I am not a licensed instructor and I have no intention on making concrete recommendations to any prospective blind shooters. These 25 questions and their answers below are merely for the purposes of answering the types of questions I have been asked throughout the years. In addition, I have posted some relevant videos and photos from my life to better enhance some answers by sharing some of my personal experiences, including some audio notes of my first official class in pistol marksmanship from the Army ROTC, fall 1991.
1. Why would a blind person need a firearm for protection?
Let’s be honest here. Cane Says “Easy Target” to those choosing victims and generally, someone without sight spends most of their lives as a pedestrian; more vulnerable to attack than say someone who spends most of their commute behind the wheel of a vehicle. Also, a blind person can neither avoid a dangerous situation, nor run from one should an attack occur, do to obstacles that might be in their escape rout. This means that they will have to stand and fight with whatever means they have at their disposal. No other method of defense is as effective against criminals as a firearm and carrying a gun for self-defense is no more paranoid than putting on a seatbelt when exiting the driveway. More than likely it isn’t necessary, but when it is, it might just save your life.
2. How can a blind permit holder distinguish their assailant from others?
To make a legal shot in self-defense, sighted or blind, one must first establish an attacker’s intent to do bodily harm, and secondly, positively identify the target before firing. That said, a blind person must use their weapon exclusively at pointblank range. This would mean anchoring the gun’s muzzle figuratively speaking to the assailant’s body and emptying the chamber, or otherwise being in physical contact with the attacker, which also establishes intent in any subsequent court action. Think of the blind person’s gun as a blade with a bang.
3. How can you check what is behind the attacker when you can’t see?
First let me say that in the real world no attacker is going to step aside a moment for you to check the shot before it’s made. But personally, I try and use lower calibers and ammunition that mostly breaks up inside the attacker’s body, so that if it exited, it wouldn’t really go that far. However, this is a life or death struggle we are talking about here, not the clean-cut scenarios they teach in gun safety classes. Unless you are firing at your attacker at so many paces like gun fighters in the Old West, you will be off balance and spun around to a point that taking aim might result in a wild shot. Remember, assailants don’t follow the manual and therefore, pointblank might be a sighted shooter’s best option as well, but like I have already said, for a blind shooter, it always must be at pointblank range to make a shot in self-defense legal no matter what. The law may say you have the right to shoot at a voice that is using threatening words beyond your touch, but how do you prove that in a court of law?
4. What assurance is there that a shot you make will be exclusively at pointblank range?
Simply put, because a shot fired on naked ear drums is very painful and can deafen me to a certain degree. This I found out the hard way while using a 44-magnum bang stick on my gator during a night hunt on shore, hurrying to avoid an attack from a second gator.
The shock of that blast nearly had me stumbling back into the second gator’s jaws; all sound temporarily muffled. My ears rang for days afterwards. Therefore, the fear of receiving a second handicap on a hunch provides for a natural pause, as I never would consider handicapping myself further without the threat of serious bodily harm or death.
5. Won’t your guide dog protect you?
Guide dogs are not guard dogs. A guide dog must be trained to be docile, because you can’t have an aggressive animal in public settings where it might be in close contact with others, and any guide that shows tendencies towards being aggressive is always immediately dropped from the program. Besides, not everyone uses the services of a guide dog to get around. That is a Stereotype. But to those that do, the very presence of a dog might just invite an attack from a more likely assailant, “another loose dog”.
6. How blind are you really?
I have no useable vision as certified by many doctors since I became blind in July of 1983. I do however have an extra sense that allows me to detect objects at a distance without sight. This is called facial vision.
7. What is facial vision and do all blind people have it?
Facial vision is a scientifically proven way that blind people use sound waves to detect objects in their paths at a distance. It is something on the order of echolocation that bats and whales use, but is far less developed in humans. Some, not all, blind people have this sense and the degree that they have it varies from person-to-person. I myself can gage the size of the object and its range to a certain degree as sound waves bounce off my facial muscles. This can make it appear as if I have some vision, but any doctor will tell you that I am totally blind.
8. If you are too blind to get a driver’s license, why should you have a gun permit?
So following that logic, the Second Amendment should be amended to read, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people who drive automobiles to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Remember, bearing arms is a constitutional right and driving a vehicle is a privilege. And if I remember my history, people were still riding horses back when the Second Amendment was written; a time before Presidents Lincoln and or Ford were even in office. Besides, being able to drive is done by those adjudicated unfit to own firearms, due to medical and mental conditions, or past criminal behavior and such gets little or no attention as a matter of public safety. The fact remains that more people are killed in car accidents than firearms every year in this nation, although gun deaths are more prominent as an issue.
Even I without eyesight have been behind the wheel of a vehicle or two over the years with visual assistance. In fact, my first was an armored personnel carrier that I drove around base grounds as part of a USAF auxiliary cadet program at age 15, during the same encampment where I was first introduced to firearms. Below is a video from one of my off-road adventures in which I drove a four-wheeler with visual assistance down the very same game trail where I made the transition from militant anti-hunter to Avid sportsman.
So who knows. Maybe after the technologies develop a bit more, blind people too will be hitting the road someday, but only if law makers can recognize that there is no link between good eyesight and intellect when it comes to operating such new technology. But as for the gun issue, opinions aren’t facts and the fact remains that, as the first totally blind person in the United States to get a concealed weapons permit, I have safely carried loaded firearms in public for over 13 years now with currently two active state-issued permits. If that doesn’t settle the debate over the right of blind people to exercise their Right to Bear Arms, than what will?
9. Why should I accept blind people having guns and even carrying them?
Blind people in this nation are American citizens too with the same God-given right to self-defense embodied in the Second Amendment of this country. A person blind from birth may not understand how a sighted person can process all the visual images necessary to drive a car, but that doesn’t mean that the blind person has a right to tell them to pull it over and sell the car because they don’t believe they themselves could do it without an accident. Similarly, those with sight have no right to project their personal misgivings about the capabilities of the blind to safely use and carry firearms onto others just because they have no idea how they themselves could do it safely without eyesight.
Although such a fact is generally ignored in the greater debate, it is nevertheless true that the vast majority of accidental gun deaths and all of the highly-publicized mass shootings out there aren’t committed by blind people with guns. This said, why pick on a group that isn’t the real problem? Is it because it seems easy and popular, or is it to get a seemingly firm foothold to try and revoke the Second Amendment all together? And just for the record, how many people so far have been killed by others prompted into action by the appearance of something they presume to be dangerous, resulting in a fatal mistake?
10. Why don’t you try carrying a knife for protection instead?
Strangely enough, the rules now say that adding a knife to my pistol, or just carrying one independently is legal, but laws are flakey things that change constantly. Either way, the fact remains that knives take room to swing and allot of strength to use affectively. Ask any surgeon how easy it is to make a meaningful incision on a still patient with a sharpened scalpel. Now realize your attacker will be thrashing about and could knock the knife from your hand, possibly using it on you instead. No thanks to that, say I.
11. Have you tried taking Marshal Arts classes?
My answer is, yes, four different studies that I have used to very affectively defend myself in the past. There I learned the usual kicks and punches, as well as how to use my cane as a weapon along with techniques that may frighten some in the fact they remove a sighted assailant’s greatest advantage over me, “their vision”. However against an armed assailant, Marshal Arts training is largely useless. Bullets travel much faster than the body and only in the movies will you find someone dodging live fire and kicking a weapon out of an assailant’s hand.
12. How about less lethal methods like pepper spray, a stun gun or even a Taser?
I am not an expert on such weapons, but I have seen news reports, as I am sure you have, where even trained police officers get such weapons turned on them after unsuccessfully using them to subdue those who are insane, on drugs or alcohol. As far as the use of a chemical spray, similar factors for effectiveness also apply. Besides, a sudden shift of Wind might give you a very unpleasant surprise. Tasers, to my knowledge, cannot be carried concealed legally in certain jurisdictions and that makes it, like carrying a gun openly, able to be taken away and used on you instead. A gun works on everybody, neutralizing the attacker in the shortest amount of time. And yet, if you are too uneasy about having and or using one, it is best to try something else, as without proper training coupled with the emotional and mental stability required at the point in a conflict where a gun might come into play, you could pose more of a danger to yourself or others.
13. Have you ever actually been attacked when you had the permit?
The answer is yes, but I haven’t spoken about it before due to pending court action that has just recently concluded. On June 9th, 2009, I was ambushed on the street in broad daylight by more than one assailant, but not one of them human. You see, my attackers were three very large German shepherds. Yes, I sustained severe and permanent injuries requiring surgery with more possible in the future. No, I didn’t have my gun on me at the time, nor my guide dog either for which I am forever thankful, because he would have been more than likely killed in such an attack. It has happened before.
14. Why didn’t you have your weapon with you?
It was during the safest part of the day and it was a quick errand. I was tired from dealing with private matters, so being attacked was the farthest thing from my mind. And that, I can tell you, is when things are more than likely to happen, when you are caught off guard. It did however reassert the reason why I got the permit in the first place, and like I told the judge during the hearing, I carry now all the time and next time I will have to shoot to which he replied that I have that right.
15. Okay, but if you would have had your weapon, you could have defended yourself, right?
Have you ever seen pack behavior in action? They come at you from in front, behind, and from the side all at once. It is like being in a tent in a windstorm. All you can do is cover yourself the best you can and if I would have dropped a hand to draw a weapon, I wouldn’t be here today writing this. It however has given me a certain appreciation of their power when I hear wolves in the wild, while hunting deer or bear.
Having a concealed weapon for protection doesn’t guarantee anything. It has its limits. For example, defending yourself from a sniper. They are hidden from view, aiming at you from along distance through a high-powered scope. In that situation, as with my dog attack, that gun in your pocket won’t do much to save you, but having one does at least give you a chance.
16. So what is your stance on gun rights?
Everyone who is a responsible, legal American citizen should have the right to protect themselves with any firearm they want, but should be trained to operate that weapon within the framework of their own personal limitations. I do believe in shooting tests, however creating them in a certain way just to block a group of people is discrimination wrapped in public safety, arbitrary to say the least. Personally, I think that having people take courses in just how to safely use a gun in self-defense is much better for safety, since such instruction can be customized to fit the individual. And although I have this crazy belief that any new CCW permit applicant should at least have fired a gun once before carrying in public, formal shooting tests should be recognized as not having a “Real World” application. I’ve never heard of cardboard firing back, have you?
17. So where did you first receive your training with firearms as a blind person?
I began my training in firearms In July of 1988 at a National Guard Base here in North Dakota. As part of an USAF auxiliary cadet program, I was given hands-on instruction by a Range Specialist in the disassembly, maintenance, reassembly and firing of my first gun, the M16.
18. What other subsequent gun training have you received since then?
In 1991, I took an official course in pistol marksmanship through the Army ROTC where training was daily for several months with a variety of handguns under the tutelage of a trained military sniper, who worked with me using the United States military’s guidelines of firearm proficiency. Below is a sample of that instruction in audio form.
On the final exam, I scored 105 out of a possible 100 on a human silhouette do to a deflected shot, placing a 4.0 for the class on my college transcript.
These skills I took to the local police pistol range in October of 2000, and under law enforcement guidelines of proficiency, I completed the required number of shots to qualify for my first Concealed Weapons Permit in my home state of North Dakota.
Since then, I have had numerous proficiency tests with rifles for various hunting opportunities, some through the Department of the Interior, all at the basic distance of 100-yards, certifying me to take a shot at up to 300-yards with a high-powered rifle. I had the Opportunity to demonstrate this for the CEO of Savage Arms, Ron Coburn, who was my hunting partner during a hunt for pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. That 156-yard dead-on shot on the second fastest land animal on Earth I took with his own personal 270 bolt action rifle, shooting through the open side window of a standing pickup truck by state-issued permit. Kind of a drive-by shooting, minus the driving if you will.
"That was the best shot I had seen in 11 years," so Mr. Coburn later said about that particular shot. It is nice to think that the head of a major arms manufacture had enough confidence in my marksmanship to bring only one bullet into the field after seeing me practice at the range.
19. How many states can you legally carry your weapon?
I can now with my two state-issued permits carry my gun in over half of the United States, including Minnesota, where my completed application was denied.
20. What truly happened with Minnesota’s gun permit?
Warned about my blindness by the very same NRA instructor who certified my shooting ability to complete the permit process, the sheriff at the center of the denial refused to sign off on his part of the gun permit. This forced the issue into the courts. I then turned to various organizations for help with legal representation in this matter. Needless to say, the topic of a blind person being included in the Bill of Rights was just too hot for anyone to handle. Therefore, I was forced to represent myself in court, loosing most of my basic American rights in the process, the right to bear arms and the right to a fare trial among others.
To add insult to injury, the sheriff, up for reelection within months of all this, told me outside the courtroom in front of witnesses that he had no personal problem on signing off on my gun permit if the judge ruled in my favor, not personally seeing me as a threat to public safety. Could such be considered political butt covering? Apparently being a “nice guy”, as he stated to the press, isn’t a requirement for getting a permit in the supposedly “Shall Issue” State of Minnesota. But now I know what the term, “You Can’t fight city hall” really means, because do you really think a judge would have ruled in my favor against a licensed attorney, making the need for the thousands of dollars spent in tuition to law school appear largely unnecessary? You be the judge.
21. Have you actually carried over there anyway?
Yes, for years now I’ve used my Utah permit to legally do what that ruling said I couldn’t. And with a clean record of carrying in that same sheriff’s jurisdiction, I further prove the absurdity of the whole fiasco.
22. So where might I find gun training as a blind person?
First of all, keep in mind that you are fighting a seemingly universal stigma attached to the blind, which conjures images of a blind person opening up suddenly like an idiot for no real reason, leveling everything around them. I know such is lunacy, but there it is. Don’t waste your efforts in trying to convince those who have their minds made up. Someone somewhere will be receptive to the idea. It might just take a while, so have patience.
That said, you might want to start with friends and family, who might be in the military, law enforcement, are hunters or even who conceal carry themselves. Failing that, you can try and network at local gun shops and or shows. I myself came across hunters who turned me onto the sport at a NRA convention five years prior to my heading afield. So remember, with thought, courage, and persistence, anything is possible. So Just check local listings and news outlets for up-coming events and keep at it.
23. Can I have a gun for home defense being blind?
Who knows your home better, you or an intruder, and therefore who has the home field advantage, so the easy answer is of course, yes. However, in some states you need a permit and formal training to even buy and keep a gun. Still, you may not have to pull the trigger, because no one can mistake the racking of a shotgun. And if they are foolish enough to not turn tail and run at the sound, then intent could be established.
24. Can you describe how a blind person can hit targets at the range?
First let me begin by saying that, although I have privately mentored other blind people around the nation, whose stories and mannerisms match well with firearms, whether that be for target shooting, hunting, or even obtaining their own concealed weapons permits, I maintain to them that they should keep such aspirations to themselves for their own safety, given the current political climate. That said, a blind shooter can locate a target quickly by Listening for a beacon. The best thing for me is a series of slow rhythmic beeps such as a smoke detector taped to the target, but anything will do as long as its tone is not overwhelming with a lot of echoing feedback. Measure the pulses in each ear and focus until the sound is equal in both ears. This means that the beacon is centered with your nose.
Square your shoulders and memorize where your body is when the desired frequency comes to the center.
Using your mind's eye, picture the gun's barrel before you and the target beyond. Draw an imaginary line going from your center of gravity, between your wrists and along where you imagine the gun's sights to be, using hand placement as a reference. This line should be able to be drawn from your eyebrows, neck, shoulders and heart to the target.
Tighten your grip on the gun to the point of making the gun shake slightly. Then relax your hold until the shaking stops and a firm, but steady grip is established. Adjust your stance as required for the desired spread, always maintaining one firm foot pointing towards the target so you will not loose orientation during readjustment and to absorb the shock of the gun's recoil.
Raise the gun slowly to check the alignment from your heart to your palms holding the gun. Gravity and body positioning are two constants that anyone can use to accomplish this.
Controlling the rhythm of your breathing can help steady the gun.
The trigger pull should be so gentle as to surprise you.
25. How can I hunt as a blind outdoorsman?
First of all, a true hunter, sighted or blind, believes in making a clean and humane shot, as to not cause pain in the harvesting process. The distances and conditions in which you will be taking down game big or small are not at all like hitting paper targets at the firing range. As a result, a scope man or woman is necessary to insure safety and accuracy. If you feel a bit diminished by needing assistance, take heart that even the mightiest hunters of African big game require Gun Bearers, so you are in good company. However, your guide should never feel free to touch your weapon during the aiming process, as this will increase the chance of a misfire. Only in an emergency should more than one mind try and control the same weapon.
Now, let’s break it down, since a duck is not a deer and weather conditions and terrain are never a constant for any hunt. With every species you hunt, new weapons and techniques need to be put into place to be successful in the field. Know your weapon well and accept the fact that your target is alive and this is a 3-d world where the game has a 4 out of 5 chance of getting away from even the best hunter.
For wing shooting as a blind bird hunter, if you can hear it aim for it, but if a sighted guide is present, have them place their hands on your triceps and go with their swing by following the pressure of their palms. Stay smooth and follow through to insure that the shot pattern flows to spread the shot as wide as possible to try and figuratively paint the bird out of the sky.
With land targets, Use a fixed rest when possible. The blind hunter would do best to sit, however, this isn’t always possible, especially during still hunts. There, kneeling or leaning against something sturdy like a tree or stump will do if you use it as a fixed place to orientate yourself and steady your weapon.
If your target makes any sound, aim your nose and square your shoulders at the source. This will provide a general direction which cuts back on the need for drastic adjustments. By keeping your head and shoulders level, your scope man or woman will have a clear view of the crosshairs. With their fingers only touching your left and right shoulders, your scope man or woman can direct your aim. Here they have a couple of options.
One is to draw an imaginary crucifix across your neck and back. Following this, he or she can tap your right or left shoulder for an adjustment to the right or left. To get the level, they can tap the middle of your back for down and tap the back of your neck for up. The urgency of the taps can be a wordless indication of just how far to adjust.
Two, if such makes you more secure about the shot, you could instruct your guide to apply steady pressure with their palms against your shoulders, lifting and lowering them together to adjust the level not unlike the controls on an airplane, while steering them like a bicycle’s handlebars left or right, adjusting the angle through pressure. Doing this, you need to follow the slow steady pressure of your guide’s directions to aim.
Thirdly, If no ear protection is present and the game is way beyond earshot, your scope man or woman can just say right, left, up, down, and fire. This verbal technique is demonstrated at the end of this video Wyoming Signatures on KCWC-TV
Now, this is the most important part. In order to give the command to fire, you and your guide must agree on the right signal. I can’t tell you how many times confusion at the trigger has cost me a shot, or made one less than on the mark. If hearing protection is in place, your guide might want to tap three times rapidly on a shoulder. They can also whisper, “Fire” if no hearing protection is in place.
All emotion aside, when do people generally feel most vulnerable to attack? The answer is, of course. When your vision is at its weakest, “at night”. And who better to safely maneuver and assess their surroundings in this largely alien environment than someone who always has to do it, sun or moon. While imaginations are rare and wonderful things, they should never be used to conjure up outrageous fictitious scenarios in order to take away the freedoms of any group of people. What those opposed to blind people being allowed to exercise their Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms are essentially saying to the mugger or rapist out there is, “Target blind men and women. You can do whatever you want as they can’t identify you, nor will we allow them to defend themselves against you.” And is it then oh right to deny blind people other rights, free speech, do process, and so forth, until those of lesser vision are reduced to something less than human? “It won’t happen to me, because I’m me,” is foolish thinking, as anyone can loose their sight from illness, accident, violence, or old age. No one is immune, trust me, and I don’t think you want your freedoms to vanish with your eyesight.
But always remember, carrying guns is not fun, cool, or somehow makes you a police officer or live action hero. A CCW permit is only meant for the defense of you and yours, meaning yourself; a close friend or relative. But even if you use your weapon in the most righteous manner and escape criminal prosecution, somebody somewhere will most likely file a civil action against you that will require years of lawyers fees and time in court. In addition, there will more than likely be a social price to pay. You may loose your job. You might be excommunicated by the congregation at your place of worship. Your spouse might divorce you. Friends and even relatives might desert you, finding the thought of you killing someone a little too tough to accept. But at the risk of being blunt here, you have to ask yourself if spending your life in a wheelchair or lying in a coffin is a better alternative? The bottom-line is to make sure when you drop that hammer that it is out of 110% necessity.
Above all remember, brains are more important than sight for safe carrying, as it continues to be proven true on the nightly news. Since The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Second Amendment as an individual right, remember that you are an American citizen too and thus you do have a constitutional right to Keep and Bear Arms.