On Blindness and Guns in Iowa

I have received several emails about the recent decision in Iowa granting blind people the right to buy guns. Predictably my liberal friends don’t know what to make of this story though their instincts tell them that blind people and guns don’t go together. Comments on Facebook are either giggly or snarky. Me? The whole thing puts me in mind of the “most interesting man in the world”–”I don’t always shoot guns when I’m blind, but when I do, I do it in Iowa. Stay loaded, my friends.” 


The problem with the neo-liberal reaction to the story is that able bodied people imagine blind people have no friends. I wrote about this in my memoir Planet of the Blind and recounted the story of my friend Dave who went to a department store to buy a color television. The salesman wanted to sell him a cheap black and white job–insisting the sound would be the same but the unit would be cheaper. Dave pointed at the biggest color set in the place and said he’d take it. “But why?” the salesman pleaded. “Because,” said Dave, “blind people have families that like color.” 


Blindness is a metaphor for most people and not literal. As metaphor it means existential isolation, lack of knowledge, obtuseness, even stupidity. This is the case whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Mother Jones uses blindness frequently to denote political or intellectual deficiencies. This is so commonplace in popular culture and journalism that my friend Beth Haller, a professor who specializes in disability and the media has a website called Media dis&dat which is indispensable reading if you care about embodiment and cultural representation. 


So able bodied people imagine that blind folks have no friends, which means they have no sighted friends–blindness as metaphor means in the case of the gun story that they go into the woods without anyone by their sides and shoot guns wildly. This is of course ridiculous but as they say in the vernacular “it is what it is”. 


Blind people also can buy automobiles, bicycles, and speed boats. I’ve purchased all three. I don’t yet own a gun, but then again, I might one day. This is hard to imagine. But not impossible. 


Another thing sighted people tend to assume about blindness is that blind people see absolutely nothing. Nowadays 90% of the blind have residual vision. Maybe its not good enough to hit a fast ball but its good enough to shoot a turkey in the company of a sighted companion. 


When you put the semiotics of guns and blindness together you get liberal panic of a high order. Its not worth getting your shorts in a bunch, folks. You know what’s really scary about blindness? The public’s ideas about it. 


My own view about gun ownership is this: no one should be allowed to buy a gun until he or she can recite the entire Declaration of Independence in two languages.