By MD Matt
I find it awkward publicly talking about guns. Especially the first time the topic comes up, who I am tends to be a sticking point. I have a genetic disorder called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. According to Wikipedia: “Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a rare inherited eye disease that appears at birth or in the first few months of life, and affects around 1 in 80,000 of the population…LCA is typically characterized by nystagmus, sluggish or absent pupillary responses, and severe vision loss or blindness.” . . .
I was born with decent vision that has deteriorated over time. As a child I played video games, rode a bicycle, and played soccer. As a high school sophomore I lost enough capacity to make it unsafe for me to ride a bike on my own. Now in my late 30s I can barely tell if a light is on in a room or if the sun is out. I use a white cane, employ a text to speech program to operate computers, and depend on my iPhone’s voice over function to use my smart phone.
As a result, people assume that blindness precludes meaningful interaction with firearms. Getting past that preconception can be…challenging. I get it; it’s counter intuitive to think of someone without sight getting anything out of such a visually intensive activity.
To put this in context, my father is a devout pacifist; so my brothers and I were discouraged from owning anything gun-like. Air rifles, slingshots, and paint ball were right out. Until 2000 my only contact with firearms was limited to a Boy Scout camping trip where my Scout master let me put a few .22 shots down range. Guns were something I read about or saw in movies; not something I encountered in person.
Things changed when I began dating my then future wife. She, who is also blind, grew up in a “rustic” household with all manner of projectile throwers. My in-laws are avid hunters and shooters. They lived on several acres of prime hunting land in rural Maryland.
Whereas I had only the vaguest practical understanding of guns, she had been plinking with the family numerous times. Over the course of several years I spent many enjoyable interludes with her relatives. Throughout those times guns were “around.” They were always safely stored, disassembled for cleaning or in their component parts for work; but they were there. Having firearms nearby didn’t bother me. Having potentially deadly devices at hand which I had no idea how to interact with safely was an issue though.
Whether in the middle of a machine shop or a room full of unknown clockwork bullet throwers, my approach is the same — do…not…move without sighted assistance. Doing otherwise can lose me a finger to a band saw, cost me hundreds of dollars in broken knickknacks, or cause a very negligent discharge.
My in-laws did their best to overcome my reservations; but with little success. I didn’t know the difference between a lever action, a bolt action, a pump action, or a semiautomatic; let alone how to safely handle them. That deficiency left me in fear of unintended consequences.
I detest helplessness. Being blind means I spend a fair amount of time in circumstances that are beyond my control—in a crowded weight room, navigating airports, explaining to a Comcast tech in India that no, I can’t see the blinky lights on the modem which apparently isn’t part of their script. It’s one thing to be concerned or annoyed by a circumstance beyond your control; but “guns” seemed like a fear I could conquer.
In 2009 I decided that enough was enough. I was sick of being afraid of inanimate objects. I started researching firearms, self defense, calibers, gages, optics, brands, holsters, slings…for every term I defined there was another branch of nomenclature to master.
I spent a lot of time on Masaad Ayoob’s Backwoods Home blog, TTAG, and various YouTube channels. After a couple months of furious Googling and Wikipediaing my fear evolved into a healthy respect. This led me to consider the benefits of firearms ownership. That led me to researching the requirements of purchasing a firearm. That led me to buying a Remington 870 tactical 12 gage. That led me to the range. That led me to shooting more guns. That led to fun. That led to buying more guns; and that led to a lot more fun.
Life has taught me that people have issues with blind folks. It’s just the way of things; every blind person has different limitations, capacities, and needs. Few people have the real world experience required to appreciate that variability.
I honestly expected a bit of pushback when buying a firearm or going to the range. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The People of the Gun have been universally professional, courteous, and accepting. Their only concern has been making sure I have the requisite paperwork and safety knowledge. It probably helps that I am very upfront about learning each gun’s manual of arms. I make a point of following the four laws of firearm safety. I abide by the range rules and make sure my guests do the same.
That being said, there has definitely been a learning curve for all involved. My friends had to learn how to get me “on target.” I am still responsible for what happens to the projectile when I pull the trigger; so I require a spotter. This got a lot easier after I discovered Crimson Trace and Lasermax—though my regular range confederates have become quite proficient with the MK1 eyeball.
Some guns are easier to aim than others—a Mosin Nagant at 100 yards holds the record for the most fun and least comfortable platform so far. I had to ask a lot of questions and endure some humbling—showing up to the gunsmith with my 870 broken down into a stock and a bag of parts is humorous now, but was hugely embarrassing at the time. The range employee who showed me how to breakdown and reassemble my 1911 by touch deserves a teaching excellence award. My ‘smith endured my various stages of firearm infatuation including, but not limited to, custom grips, rebuilding a couple 10/22s, mounting optics (it turns out that if you give sighted people good tools to play with they are more likely to repeat the experience), loading and unloading moon clips, and refurbishing an old 1903 pocket hammerless.
I’ve developed a love of big calibers, 1911s, 12 gage, and nicely tuned revolvers. My collection has grown to several handguns, rifles, and shotguns. I’ve introduced and in some cases reintroduced several people to shooting. All this to say that guns have become a very rewarding part of my life.
- I am a better citizen because of gun ownership. Complying with Federal and State law has necessitated learning about how laws are enforced, what my rights are on paper/in reality, and the need for an informed opinion come election season.
- Shooting has pushed me to lose weight and build strength. When you have to stand with arms extended for several minutes while someone adjusts your grip, cant, stance, and alignment, every ounce of weight exacts a price. I quickly found that if I wanted to enjoy shooting for more than a half hour I was going to have to get back in shape. I am now considerably stronger and lighter than six years ago. A big part of the motive force for that change was a desire to shoot more and suffer less on the range.
- Guns have made me smarter. Shooting well requires strong math and hard science skills. Looking at terminal ballistics, sectional density, muzzle energy, comparing finishes, optic quality, ballistic coefficient, recoil impulse, laser types, bullet drop rates, penetration tests, and industrial solvents has given me an entirely new set of skills.
- Gun ownership has introduced me to a variety of secondary hobbies including preparedness, sustainable living, and ham radio.
I’ve been thinking of writing this article for a while. Each time I sat down to put virtual pen to paper a part of me rebelled. I have spent my life attempting to teach people to view me as a person first and a blind person second. From that perspective writing this piece feels horribly attention-seeking.
I wouldn’t have gone through the effort if it weren’t for recent discussions questioning the Second Smendment rights of the disabled. I figure if there was ever a time to tell this story it is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities act. I’m blind. I’m a gun owner—and proud of it.