Interior Department officials, no doubt with an eye on the election calendar, are wasting no time in their bid to rewrite laws pertaining to carrying guns in the national parks.
Just the other day Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty, who was given the rewriting task by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, shot off a memo (attached below) to Park Service Director Mary Bomar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall asking for their cooperation in the matter.
This matter requires our careful attention. I know you share my commitment to fulfilling the secretary's request to conduct a regulatory process that will provide for full and complete public participation, wrote Mr. Laverty. I also expect that the regulations will continue to preserve the values of our public lands.
While Secretary Kempthorne has asked that the proposed regulation be ready for review by the end of April, there's been no word yet on whether public hearings will be held around the country on it. And while there surely will be some form of public comment period, will it run for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, or longer? Certainly an issue as important as this one deserves great and thorough public review.
Here are some points I hope Mr. Laverty's efforts touch on:
1. Why is there a need to revisit existing gun regulations for the national parks? It's already legal to transport a weapon in the parks, as long as it's unloaded and out of reach.
2. How will changing the existing regulation so parks enforce gun laws of the states they are located in make the current regulatory system easier to understand? Currently, there's one regulation pertaining to carrying guns in the national parks. If this changes to allow state laws to apply, how many laws will gun owners have to familiarize themselves with?
3. If the law is changed to give state laws dominance, what sort of regulatory nightmare will that create in park units such as Yellowstone, Death Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Gulf Islands National Seashore that span more than one state? Will rangers and gun-packing visitors have to carry GPS units and rule books so they know what state they're in and which laws apply?
4. If the law is changed, will some national parks become gun camps during hunting seasons for hunters who wish to pursue game in adjoining public lands?
5. Under current regulations, if a park ranger sees someone with a gun inside a park, they have probable cause to stop and investigate what that individual is up to. If the regulations change to allow visitors to arm themselves, will that make it easier, or more difficult, to spot poachers and other criminals? Will rangers be tasked with stopping everyone they see with a gun to ensure they're legally entitled to be packing it?
6. If the regulations are changed to allow park visitors to arm themselves, how will rangers responding to a shooting know who's the good guy and who's the bad guy?
7. Will family advocacy organizations be sought out for their input on the prospect of picnic and campground settings in national parks where weapons are readily available?
8. Will national park visitation be affected by domestic and international travelers who avoid parks because they have an aversion to sitting, dining, angling, or hiking next to armed visitors?
9. Will lodging concessionaires in the national parks be required, at their own cost, to install gun lockers in their rooms? Along the same line of thinking, how will concessionaires who offer shuttle tours in the parks address gun owners? Will weapons be permitted aboard these buses, or have to be left behind?
10. Will concession and park employees be permitted to arm themselves?
11. Will the views on this issue by experienced professionals such as the Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police be respected?
OK, OK, I think we know the answer to that last question, since each of those groups went on record opposing a change in the regulations before Secretary Kempthorne decided to open this Pandora's Box. But I would hope the others receive some serious reflection by Mr. Laverty and others who have a role in revisiting the existing regulation.