Rangers Association Points Out Flaws In Secretary Kempthorne's Weapons Logic

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's rationales for potentially opening national parks to concealed weapons are "hypocritical in some cases and just plain wrong in others," according to the president of the Association of National Park Rangers.

While the Interior secretary, in outlining his decision, talks of "enhancing local control and respecting an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms," that perspective is skewed, believes Scot McElveen.

"If you truly believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, then that right applies to all places at all times including federal buildings, airports, schools, and any area prohibited by state law," Mr. McElveen says. "If the argument is a Second Amendment argument, then federal law, federal regulation, state law, and state regulation must all fall in the face of the Constitution as amended. This what the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution states.

"It seems hypocritical to me to say that the Second Amendment applies in the national park system without exception, but exceptions are okay in other places."

Furthermore, he points out that Congress specifically directed the National Park Service "'to regulate' use in the national park system for the fundamental purpose of preserving park natural and cultural resources."

"These provisions are found in federal statutory law and are supported by federal case law. Nowhere has Congress told the National Park Service that 'enhancing local control' of the National Park Service is a priority," notes Mr. McElveen. "In fact, just the opposite has occurred. In 1953, 1970, and 1978 Congress passed amendments to the NPS Organic Act of 1916 that directed the agency to manage the national park system for the national interest, not local interests, except where specifically directed by Congress."

While Mr. McElveen recognizes that Congress has given the Interior secretary the authority to promulgate regulations for the national parks, he also believes that "those regulations must support the 'fundamental purpose' defined in the NPS Organic Act until such time that Congress decides to amend the Organic Act again."

"I think it will be interesting to see how the Assistant Secretary can craft a revised regulation that changes a 72-year course and purports to support that 'fundamental purpose,'" he says.

Comments

From what I have been reading on the gun issue in the national parks there seems to be a very large gap of ignorance in how our parks are used. Some guy from Utah thought I wanted a national CCW even though I had already stated there was no such thing (except for law enforcement and that is NOT always true or accepted) if he had read correctly. Federal land rules should apply no matter what state just because they are being controlled by the Federal Government. Why should a state have control over a state agency? They don't. Except in this case and it's not right.

I don't carry a concealed weapon in any national park. You damn well better believe that some of the places I go I'm armed though. Stay away from the drug smugglers because they are NOT LEGALLY armed. They don't have to go by NPS rules. However, accidents happen and I could stumble over them.

We're not talking Yosemite & Yellowstone for those of you reading this. I explore the back roads (legally) from California to Texas in a 4X4 and only see a ranger when I pay my entry dues. There are no back road fees unless you use an extablished campground (not off road). Can't beat it!

FYI: I have a close friend that is retired from the Border Patrol over 15 years and 22 years service and his advice to me was to move 90 degrees away from drug or human smugglers (same in most cases). They are better armed than me because I have to obey the law. I don't ever want to have to shoot anyone again, but I think I should have the right to come home to America and defend myself on American soil!

This is a classic case of the leaders (or head idiots) just not getting it. I believe if you polled all employees and visitors (aka Citizens) as to wether they would feel safer knowing that an armed law abiding persons were allowed in the parks that a large portion would agree that is a wise idea. What I have never understood is why people put up such resistance to allowing law abiding citizens to arm themselves when criminals don't care if they are breaking the law by carrying a weapon. The criminals are going to do it anyway. I can't rely on the Park Service to protect me at all times, I shouldn't expect them to.

The most rediculous comment however is "If you truly believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, then that right applies to all places at all times including federal buildings, airports, schools, and any area prohibited by state law," Mr. McElveen says.

What a dumb comment and idea. The difference is you are not protected in the wild, it is not a secure environment. All federal buildings, Courthouses etc. have Law Enforcement and Security protecting the Civilians and Employees. This mentality is exactly what brings us down as free persons and makes visiting these wonderful locations a little less safe. It is proof positive that the leaders have also never worked the front lines, have never walked a mile in the shoes of the employees and visitors, they are nieve. It's a real shame that political correctness always overshadows public safety and even more concerning their employees safety.

Take it from someone who likes to roam the wild and works in Law Enforcement, I would rather explain myself after the fact than see God tommorow.

As a retired peace officer I don't feel that my right to carry a concealed weapon should not appply to national parks

perhaps a real poll could take place w/in the various national parks..be in campgrounds, tents only areas and back country. I believe most folks who have spent many a vacation in the parks would say they feel safe as law is now. Really, just how many of the few tragic events that have made the news in recents years could have been avoided. Were the "victims" ever of the make up that they would have been carrying a fire arm. It really doesnt quite feel right to spectulate about .How many deadly force/intentional events have occuried in National Parks where there were even others around wondering " why didnt/dont I have a gun?". The reality is that w/ a reminder (if not an encouragement based on broadcasting ones basic right) to bring your guns there will simply be the increased probability of accidental tragic events. These are the events that will make headline news and increase /create a snow balling fear full ness brought into the National Park experience . There needs to be some discernment about 2nd ammendment rights as there has been.

Fletcher:

My family and I frequently visit National Parks and we stay in the campgrounds, which are often crowded with other families with children. Every year I read stories of children who find their parent's gun and accidently shoot themselves or one of their friends. (When I was a kid, one of my cousins accidently shot himself in the leg with his dad's shotgun. He didn't die, but one of his legs is now substantially shorter than the other one.) I really won't feel safer knowing that some kid in a tent 15 feet from mine might start playing around with the handgun that he finds in his parents' tent or car. I feel much safer knowing that now any guns in National Parks must be locked and unloaded.

I've beaten this to death on other pages (see, didn't even need a gun!!), and won't continue to do so here. Just a couple of quick things. First, as implied by Mr. McElveen, this IS NOT a second amendment issue. It has nothing to do with the second amendment. In fact, this does NOT insure the right of "law abiding citizens" to bear arms.....not even in National Parks. It would simply state that the National Park Service bows to the laws of the state in which the park is found. Therefore, loaded guns would still be illegal in Yosemite (because guns are illegal in ALL parks in the State of California), for example, while they would be allowed in Glacier (unless, of course, you inadvertently hiked across that imaginary line into Alberta). So, before all the cowboys out there start celebrating their victory for "second amendment rights", and grab their piece and head off to a National Park (is that a gun, or are you just happy to be in the great outdoors?!), they better check what the local laws are.
Second; about that whole "right of law-abiding citizens" thing: How do we know? (This isn't an argument for of against the second amendment, simply a question.) How do we know who IS a law-abiding citizen? What litmus test do we have? What test? I have to prove that I know and understand the laws and safe operation of my car before I can get a license to drive. Yet not with an instrument that is built and designed for one purpose: to kill. In fact, if you never kill anything (anyone) with your gun, you're not really getting your moneys worth out of it, are you? Since it was built for no other purpose. (The difference, BTW, between using a gun in a violent crime and using a knife (designed to cut meat, gut a fish..) or baseball bat (designed to hit a ball) etc., etc.) Most people who use a gun in the commission of a crime were law-abiding citizens one minute, and then not. Look at nearly every mass shooting and listen to folks saying, "I never thought HE would do something like this. He was such a good boy. He was always so nice to ME. He was just under so much stress since his home went into foreclosure." The young man who killed all those people in Illinois WAS a "law-abiding citizen" until he stepped out onto that stage.
Incidentally, the current law (requiring that guns be unloaded and packed away in National Parks), which most people feel is a reasonable compromise, was signed into law (just as the wolf reintroduction was, BTW) by that wild-eyed, left wing, anti-gun liberal Ronald Reagan! (The ESA by Richard Nixon....I love it!)
This very likely is all moot anyway. Just as the Bush administration undid nearly everything that the Clinton folks did in their last year, I'm sure that the next administration will probably do the same with the wild death throes (I'm sure we can expect many more in the coming months) of this one.

Mr. Fletcher James,

I feel I must personally respond to your post because you have been disrespectful to me personally, and some of your sweeping assumptions are not accurate which is what frequently happens when one makes assumptions.

Respectfully, we obviously disagree on this issue. Respectfully, you do not know anything about me or my motives. For the record, I have spent my entire, adult, working life with a firearm strapped on my hip in areas administered by the National Park Service (NPS). For many of those years I worked on the “front lines” in these areas contacting visitors to help them in some cases and to enforce laws in other instances. I have also personally visited 256 of the 391 units of the National Park System on my own time, so I feel do have some credibility as a park visitor.

Also for the record, I own 2 personal firearms. I have never felt threatened enough while visiting NPS areas to carry my weapons while off duty.

As the President of the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR) I represent 1,100 people, the majority of whom have spent their working lives on the “front lines” of the NPS. Their position is to oppose the described regulation change, and my job as their President is to make their views known in the public debate.

With regard to the Second Amendment, ANPR’s point is to frame this debate in what we believe are the correct terms. The Second Amendment does not speak to any conditions in which the right to bear arms can be infringed, in your words “a secure environment.” In our opinion, if you accept any of the exceptions then that means you recognize the right of government to make exceptions to the Second Amendment. Following from that, this debate then becomes whether the limited NPS regulation is worthy from a societal standpoint versus its limited intrusion on the Second Amendment. And respectfully, that is where we disagree.

The federal power to protect wildlife on federal lands is also Constitutionally based (the Property Clause), and that finding has been upheld at the U. S. Supreme Court level (see Kleppe v. New Mexico, 1976). The current NPS regulation was promulgated primarily and specifically to protect wildlife in NPS areas. In the professional opinion of ANPR, the described regulation change will have negative impacts on park wildlife. We do agree that the majority of gun owners coming into parks would never use their guns to illegally kill or injure wildlife. We also recognize that a small number of gun owners will illegally use their guns to kill or injure wildlife no matter what the regulations or laws concerning guns in parks are. However, a regulation change allowing the carrying and/or display of loaded firearms will make it more difficult to apprehend these individuals because possession and display of a weapon would no longer be probable cause to initiate a search for evidence of wildlife or wildlife parts.

We also believe that there are a significant number of gun owners that fall in the middle of the two groups mentioned above. They might be tempted into an illegal act if the right opportunity in parks presents itself. Often such illegal acts of opportunity require two elements―desirable wildlife to be present, and a readily-accessible, loaded firearm. When either of these two elements is removed from the equation it dramatically reduces the chances that park wildlife will be harmed.

ANPR advises the reading of the June 30, 1983 Federal Register in which the revision to the current NPS firearms regulation was adopted after a public comment period. The stated reason found in this document for adopting this regulation was “to ensure public safety and provide maximum protection of natural resources by limiting the opportunity for unauthorized use of weapons.” Opportunity is the key word in this justification. There are many laws in our society that have been put in place to limit opportunity such as: Not everyone that speeds will cause an accident and hurt someone, but speeding laws help reduce the opportunity that accidents will happen; not every gun owner that climbs on to a commercial airplane is a terrorist, but preventing firearms on commercial planes reduces the opportunity that a terrorist will successfully use an airplane as a weapon.

In our view, a regulation change as described will make poaching in parks even more prevalent than it already is, thus reducing the opportunity for children, families, and Americans from all walks of life to easily view wildlife that so many parks provide. Moreover, wildlife will not remain easily viewable when it is being shot at. If easily-viewable wildlife becomes scarce in parks like Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Katmai, Mount Rainier, and others it will have economic impacts on the gateway communities and local residents whose livelihoods depend in part or in whole on the visitors that come to see park wildlife.

You may disagree with all points of view above, and that is certainly your right, but I don’t see how calling someone on the opposite side of an issue an idiot and their comments ridiculous or dumb advances our society.

Respectfully,

Scot McElveen
President, Association of National Park Rangers

There seems to be a lot of great opinions in this discussion (so I'll add mine)

From reading the thread it seems that some folks are implying that the purpose of the law would be to remove legal inconsistencies between state and federal weapons laws. But as identified by the original author it has been legally upheld that National Parks are managed as national interests. So, wouldn't this law blur the line of state vs federal legal jurisdiction?

As for commenter Bill Roberts could you please explain more about why you believe this "Federal land rules should apply no matter what state just because they are being controlled by the Federal Government. Why should a state have control over a state agency? They don't. Except in this case and it's not right." It is a shame that people feel like they need to be armed to explore National Parks. I'm sure that that viewpoint is in the minority, however, maybe the fact that it exists at all should be a sign that we need to better manage our parks. That should mean instead of giving the responsibility of protection to normal citizens (who may not be properly trained to protect themselves) we need to have more Rangers in places where problems like Bill Roberts described occur. But then there comes the f-word, yeah thats right, FUNDING. Absolute safety is expensive (not to mention impossible). Park boarders are open by design. So protecting them becomes very complex and requires a lot of labor.

Also, if it was a law that was just meant to improve the legal clarity why is the legislation called "A bill to protect innocent Americans from violent crime in national parks"?

Which brings up my next question. Where are some stats on violent crime in national parks? I did some brief searches and didn't turn up much that focused on national parks. Makes me wonder if it is more of a regional/ site specific problem rather than a nation wide issue. If that is true wouldn't make more sense to work on site specific solutions? That would be cheaper and more effective (in my opinion).

Fletcher James commented that he believes that a large portion of the population (of park visitors) would feel better knowing that "law abiding" citizens were roaming the park armed and ready to protect them. I disagree. Further, what is the percentage of the population of visitors with CCW licenses? Or even the percent of the population that would want to carry a weapon in a national park? I would argue that it is relatively small compared to the total number of park visitors. Additionally, what is the probability that these individual would be the in right place at the right time to protect others or need to protect themselves from violent crime? Probably very small. SO to make this law really impact any violent crime problems the NPS would have to encourage all visitors to bring a gun to their national park to protect themselves (and if they don't have one they can be purchased in the visitor center or backcountry office for a small price?)

Yes Fletcher, the wild can be a dangerous place. But most of the dangerous things that happen to people in National Parks are not crime related and could not be protected against with a gun or any other weapon (i.e., slips, falls, getting lost, exposure, and perhaps someday accidental shootings, etc.) Most people that I know who work in or recreate in the backcountry enter these places accepting that there are inherent risks. Arguing that since National Parks are "in the wild" citizens should expect to protect themselves is useless. Sorry, but the wild is never going to be safe (and at the point something becomes safe it also loses its standing as wild ).

Finally, I admit that the source of much of this disagreement between my views and other may be our reference points. For me, when I think of a national park, Glacier NP or Yellowstone NP come to mind. Bill Roberts seems to have described a National Park that is very different from what I am used to. Which takes me back to the regional or site specific concept. And leads me to my last point. Most Americans and visitors from around the world have a very idealistic view of our national parks. Not only is that a good thing, but it is the view that managers and legislators should aim to uphold. This idealism is echoed in the Organic act and many of the mandates and legislation that guides park managers. "A bill to protect innocent Americans from violent crime in national parks" is not an ideal solution it should not be setting the expectations of millions of visitors to the Parks.

-Lee

If we have a problem of too little protection from crime in National Parks, the better solution is to fund more law enforcement rangers. Has Kempthorne even suggested doing this?