A Georgia television station’s report raises an interesting and important question: should a person who’s legally blind be “allowed” to exercise their Second Amendment rights? From newschannel9.com . . .
Her father, Sheriff Warren Wethington, taught her how to shoot.
He told Byfield he wants his daughter to be able to protect herself.
“The people who express their opinions that my daughter’s not safe with a gun most likely have never held one, shot one or know anything about one,” Sheriff Wethington said.
“I’m not a threat to society. I’m a law-abiding citizen, and just because I’m legally blind doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a permit to defend myself,” Bethany Wethington told Byfield.
Another person, referred to as Bunch, has a friend who does not want him carrying a pistol, because he cannot see well — even though he trusts him with a gun in his house.
I struck me that preventing a person from exercising their Second Amendment rights, because of a disability, might be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I looked at the ADA website for hints. From ada.gov:
§ 35.130 General prohibitions against discrimination
(a) No qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.
That seems fairly straightforward. But how about the claim that blind people are not issued drivers licenses? First, drivers licenses are considered privileges, not a Constitutional right. Second, there is a portion of the ADA that addresses the idea that a disability could make someone dangerous. From ada.gov:
§ 35.139 Direct threat.
(a) This part does not require a public entity to permit an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, programs, or activities of that public entity when that individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
(b) In determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public entity must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain: the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures or the provision of auxiliary aids or services will mitigate the risk.
It seems that such an assessment would not be too difficult. We know that legally blind people have defended themselves with firearms in their homes. We know that it’s possible for them to do so in public. The burden should be on public entity to show, in each individual case, that there’s a direct threat that cannot be overcome with a reasonable accommodation.
It is not uncommon for people to be partially blinded in an initial attack, and still be able to defend themselves. All of the legal cautions that are normally taught to people with normal vision apply to people who are legally blind, so I do not see anything special there.
I haven’t heard or read of any instances where people have been harmed because a legally blind person shot someone by mistake. This seems to simply be another form of prejudice about disabilities. I suspect that legally blind people are well aware of their limitations, and have spent far more time on determining how to function with those limitations, than people without them have.
The National Federation for the blind issued a statement including this paragraph:
In recent days there has been much discussion about whether blind individuals should be permitted to own and/or carry firearms. The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, understands that guns are dangerous weapons and that anyone who owns, carries, or uses them must therefore exercise great care and sound judgment in doing so. Blindness has no adverse impact on a person’s ability to exercise due care and good judgment. State firearms laws must be applied in a nondiscriminatory manner to blind individuals. Recognizing that laws and regulations regarding the granting of permits to own and/or carry firearms vary throughout our country, our single position on firearms regulation is that a permit to own and/or carry a gun should not be denied to any individual solely on the basis of blindness.
I have not heard of ADA challenges to firearms permit laws that discriminate on the basis of physical disability; but I will not be surprised when one happens.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.