s safer that way than a sighted person shooting five or 10 yards away. Because there is a possibility they could miss. If you have someone on top of you, and you rotate the weapon into them and make a contact shot, you’re not going to miss.”

Wethington says sighted people are often in situations in which their vision is impaired, for example at nighttime, yet they are allowed to carry a gun.

“There is any number of scenarios where a sighted person can find themselves in the exact same situation as a visually impaired [person], and nobody wants to talk about that,” he said.




And now we turn to Iowa, where a 2011 change in gun permit laws made it possible for visually impaired or totally blind Iowans to carry firearms in public. Advocates for the disabled argued that denying them the right to carry a weapon violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. And Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington has provided firearms training for the visually impaired, including his own daughter. He joins us now from police headquarters in Tipton, Iowa.

And Sheriff, first of all, how limited is your daughter's sight?

SHERIFF WARREN WETHINGTON: You know, she can see shapes. She can't necessarily see the details of somebody's face. She can hit a paper-plate-size target at 10 yard. You know, a totally blind person is not going to be able to do that. And also, a totally blind person's not going to be able to perceive a threat at 10 or 15 yards.

If you put yourself in a completely black room, you're blind. You can't see. If a person attacks you, somebody hits you repeatedly in the head, if they try to choke you out, you can get your arm around them, and there is absolutely no reason why a totally blind person can't be trained to draw a weapon, rotate it up into the midsection of their attacker and fire a round.

People have this preset idea that blind people are going to be shooting at voices, and it's just not going to happen.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, sheriff, I wonder, because, for example, there are some restrictions on people with severe visual impairment when it comes to having the right to operate a vehicle, because there's a concern that they may be a danger behind the wheel to themselves or to others. Do you think the same concerns should extend at all to carrying firearms in public?

WETHINGTON: No. I see no way that a visually impaired person can operate a motor vehicle safely. I mean, if you have something that weighs two, 3,000 pounds and you're driving it down the street and you can't see, there is no way that can be safe. But a firearm can be drawn and discharged, and truthfully, it's safer that way than a sighted person shooting five or 10 yards away, because there's a possibility that they could miss.

When you have somebody on top of you, and you rotate the weapon into them and make a contact shot, you're not going to miss.

CHAKRABARTI: OK, just to be clear, Iowa state law does not allow sheriffs to prohibit Iowans from carrying a weapon based on physical ability, as we talked about. And so far, it doesn't seem as if there's been any claims of any sort of discrimination on this front. But there are some folks in the visually impaired community who seem to have some doubts, Patrick Clancy for example. He's superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.

He told the Des Moines Register that guns may be a rare exception to his personal philosophy that blind people can participate fully in life, and I wonder what you think about that.

WETHINGTON: I'm sure he's very good at what he does. I would venture to say that he has spent very little, if any, time around guns. I don't remember exactly what the stats are, but 90 percent of all shooting incidents are seven feet and closer. You know, that's really not much over arm's length away.

I have a permit to carry, and nobody thinks anything about it, but I spent the first 20 years of my career working nights. My vision is impaired at night. There's no restriction on it that says that I can't carry a firearm in low-light situations. There's any number of scenarios where a sighted person can find themselves in the exact same situation as the visually impaired, and nobody wants to talk about that.

CHAKRABARTI: Warren Wethington is the sheriff of Cedar County, Iowa. Thank you so much for joining us, Sheriff Wethington.

WETHINGTON: Thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, let us know what you think about what the sheriff said. Do you think it's analogous for a sheriff to carry a weapon at night and having some form of visual impairment, or a person who's actually visually impaired carrying a firearm in public? Let us know at hereandnow.org. While you're there, you can check out a video of Sheriff Wethington teaching his visually impaired daughter how to shoot. News is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

    They may be able to safely operate a gun, that’s not the issue. The issue is do they know who they’re shooting?

    • A52

      Presumably, they would shoot the person that’s physically attacking them. That’s pretty easy to determine, visually-impaired or not.

  • Kacey

    How long before we see a tragedy related to this on the news? It’s frightening how easy man is making these tragedies happen.

    • fun bobby

      are you talking about a blind person in a state where they have been denied their civil right being killed because they cannot defend themselves?

  • danhs

    There’s always this ridiculous attitude that someone carrying a gun will be incredibly reckless with it, yet there are very few instances of such recklessness that anyone can cite. Why the assumption that sight impaired individuals would be shooting ‘blindly’ around them? Just as they perform actions differently according to their abilities, they will use their firearms differently in accordance with their abilities. Like everyone else who who only shoots when they are sure of their target, sight impaired people will make sure of what they are shooting the same way as they identify everything else. There would be no shooting at voices, that’s just ignorant fear mongering.

  • Redneck

    I have no. problem with the impared caring guns.
    Generally the other sences make up the difference.
    I’ve known blind people that if someone was breaking into
    Their home could hit what their aiming at by sound.
    Shame on the car comparison. It’s what you expect from the left

    • jefe68

      And your response is what one expects from the regressive right.

      • fun bobby

        yes the regressive right, which I think “redneck” would like being called, is always expected to call for civil rights for the disabled?

        • jefe68


          • fun bobby

            yes jefe you are

  • UnOwl

    First of all we’re talking about such a small number of visually impaired people who might actually want to carry a gun that this is really a non issue…we’re talking what, a few thousand nationwide perhaps?

    Secondly, while it may at first seem to be illogical, it is still their right to own a gun just like a sighted person.

    Reality check: Statistically speaking a major percentage of violent encounters that result in a defensive shooting happen at contact distances (just ask any cop) so the idea that precision, sighted fire is typically required is actually false. Imagine wrestling with an assailant rather than engaging in a shootout from across the street…it’s a far more realistic and frequent scenario in fact. Thus, in reality, being able to deploy a defensive weapon of any type (fist, elbow, knee, stun gun, pepper spray, knife, baton, firearm) while also being able to fend off one or more attacker is the real challenge…not aligning your sights on a distant threat. The sad fact about most people who carry firearms and other defensive weapons is that they have little to no realistic training in how/when to employ those weapons legally or effectively…I seriously doubt that visually impaired people will be any more or less likely to improve/degrade this existing problem.

    • fun bobby

      I agree they have every right to carry a gun and equal ability do defend themselves. I have found most people who actually carry firearms are pretty well informed on what the laws are and the nra provided me a training video on defensive handgun techniques when I signed up.

  • Frank

    Like in hunting you should only shoot when you are sure of your target and what is behind it. I have a hard time seeing how a visually impaired person will be sure of the area behind their intended target. Knowing that even a 22 rim fire will penetrate a body at the distance the sheriff is talking about I would worry about being in the area.

    Seems like learning hand to hand combat and/or having a combat knife would be better and safer for all considered.

    • fun bobby

      perhaps they practice their contact shots with a downward angle. the ground is almost always a safe direction to point a firearm. .22lr when fired from a pistol is much less powerful and if it did go through someone would not have much energy left anyways

  • fun bobby

    that’s excellent. yet another reminder of how our rights here in MA are being restricted

  • Joshua Schimberg

    Next thing you know, he’ll be pushing for her to get a driver’s license.

    • fun bobby

      if they could pass the road test should it be a problem?

      • Joshua Schimberg

        How could a blind person possibly pass a driving test on the road? Same way a deaf person could pass a hearing test? Seriously, please, do tell…..

        • fun bobby

          IF they could, it should be fine. the point is that if a blind person can use a gun responsibly then they should be allowed to because it is their right. they will obviously have to adopt different training and techniques

          maybe this guy could learn to drive as well as he rides a bike


          I would not want him to be eaten by a bear while he is hiking alone in the woods hopefully where he lives the firearms rights of the blind are respected

        • jefe68

          Don’t waste your time here. We all know a blind person can’t drive in traffic. They can drive, Ray Charles use to drive all the time in open lots. He also flew his plane. That said he had a pilot with to land.

          Giving a blind person a gun, even someone with legal blindness is not exactly a wise thing. That said a lot of blind folks have very acute hearing.

          • fun bobby

            that said jefe does not think sighted people should have guns either

          • jefe68

            I never said that. I’m for regulations that make sense.
            There is a difference. But you’re an extremist as far as the 2nd Amendment goes. I’m all for you owning as many flintlocks as you can carry.

          • fun bobby

            flintlocks are great. I think that will be my next arms purchase.
            that said, are you suggesting the “regulations that make sense” would somehow limit one to carrying a flintlock?

          • jefe68

            No, are you really as thick as you seem?

          • fun bobby

            maybe, perhaps you could explain what you meant when you said this:
            “I’m for regulations that make sense. I’m all for you owning as many flintlocks as you can carry.”

  • Concerned Iowan

    This is ridiculous. Only in America. As an Iowan I feel incredibly unsafe with blind people carrying firearms. The sherriff made the argument that a blind person can fire a gun safely at close range by first grabbing their attacker? Why not then, just carry a knife? This doesnt make any sense.

    • fun bobby

      are there a lot of blind people there? do you know any? are you concerned they would misuse a firearm? I doubt too many blind people besides this guys daughter will actually carry if she even bothers. when you are in that country don’t mess with any blind girls. I think its a great deterrent to have the blind armed.

    • Kirsten Houseknecht

      because disabled people, blind or otherwise, are unlikely to be able to disabled an attacker with a knife, but might be able to with a gun?
      take my glasses off and all i see is motion… i can still hit someone pretty well at 15 feet or less

  • Paula

    The sheriff makes an excellent argument as to why it is unsafe for anyone to carry a weapon – the margin for error is huge no matter who is shooting.

    • danhs

      If that were the case, then why don’t we constantly hear about all this stray gunfire from citizens and police who carry guns to protect themselves? The only stray gunfire I ever hear about is from gang and crime related shootings, and no amount of handgun prohibition is going to disarm people who already possess firearms illegally.

      • fun bobby

        don’t lump the police in with citizens, not after they NYPD shot 9 innocent bystanders in front of the empire state building.
        otherwise I agree with you. making handguns harder to acquire legally ensures that only those who disregard the law will be armed

    • fun bobby

      not really. however statistically there is a group of people we should prevent from carrying firearms, its the police.

  • Mjp

    Presenting a weapon to a volitary situation only creates new problems. Did the victim have the right to shoot? Was their life in any real danger? What is the probability of hitting the target? What level of blindness could a person be permitted to carry, not permitted? What is the relationship between the persons blindness and other factors such as age and health? What if the assailant gets the weapon and causes harm or death to the victim and others? I would place a level of responsibility on that gun owner for the lack of control of that weapon.

    The real question is what is the probability that a blind person, or anyone else should carry a weapon? Obviously geographic factors change the probability, however, the likelihood is still low overall. Hey, you never know.

    • fun bobby

      a situation having to do with flight? what does firearms use by the blind have to do with flight?
      if someone is being victimized is some violent or physical way they generally have a right to defend themselves.
      level of blindness does not seem to be part of the law in the article.
      your hypotheticals are not very relevant for the most part.
      of course blind people should be just as responsible for their firearms use as anyone else is.
      what is the probability that someone should carry a weapon? what does that mean?

  • Sandi

    I would point out that a) Patrick Clancy is not visually impaired and certainly does not represent “the visually-impaired community”, b) Patrick Clancy is as frightened of teaching the blind children he’s responsible for educating the Braille they need to function normally as he is to have blind adults carrying guns; and c) the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School no longer exists–there are now statewide services for teaching blind and visually-impaired children that ensure they will grow up without a clue about the tools that can help them live a normal life.
    Having said that, I am a blind Iowan, and I assure you, if I want to shoot a gun, there are ways, whether I carry it in public or not. I personally know several blind people who go hunting every year during appropriate seasons, and I know one blind man who has shot a bear. People who are not experienced at blindness naturally can’t imagine how any of this is possible, but we don’t need you to figure it out. We just need you to stop pretending you should decide whether the rights of society can extend to us, too!
    Thanks to everyone here who gets it!

    • fun bobby

      God bless you and thank you for weighing in. I was hoping to hear from a blind Iowan who could set these bigoted people straight

    • jefe68

      With all due respect, there is a difference between hunting in the woods and caring a gun in public places. Just as there is a huge difference between driving a car in a field and in traffic.

      I doubt you would be able to discern in a moment of panic, when there are many people screaming and so on, who the shooter is. Just as many with 20/20 would have trouble in the chaos of incidents where there is a panic.
      I do see how you could defend your home, as you would have a huge advantage in this regard.

      • fun bobby

        jefe do you really imagine that the only reason a blind person would carry would be to stop a mass shooter in a crowd with a long shot? I think they are more concerned with muggers, murderers and rapists who attack them when they are all alone in the streets
        that said, who are you to tell a blind person that you know better than them what they are capable of?

        • jefe68

          Man you really are a piece of work. My example is to point out the absurdity of caring a weapon in public for self defense blind or not. You act as if life is some kind of movie and your Chuck Norris or John Wayne. As if people who are armed are somehow safer. You what stat really sticks out, the majority of people who commit suicide do so with their own gun.

          In 2010, the last year for which complete numbers are available, the number of gun deaths by suicide in the United States outnumbered homicides 19,392 to 11,078. If you add up all American gun deaths that year, including accidents, 3 out of 5 people who died from gunshot wounds took their own lives. Those figures are not an anomaly: With just a few exceptions, the majority of gun deaths in the United States have been self-inflicted every year since at least 1920.

          • fun bobby

            while I personally think its absurd we allow the police to carry guns I bet most people disagree. I am glad you have finally come around to my position on that one. that said, people who are armed are safer and that’s how the police justify their carrying of guns. suicide is generally not considered in discussions of safety. when we say a bridge is safe it does not mean one could not jump off it. do you think that the guns cause the suicide or that people would not commit suicide if a gun was not handy? suicide is not relevant to your claims about safety. also since this is a discussion of legally carrying firearms your other data is meaningless since is does not delineate legally and illegally owned guns.
            yup, guns are so safe if you want to be killed by one you are most likely going to have to do it yourself. none of your statistics support your claim. thanks for finally admitting that you don’t actually want anyone to be armed.

          • Drew

            BTW, the latest studies by the DoJ and Harvard University, both show that guns make people safer.

          • Let’s continue

            Man, YOU are the piece of work. Now let’s finish your statistics. NUMEROUS peer reviewed studies demonstrate that firearms in public are used anywhere from 2.5 to 4 million times each year to thwart violent crimes: murder, rape, aggravated theft, etc. Using your number of 19,392 for suicides, that means that firearms are used 130 times MORE every day to protect life than they are to commit suicide. That makes them extremely valuable in our society. And THAT’s the reason we have our God given and second amendment recognized right to bear arms.

          • Kirsten Houseknecht

            and disabled people are 20 times more likely to be assaulted,, and much less able to fight back without a firearm.
            just because you do not think YOU are at risk, and YOU do not want a gun, dont tell me how to protect myself from being raped… again

        • sheep

          you know, mace is pretty damn effective for that.

          • fun bobby

            try spraying mace on someone who is on top of you or in an elavator or close or in another closed space. you may end up in just as bad shape as the other guy. mace is good for bears and crowd control and cuffed suspects but very close or in an enclosed space or vs a very determined attacker its not a great choice. its better as an additional option than as a solitary self defense plan. blind people cant really shoot people far away with mace or guns but they can shoot them up close with guns but not really with mace.

        • rivmikant .

          A person who can see. That’s who we are to say we know better than them what they’re capable of.

          • fun bobby

            I am torn between saluting your attempt at humor and rebuking you. dry wit does not translate well into text

    • Great Job

      Heard you on the radio the other day. You were awesome!!!!

    • naksuthin

      I would conduct a test for all gun owners.
      Use the same eye chart they use for driving tests.
      If the person can’t read it well enough to drive…He SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO SHOOT A GUN.
      This gun rights issue has just taken a turn down the wrong road

      Besides driving a car ,there are dozens of activities that blind people should be excluded from: piloting an jumbo jet, driving a school bus, serving as prison guards, operating heavy construction equipment, etc.

      Common sense is a good guide here.

  • vito33

    Blind people with guns! What could go wrong??
    I guess their defense for killing a few innocent children in a moment of panic would be, “Hey, I’m blind!”

    • fun bobby

      why would blind people “kill a few innocent children”?
      don’t say blind rage either

  • BevyCY

    This article and these comments are a joke, right? Everyone is only kidding here? Please?

    • fun bobby

      what do you have against blind people? is it only blind people or do you favor discrimination against other differently abled people as well?

      • BevyCY

        No, since I’m hard of hearing and have a Down Synrome niece. But I am totally against guns and can’t understand why people would have any impaired sense and want to operate one.

        • fun bobby

          should you or your niece have your civil rights limited because of your being differently abled? perhaps blind people should not be allowed to vote because they can’t see the ballot? thanks for admitting that you are against guns in general. would you like someone telling you what you can or cannot do because of your hearing impairment?

        • Leftwing Nutjob

          The reason you “can’t understand why people would have any impaired sense and want to operate one.” is because you are “totally against guns.”

          And that is all that any rational person needs to know.

  • Joe

    ugh, low light situation is equivalent to being blind? That, sir, is a false equivalency. And even if that were true, firearms have rails for mounting flashlights. That would not help a blind person.

  • Kirsten Houseknecht

    take my glasses off and i am legally blind. put ANY of us in the dark and we all are. one of my friends is legally blind with her glasses on, and a better shot than i am any day.
    oh, and even some people with REALLY bad vision can track movement well….
    what isnt mentioned by most is that blind, and other disabled people, are at MUCH higher risk of robbery, rape, and assault. predators choose people they think are weak. we have MORE need of firearms.

  • Phartat Misassa

    Did anyone else see the clip of the sheriff that has a blind daughter, the clip aired on CNN? Regardless of your opinion on the matter you have to admitt that the following statement was absolutely halarious… “…It’s not like they [the blind] will walk into a room and just start shooting blindly at everyone…” Iowa Sheriff, no one said officers of the law ought to be intelligent, a big problem in U.S.A. is ignorant law enforcement, I had my vehical siezed by an officer who could not recite the 4th admendment to me while he was calling the tow truck, go figure.

  • James Worley

    I found this story when doing some research about Blind people shooting guns. Here is a video of a blind girl shooting at a shooting range! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Csw9o0c4Ig

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