Disabled people who may have trouble with traditional firearms have a right to easier-to-use weapons often targeted by bans, activists say.
CHADDS FORD, Pa. — Slowly and with a hitch in his step, Sal Foti made his way to the handicapped shooting lane at Targetmaster Indoor Firearm Range & Gun Shop.
The lane is closest to the door, wide enough for a wheelchair or other equipment and marked with a handicapped sign.
Foti, 57, a retired public relations executive, has suffered since childhood from rheumatoid arthritis, which stiffens his joints, making it difficult for him to walk or stand for long.
"To put up even the target is hard for me," he said, "It's nice to see that ranges are starting to understand and accommodate handicapped shooters. Given the aging population and the fact that we've got more of these military folks coming back disabled, I think there's going to be more of a need for it."
The group Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights, formed before the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., saw its membership quadruple to 19,000 after the event, energizing its lobbying on behalf of gun owners. Many disabled citizens have difficulty wielding traditional pistols and rifles, which has prompted some to become vociferous allies in the campaign to block new restrictions on assault-style weapons.
"They're banning these weapons for arbitrary reasons — because it has a certain grip or stock — when in reality those are the features that someone with a disability like me needs to operate a firearm," said Scott Ennis, a hemophiliac who started the Connecticut-based disabled firearm-owners group and serves as its president. Like Foti, Ennis suffered joint damage that makes it difficult for him to grip and shoot.
Reports earlier this year that Iowa was licensing blind gun owners to carry concealed firearms stirred controversy, with some critics saying it wasn't safe, including the disabled executive director of Iowans for Gun Safety. By law, blind gun owners could already hunt with restrictions in Iowa and several other states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Texas.
Ennis and others insist that all citizens have the right to bear arms, and disabled citizens often have an even greater need for weapons for self-defense. "If an individual who has a disability, any disability, can pass the firearms safety class and they don't have any felonies or anything that keeps them from owning a firearm due to background check issues, I think that person should be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights," he said.