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Permit changes opposed: Blind man who passed defends tests

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When people first heard Carey McWilliams' story several years ago, most did not take it seriously.

"A lot of people thought a blind guy with a gun was a funny story," said McWilliams, who lives in Fargo with his wife, Victoria. "They didn't know the facts or that I've had legitimate training."

In October 2000, McWilliams, now 32, became the first totally blind person in the United States to obtain a concealed weapon permit.

To get his permit, McWilliams took a written test and a shooting test. In March, a bill was passed in North Dakota that eliminated the shooting portion of the test.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, a concealed weapon permit holder himself.

"I just don't think the test is necessary," Porter said. "It was prohibiting law-abiding citizens from carrying a weapon."

The writing portion remains, but Porter said officials in the North Dakota Attorney General's Office were going to rewrite it.

Porter said he thinks the written test also should be eliminated, but agrees that background checks are necessary before people should get permits.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said the test has been rewritten and the new test has been in use for the past two months. She would not comment further on what changes were made.

Although the removal of the shooting test does not change anything for McWilliams personally, it has turned him into an activist to reverse the law.

"The way it is right now, pretty much anyone can walk in, take a written test and get a gun," McWilliams said.

For the past few months, he has advocated for reinstating the shooting test.

"I think any person out there wanting to get a gun permit should have to take a test," McWilliams said. "You can really hurt someone, even unintentionally, if you don't know what you're doing."

McWilliams went blind at age 10. He was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes too much spinal fluid to be pumped into the skull. The excess fluid built pressure so that when he hit a growth-spurt it burst his optic nerve and nearly killed him. Today he is a healthy adult who despite being blind, lives a relatively normal life.

McWilliams said most people born with the condition are mentally disabled, but he has a master's degree in mass communications and enjoys scuba diving and sky-diving.

McWilliams has training in using firearms. He took shooting courses in college. He said he uses gravity and body positioning to shoot at targets.

"I also use the deflection of sound waves off the muscles along my cheekbones and forehead," he said. "That's referred to as 'facial vision' in the blind community."

He is blind aside from being able to differentiate between light and darkness.

McWilliams said he has been criticized by people who do not think a blind man should be able to have a gun.

"It's as bad as thinking legislation should be based on race or sex," he said.

Porter said he thinks McWilliams and other people with disabilities should be able to have a concealed weapon permit if they pass a background check.

"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "He has just as much right to defend himself and his property as anyone else as long as he passed a background check."

Despite the fact that McWilliams has a collection of many firearms, he said he would only use one on a person if he was in the middle of an attack.

"Being threatened isn't enough," he said. "The person would have to actually be attacking me. Then I would put the gun right up against the attacker's body and fire the gun so I wouldn't hit anyone else."

McWilliams said he usually carries a gun for protection in a jacket pocket or a shoulder holster. The gun he usually carries is a .38-caliber pistol.

"It's much easier to attack a blind person than other people," he said. "Running away is not an option for me."

McWilliams said he also is concerned with his wife's safety. She has cerebral palsy and walks using crutches.

"If we were attacked, we wouldn't have much of a chance to get away," he said. "I think of a gun as a tool like a fire extinguisher. I hope I never have to use it, but if I do, it's there."

Also passed in March was legislation that says the list of concealed weapon permit holders in North Dakota is no longer public record.

"I think it's a great piece of legislation," Porter said. "I don't think it should be public record who has a weapon permit."

(Reach reporter Katie Brown at 250-8225 or katie.brown@;


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