Iowa Gun Law Sparks Public Debate
An Iowa state law denying sheriffs the right to withhold gun permits from residents based solely upon physical disability has sparked a public debate this week after Iowa sheriffs reportedly granted at least three gun permits to the legally or completely blind. (ABC News, “Blind people are granted gun permits in Iowa”, 9.9.13)
Although private gun ownership is a privilege blind Iowans have enjoyed for some time, changes to Iowa state law in 2011 now allow the visually impaired to legally carry firearms in public. But while the permits that have been distributed thus far are entirely legal, many are questioning the new law on the grounds that it could be a serious public safety hazard. “I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere said. “At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.” (USA Today, “Iowa Grants Gun Permits to the Blind”, 9.8.13)
While some sheriffs have continued to deny blind residents access to these permits, others have admitted to licensing even the most severely visually impaired individuals, including those unable to legally drive or even read the application forms required to attain the permit.
International media outlets have been quick to pick up the story, as foreigners express confusion over the law which seems to contradict Obama’s recent campaign for increased gun control nationwide. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics and advocacy at the New School in New York, told CNN, “At least on its face, it just seems totally absurd and absolutely in the other direction from the kind of common-sense gun safety restrictions that the president and others fought for earlier this year.” (USA Today, “World community debates Iowa’s gun permits for blind”, 9.9.13)
In response to criticism, many Iowans contend that to deny the visually impaired weapon permits altogether would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that any public safety concerns can be addressed by teaching the blind how to shoot guns safely and responsibly. Currently, however, those wishing to obtain a weapons permit need only to take an online handgun training course, and are not required to actually pass a shooting test. (LA Times, “Iowa issues gun permits to blind people, report says,” 9.9.13)
Although federal laws do not deny the blind the right to own guns, some states do have laws that restrict the visually impaired from obtaining gun permits, and many in Iowa believe lawmakers would do well to follow their example. Even Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, has been a vocal critic of the law: “Although people who are blind can participate fully in nearly all life’s experiences, there are some things, like the operation of a weapon, that may very well be an exception.” (CBS, Iowa law allows gun permits for the blind,” 9.9.13)
—Natasha Bertrand, Guest Reporter
US Pressure Syria on Chemical Weapons
On Monday, a day of fast-paced developments, when asked what the Assad regime could do to avoid a U.S. military strike, Secretary of State John Kerry stated rather facetiously that the only option Syria had at this point was to give up its chemical weapons within the next week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took this suggestion seriously, however, calling upon Syria just hours later to cede its chemical weapons stockpile to international control and subsequently have them destroyed, in order to avoid U.S. military strikes (BBC, 9.9.13). Upon hearing of this offer, Obama called it a “potentially positive development” that he is willing to embrace, but wishes to keep the option open of punitive military action against Assad for using these weapons. (The New York Times, “Obama Calls Russia Offer on Syria Possible ‘Breakthrough’,” 9.9.13)
Although the Syrian government has yet to explicitly acknowledge the existence of Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal, it backed Russia’s proposal to hand over chemical weapons to international authorities: “We, for the sake of protecting our people and children and country and due to our trust in the Russian efforts, will cooperate fully with Russia in this regard so as to take away the excuses of this aggression,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said in a statement Monday. (L.A. Times, “Syria backs Russian proposal for regime to hand over chemical weapons”, 9.9.13) While foreign leaders are deliberating the usefulness of this plan and Moscow’s motives for this proposal, France said on Tuesday that it would propose a UN Security Council Resolution pushing the idea further. (The New York Times, France to Seek U.N. Backing for Russian Plan on Syrian Chemical Arsenal”, 9.10.13)
Syrian leaders have amassed one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world with the help not only of Iran, Russia, but also of many Western suppliers. According to information acquired through diplomatic cables and declassified intelligence records, for well over thirty years the West has been supplying the Assad regime with materials capable of bolstering Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, with many American companies such as Maine Biological Laboratories eager to profit from this lucrative business deal. ((New York Times, “With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas,” 9.7.13)
Syria’s amassment of chemical weapons, though inconspicuous, has never been kept a secret from the international community. Not since the 1980’s, however, has Syria’s increasing arsenal placed high enough on any countries’ political agenda to warrant scrutiny or outcry, and has always been kept well under the radar by a more pressing international focus on limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
A leaked French intelligence document has revealed that Syria has amassed over 1,000 tons of chemical weapons over thirty years; it is an arsenal that includes not only nerve gas, but sarin gas as well – the chemical allegedly used by the Assad regime to kill more than 1400 people on an Aug. 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus. Syria currently has a large enough stockpile of chemical weapons to kill millions, although Assad continues to deny that these weapons have been used by the regime at any point during Syria’s two-year civil war. (Metro, “Syria’s deadly stockpile: 1,000 tonnes of nerve gas could kill millions,” 9.2.13)
—Natasha Bertrand, Guest Reporter