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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.   


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?

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.

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$$....

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:

Alan, your comments are well taken and I agree with your disdain for former Sen. Allen, and his kiss-butt tactics with the NRA.

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.

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.

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!

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