A double dose of discrimination

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted February 19, 2001

The term "legal blindness" is often poorly understood, which may partly account for a new context in which it has appeared in the media. Most states issue concealed weapon permits to any adult citizen who can pass various tests and extensive background checks. In recent months, controversy has flared when it became known that permits have been issued to persons who are legally blind. News stories have quoted outraged anti-gun lobbyists who feel that this a terrible and shocking new problem.

These handicapped permit holders are being hit with a double dose of discrimination. Not only are they treated differently because of their handicap, they are also stigmatized as gun owners.

Many persons with impaired vision are affected by the stigma attached to the word "blindness". In fact, being legally blind is not synonymous with complete blindness. The definition of legal blindness is corrected vision no better than 20/200 or a loss of peripheral vision that leaves only the central 20 degrees of vision. Many legally blind persons use their remaining vision to perform a large range of visual tasks.

Firing a handgun in self defense does not necessarily require good vision. Almost all defensive gun uses occur at short range and many within arm's length. Studies of video from security cameras has shown that most defenders do not even use the sights to align their handgun with an attacker. At close range, simply pointing the weapon instinctively is the norm.

Another important fact to remember is that the vast majority of defensive gun uses, roughly 95 to 99per cent, end without a shot being fired. Criminals almost always break off an attack when they see that their intended victim is armed.

The handicapped have a legitimate fear of physical assault. They are often targeted by criminals for robbery and rape because they appear to be easy targets. Women who are pregnant, the elderly, or people who are affected by a
temporary illness are also at risk.

The system of issuing concealed weapon permits has been a remarkable success in all thirty two progressive states where a "shall issue" system is in effect. The remaining states have a "discretionary" law - permits are issued at the whim of law enforcement officials. In these states most permits are held by politicians, political contributors, celebrities and relatives of said officials.

The most important fact to remember, one that infuriates the gun haters, is that permit holders in every state have proven to be one of the most responsible and law-abiding segments of the population. There is no reason to believe that physically impaired citizens are any different.

It is bad enough that society discriminates, even if unintentionally, against the handicapped. Stripping them of the right to self defense adds insult to injury. The mean-spirited cultural war against gun owners is already nasty enough, we don't need to start attacking the handicapped.

Dr. Michael S. Brown --The author is an optometrist who specializes in Low Vision care - helping persons with visual impairment read and perform other visual tasks. He is also a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, http://www.keepandbeararms.com/dsgl.

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