Crime in the Parks

In light of the uproar I stumbled upon by voicing opposition to legislation that would allow folks to carry concealed weapons in national parks, I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the crime statistics compiled by the National Park Service.
Sadly, as with most spots on this Earth, national parks are not entirely safe havens. At the same time, the statistics demonstrate that they are among the safest spots you can find yourself in.
According to 2005 statistics covering all investigations conducted by both national park rangers as well as the U.S. Park Police, which largely focuses its jurisdiction on metropolitan areas that contain NPS units, such as Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, the per-capita crime rate for violent crimes, burglary, theft and arson is roughly 1 in 1.4 million.
"Serious crime against persons in national parks are extremely low under existing federal law," says Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the Park Service's associate director for visitor and resource protection. "There are no discernible facts or statistics that demonstrate the need for visitors to carry concealed weapons."

That said, here are some numbers from the Park Service:
Throughout 2005, there were eight homicide/manslaughter cases investigated by NPS rangers and five investigated by the U.S. Park Police. Of that total, NPS officials tell me that in roughly half of those cases the murders were actually committed off NPS jurisdiction with the victims later left within parks.
There also were 32 forcible rapes reported to NPS rangers, and five attempted forcible rapes.
Among the other stats:
* Four robberies involving a firearm were investigated by park rangers, while five were reported to U.S. Park Police.
* One robbery involving a knife was investigated by park rangers, two were investigated by U.S. Park Police.
* There were four robberies involving "other dangerous weapons" reported to park rangers, 11 investigated by U.S. Park Police.
* There were four kidnappings reported to park rangers, one to U.S. Park Police.
* There were eight aggravated assaults involving a firearm investigated by park rangers, seven reported to U.S. Park Police.
* Thirteen aggravated assaults involving knives were reported to park rangers, 11 to U.S. Park Police.
The largest number of crimes in any single category under the so-called "serious crimes" segment involved larceny-theft, with 3,158 incidents reported to park rangers during 2005 and 538 reported to U.S. Park Police.
In all, during 2005 there were 3,967 "serious crimes" investigated by park rangers. Given the roughly 280 million visitors to national parks during 2005, that number translates into a per-capita crime rate of 0.00001416785.
Under current NPS policies, "carrying or possessing loaded firearms in park areas is generally prohibited, although firearms may be transported in a vehicle through any park area as long as the firearm is rendered temporarily inoperable (ammunition separated from firearm) and stored in a manner that prevents ready use.
"Sixty-one NPS units authorize hunting activities and firearms may be used/carried during open hunting season in those areas as determined by state law."
Over at the National Parks Conservation Association, officials say the best approach to combating crime in the parks is to properly fund the Park Service.

"If Congress wants to address safety issues in the parks, the best thing it can do is to provide the parks with the funding they need to adequately fund park rangers, who patrol the parks, keeping our visitors safe, as well as educating and inspiring the millions of visitors to the parks every year," says Blake Selzer, the group's legislative liaison.


What is the position of the National Park Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police or law enforcement park rangers in general? I don't know whether permitting the carrying of weapons in national parks would decrease or increase crime, but it does appear that crime in the backcountry is increasing. And activities that increase the likelihood of violent crime are increasing...such as the drug and human smuggling and marijuana farms. These activities also increase the perception by the general public that crime in the national parks is increasing. Then there is the vulnerability part of the equation. While statistically it may be highly unlikely that I will be a victim of violent crime in the national parks, I also feel that I am vulnerable. I'm in a tent with no locks, no walls, no telephone to call for help and no help just a police car away. If I'm injured in the attack, medical help is much farther away than it is at home. We all know that the criminals ignore the rules on carrying firearms...what's a park regulation when it comes to protecting your illegal pot farm, after all. So I doubt there would be any increase in the criminals in the parks carrying firearms were this bill to pass. What we'd be talking about is whether allowing those with carry permits to bring their guns into the park and whether that would increase the crime rate. As with all public policy decisions, this is something that should be studied in as scientific a way as possible rather than just be dismissed out of hand based on one's political leanings. And before you jump on me, I've never carried or owned a handgun in my life.
Not her again... Taylor-Goodrich is one of the major reasons that Allen introduced S4057 to begin with, and Jim Webb promised the same. She's the mouthpiece of the National Park Service and accordingly she will do as any public relations or press staff will - SPIN. I have several Taylor-Goodrich letters proclaiming the safety of the Parks in response to direct quotes from the Morning Report regarding some form of violence in a park. It's not honest to present only the NPS commentary without an opposing view. Have you even spoken to Senator Allen's staff, or perhaps some of the bill's other supporters? The thing about numbers and statistics - If you torture them long enough, eventually they will say what you want them to say. Some Parks are more dangerous than others, but the correc question to ask is not 'whether guns should be allowed in the Parks', but rather, 'what justification can NPS claim to deprive the citizens of their right to bear arms, in defiance of the constitution, centuries of common law precedent, without even the courtesy of notifying visitors at the entrance to the parks?' Other than Taylor-Goodrich's outright lie that the current regulation supports a safe environment in the Parks, since their own data shows that to be untrue, what public interest is served in endangering visitors to National Parks?
Kurt-- It looks like the gun lobby is alive and well. Your posts have drawn the expected ire of those who see any reasonable limits on the carrying of weapons as a threat to what they consider to be "the American way of life." You have got it right. Parks are a lot safer because visitors cannot carry concealed weapons than parks would be if they could.
Why can't you gun nuts leave your little water pistols at home, instead of bringing them into the National Parks and start causing more problems...and possible harm. Stick to your toy gun ranges and have your fun. Adding more well paid and trained rangers will subside the crime in time. Adequate funding is paramount!! Do we really need to be politically wordy about our comments regarding this issue? Keep it simple with a common sense approach.
Senator Allen is a another Richard Pombo, wearing a three piece suit in cowboy jack boots. Sen. Allen represents a mole into the National Park Service for the gun lobby. Simple as that!
It's frightening when minds are closed either way. The question of whether it would increase safety of park visitors or decrease park safety needs to be studied before anyone can say anything. And name calling of 'gun nuts' doesn't really further the conversation. Again, what do the law enforcement rangers or their union say about this? I'd lend more credence to that than to any other group. After all, they are the ones that see the crime situation close up and personal.
Kath, Since Sen. Allen's legislation was just recently introduced (Nov. 16, I'm told), and was not reported out of committee, the NPS's FOP chapter has not taken a stand on it. However, Randall Kendrick, a member of the chapter's executive committee, tells me the current prohibition against concealed weapons in the parks "seems to have served everyone well. In absence of a compelling reason to change, we would probably favor the status quo." Furthermore, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (, "National Park Service officers are 12 times more likely to be killed or injured as a result of an assault than FBI agents. National Park Service commissioned law-enforcement officers were victims of assaults 111 times in 2004, nearly a third of which resulted in injury." Finally, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (, as cited by the Virginia Association of Parks,, "the aggregate rate of injuries and accidents increases when persons other than law enforcement officers carry concealed or non-concealed firearms; and, the aggregate rate of crime increases when persons other than law enforcement officers carry concealed or non-concealed firearms."
Oh come Kath! Stop being so politically correct and righteous. I believe in saying like it is and especially when the other side wishes not to have a honest debate and dialogue. Have you ever tried to get a point across to a "gun nut" from the NRA? I have and it usually doesn't work! Anyway, I respect your opinion.
If the NP law enforcement rangers don't want it, then I'd concur with their opinion. They are the closest to the issue. (I still don't like calling anyone a 'nut'. I wouldn't like being called an 'enviro-nut' or 'park nut'. It just doesn't contribute to a two-way dialogue.)
Relax Kath! I'm a professional "park nut" and enjoy every minute of it.Besides, poking fun and jest may open dialoque for honest communication, and debate. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving!
In my mind, this isn't about park visitors' safety. It's about George Allen, the now-defeated incumbent senator from the great state of Virginia, kissing the rear-end of the gun-rights lobby. Folks visiting a park like Yellowstone have a greater risk of getting harmed doing something stupid around megafauna than they do of getting mugged or robbed at gunpoint.
Additionally, the NPCA is correct. The solution to combatting crime in national parks isn't to go about arming every visitor with a pistol but to properly fund the National Park Service.
Alan, your comments are well taken and I agree with your disdain for former Sen. Allen, and his kiss-butt tactics with the NRA.
Kurt Thanks for the post and the time you put into the research, but I respectfully disagree with your conclusion. The management of backcountry crime should include funding/support for law enforcement activities until the frequency and/or severity decreases. But at the same time it should never remove or suppress self defense capabilities. I tried to ping a trackback but it failed (on my side, I think). Here is my post:
One only need to see who wrote the editorial...the New York Slimes! Hey Slimes, here's a little FACT for ya: It's not the law-abiding citizens who have a concealed-carry permit (that required an extensive background check and/or firearms courses) who are committing crimes in the parks, it's the CRIMINALS WHO WILL ALWAYS HAVE GUNS VIA THEFT AND/OR FORGED DOCUMENTS!! The police aren't always gonna be there to protect your a$$....
Currently LEO's have a pretty good situation in that if they run across someone armed in a Park it's a good bet they are involved in some sort of illegal behavior. I wonder how the animals feel about arming the general public? Most tourons are terrified of most fauna....would they be justified in shooting wildlife for their percieved protection? Imagine what would happen when a curious (and hungry) Bear ventures into Cades Cove campground late one evening. Bahgdad would be a safer place.
People who have gone through the extensive screening required to obtain a concealed-carry permit shouldn't have to hang up their right to self-defense when they enter a NP. The shrinking law enforcement presence in NPs is all the more reason to not to strip responsible, law-abiding people of their capacity to defend themselves. Sounds like some folks are worried about safety - but according to the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, about 11% of police shootings kill an innocent person, versus only 2% of shootings by citizens. Private citizens who carry concealed often train more frequently, and shoot more accurately, than LEOs - especially those who only see a range at their annual qualification. As other posters have said, a careful fact-based examination of this issue is essential. I'm confident that such an evaluation would find that private citizens are already licensed and able to carry defensive firearms in countless places, yet blood does not run in the streets. In fact, where citizens may be armed for defensive purposes, the overall crime rate - violent and otherwise - goes down. At least, that's what the FBI's Uniform Crime Report finds, but what do they know?