I’ve never shot a gun, but imagine I’d be really good at it. Though I may have trouble identifying your face from a few feet away, I’m also really good at most games where you aim at a target – games that some people assume require things like “visual acuity,” “depth perception,” or even “practice.” Can I get a gun?
I may be blind, but hold your fire. I will shark you on shuffleboard tables, Bocce greens, and mini-basketball courts, at the dive bar of your choice. I’ll tap on over, fold up my white cane and change the way you think about “who can play games” forever. Even my whiffleball game is up; I can go yard with those suckers all day long. And if the sun is bearing down at an exact ninety-degree angle and there’s a neutral background behind it, with a big enough glove and a wide-brimmed hat, I can catch pretty much anything.
(I am terrible at pool. Something about lining up the stick with the white ball…You know you have to hit the thing in the exact middle of the ball to get it to go where you want? And what is the chalk for, anyway? Also, no matter how hard I try, I’ve never won at darts. But that’s only because I can’t read the numbers! Ping-pong has also become pretty difficult because the ball moves sooo fast sometimes.)
The point is, I’ve become inspired. There have been a lot of particularly inspiring blind people in the history of inspiring blind people – Helen Keller (just for getting out there, you know?), lots of blind African-American piano players (2x inspiring), the guy from The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – but most often, blind people are pretty busy going around inspiring non-blind people. That is good, because if there weren’t really disadvantaged people like us, who would help all the normal people count their blessings? But blind people need to get inspired too. So it’s always cool when a blind guy can inspire his fellow blind guys, and help us hold back the dead weight of darkness.
Enough with the socially conscious stuff already, you’re thinking; I can feel you glaring through your perfect, castle-blue eyes. What’s so inspiring? Well, his name is Michael Barber. He’s blind, and now, he’s strapped.
As the Des Moines Register reported on Sunday, he’s taking full advantage of a new change in Iowa’s gun control laws, which prevents gun dealers from denying gun permits based on physical ability, including visual impairment.
For the report, a video crew followed Barber to the gun store, where he was able to purchase a gun. I have to admit I got a little teary-eyed at the part where his wife, Kim, reads him The Ten Commandments as he fingers his new gun eagerly. The commandments include: “always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction,” “treat every firearm as if it were loaded,” and “always keep the action open except when actually hunting or preparing to shoot.”
But this has also added fuel to an ongoing, fiery debate. Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos personifies the blind-gun backlash. “If I knew the person was blind …a permit would not be issued,” he told the Register. Don defended this deliberate denial of Iowa law, claiming that while he’s not aware of how many times licenses have been granted to the blind, it certainly wouldn’t be going down on his watch.
Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, on the other hand, is the best. Another video produced by the Register shows Wethington, who by the sound of his voice seems like the Perfect Dad, teaching his legally blind, nineteen-year-old daughter to shoot a semi-automatic handgun. He’s funny, too: “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 for President.
Either way, Iowa legislators obviously believe that blind people should have the same access to guns as everyone else, and I’m with them one hundred percent.
It’s an ADA issue, really. In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act did away with discrimination against the disabled, forever, and ensured that even though our “major life experiences” might be severely limited, we could still get the exact same stuff as everyone else. Since 1990, things have been great. But now there’s a major threat: some folks don’t want to see us with pistols.
Lawmakers and other officials have already prevented people with certain mental impairments from owning firearms, but it’s crucial that we don’t let them turn back the clock on the visually impaired. Singling out blind people like this is just the next step in the process of rendering the Disabled Community completely unable to defend itself (and practice doing the double gunspinning move from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.) In this case, Good and Bad seem pretty darn clear to me. Ugly I can never really figure out. Hard for me to see. Next thing you know, they’re going to want to deprive my friend with Parkinson’s of the joys of a Hi-Point .45. No Desert Eagles for the Deaf. Paraplegic? Put down that Pepperbox!
We’re talking about the Constitution here, folks. The American one. I may have only been born in 1989, but that year before the ADA passed was the worst year of my life, and I won’t go back.
Sadly, as so often happens, even the blind are holding back the blind on this hot-button issue. Stevie Wonder, perhaps one of the longest-haired blind men alive, is against the idea. From his CNN interview earlier this year:
“Imagine me with a gun,” he said, “It’s just crazy.”
Don’t give me that pseudo-intellectual bullshit, Stevie. You have a song called “Too High.” Too High on your High Horse, maybe, to remember what it’s like to be a kid who just wants to blow things up; to obliterate the exquisite structures of the natural and man-made world with high-caliber, supersonic, stainless-steel harbingers of death.
Stevie (we’re on a first-name basis, it’s a blind thing) can’t be trusted. In a quotation from that same interview, which I’m using here completely out of context, he also said, “… you should go get me a gun.” Sounds to me like he just doesn’t want to withstand the humiliation of requesting a Braille version of “The Ten Commandments.” I feel you, Stevie, but you have to be stronger than that.
Luckily we have undaunted, heroic types like Steven Hopler. Last year when he appeared in the news, WCBS lauded his gunslinging abilities: “His aim is incredible, especially considering he’s blind.” Hopler, who lost his vision later in life, stands up for himself nobly, “I’ve handled guns for many years — being sighted and being blind — and I’ve never had a problem,”
Hopler also shot himself in the leg four years prior.
New Jersey officials viciously targeted Hopler for his blindness. They confiscated not just one, but six of his guns (the ones that were “in plain sight,” which I won’t even joke about). After a protracted legal battle, Hopler prevailed. When asked what this meant to him, he summed it up with touching eloquence:
This is the freedom that I want, too. I want that freedom more than I even want a gun. Which is why I’ll buy a gun. Buying a gun and then never using it isn’t totally “crazy,” as Stevie suggested. People do it all the time. For instance, I still have a driver’s license, left over from my non-blind days (though it’s simpler to just call them my “worrying about peoples’ facial expressions” days), and I don’t drive. Who says I can’t have a gun and not shoot it?
I’d take it out with me, of course. Part of the joy of owning a gun is having people see you with the gun, even if you can’t see them seeing you with it. Figuring out how to carry it, between my cane, my sunglasses, and my Pumpkin Spice Latte might be the bigger challenge (the other day I was trying to carry a burrito and an iced tea and when I had to unlock my front door guess which one bit the dust: both). Honestly I might just have to stow it away, somewhere convenient like the lining of my jacket or at the bottom of my backpack. I’d just take it out casually at cafés and the gym and stuff.
I guess now I’ll just go down to the gun store and get myself a gun. Apparently you have to demonstrate that you understand gun safety; I’ve read that you can fulfill that through an online course though, and I am an ace with computers, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Supposedly there’s a ten-day waiting period until they can actually put the gun in your hand, which is going to suck, but I’ll make it. I’ll probably just drink a lot during that time to make it go by faster.
For all of you blind people out there, like me, who are seriously considering a revolver, a peashooter, or maybe even like, a cool vintage musket: I did some homework for you. I looked at the Office of the Attorney General’s laws summary on the topic of firearms, and pinpointed a few places where they might try to strongarm you out of your rightful weapon. Anyway, consider a few of these issues before you run off to buy your first gun:
There are a few types of people who just can’t, and I mean no matter how badly they want to, just can’t buy a gun. Obviously, convicted felons and babies are high up on this list, but there are a couple of others that fall into more of a “grey area.” First off, if you’ve ever pleaded insanity in court, you can’t buy a gun. So if you get in serious legal trouble between now and when you want to buy a gun, don’t plead insanity. Maybe they’ll let you off easy because you’re blind, so try milking that for all it’s worth. One time I accidentally peed on a police station because it was too dark to find a bathroom and I totally talked my ticket down from $480 to $190, without pleading insanity. So don’t just jump to that defense because it seems easy.
Another prohibited group is “anyone addicted to the use of narcotics.” Don’t get bummed out about this too fast though. There are lots of great, legal addictions out there, and not just the usual suspects like booze and cigarettes. Sour Patch Kids, episodes of Martin, human affection, and votive candles are all addictions you can cultivate that don’t appear in the DEA’s Controlled Substance Schedules. Be creative!
Finally, bear in mind that if your psychiatrist reports you for violently threatening someone, you can’t buy a gun – but that’s only for six months.
A straw purchase is when you buy a gun for someone who is prohibited by law from having one. It is not OK. There are a few awesome exceptions to this, however, one of them being for what are called “intra-famillial transfers.” It turns out that the laws are super lax on buying guns for immediate family members. This is a big relief, because if there’s anything better than freedom, it’s Christmas; and the only thing better than getting a gun for yourself is giving one to your little brother.
Get Really Good at Loading It
It turns out there are all kinds of rules about where and how you can have your gun. It’s actually really tiring to read all of this. First off, apparently you can’t even have your gun loaded in any public place. Which, what? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of having a gun? How are you supposed to defend yourself – or maybe just “make things interesting” with a spontaneous game of Russian Roulette – when you have to take the time to put all the bullets in the thing? Talk about a mood-killer. That’s why, in order to not break any laws, you have to get really fast at loading your gun. I understand that as a blind person, you’ve got some apprehension about that, but don’t be discouraged. I remember when I first started playing GoldenEye I thought I could never kill Oddjob, but it just takes practice.
It even says you can’t even openly carry an unloaded handgun in most places, either, and at this point I’m personally very confused about what the lawmakers actually expect us to do with these guns. Apparently nothing. Also, you can’t carry handguns in your car unless they’re locked up. This probably won’t be a problem for you because you don’t drive, but, I don’t know, if you were planning on cradling your Glock and singing “Moon River” to it on your next road trip or something, no dice.
Rifles, on the other hand, are totally fine. You can keep them on your backseat, dashboard, maybe even slung out the window like a highwayman. I’m not sure.
Find a Safe Place
You’re not allowed to shoot guns at an “aircraft, motor vehicle, building or dwelling,” whether it’s occupied or not. You also can’t fire it in a “grossly negligent manner,” which, if you’re blind and anyone is even remotely nearby, it’s going to be hard to win that argument.
But since you can barely have it in public and now it seems like can’t use it in the privacy of your own home either, I’m at a complete loss for what you’re going to do with this thing besides look at it.
Here’s what you can do, as far as I can tell: unload it, lock it up in a box, have your friend drive you out to the country somewhere, find a completely empty area, get the “all clear” from your friend (who will then run to their car and drive full speed in the other direction), quickly load up, and shoot. Shoot the moon (that’s just a saying). Shoot the blades of grass. Shoot the lilies of the field. Shoot to your heart’s content.
I hope all of this helps. I don’t know about you, but all that legalese kind of harshed my inspiration buzz and made my eyes tired. I want only to make myself clear. The challenge for the visually impaired, and anybody really, is to fight against hypocrisy, misplaced idealism, and double standards when it comes to laws like this. That is to say, we want our guns. If y’all get them, we get them too.
Will has written for The Atlantic, NPR Music, and VICE. He is on Twitter.