You are here

Violent Deaths in the National Parks


With the latest debate over whether the National Park Service should allow visitors to carry live weapons in the national park system, much has been made over whether parks are safe. While even one murder is too many, the crime statistics for a park system that last year attracted some 277 million visitors would seem to indicate parks are relatively safe havens from violent crime.

During 2006, when 273 million visitors toured the parks, 11 deaths were investigated across the system. Two involved women who had been pushed off cliffs (one at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and one at Lake Mead National Recreation Area), one was a suicide (at Golden Gate National Recreation Area), and one was the victim of a DUI accident (in Yellowstone National Park).

National Park Service records also show that one of the 11 deaths, reported in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, involved a stabbing that was spawned by an alcohol-fueled altercation. Great Smoky also was the setting of a fatal shooting of another woman with three others arrested for the crime.

The suicide at Golden Gate involved a man who "began shooting at hang gliders. He did not hit any of the hang gliders, but then he shot a stranger. Then he turned the gun on himself."

At the Blue Ridge Parkway, a woman parked at an overlook and wearing headphones while studying for final exams "was killed by a handgun by a suspect on a killing spree," the Park Service said. In another case involving the parkway, the body of an individual shot and killed outside the parkway was dumped there.

At Amistad National Recreation Area, a woman was found floating in a reservoir in about 5 feet of water. "She appeared to have blunt force trauma to the head and was possibly stabbed," the agency said.

The last two murders were reported in Washington, D.C., area park units. In one case a victim died from a gunshot wound to the head, in the other U.S. Park Police found a partial human skull, with an apparent gunshot wound, on the shoreline of the Anacostia River, a crime that didn't necessarily occur in the park system.

Most folks, I think, would agree that the suicide, two pushing victims, and the DUI victim couldn't have been prevented if guns were allowed to be carried in the parks. And, of course, there was the victim who was murdered outside the Blue Ridge Parkway. That lowers to six the number of violent deaths investigated in the parks, one of which involved a stabbing in a drunken brawl, an outcome that could have turned out just the same -- or worse-- if either individual was carrying a gun.

During 2006 there also were 320 assaults without weapons, 1,950 weapons offenses, 843 public intoxication cases, and 5,752 liquor law violations. How many of those might have turned deadly were concealed carry allowed in the park system?

I think much of the concern over this move by the National Rifle Association to see visitors allowed to carry loaded weapons does not center on the majority of the "law-abiding" gun owners in the country, but rather around the accidents waiting to happen involving folks who either aren't so law-abiding or so careful.


Good questions Kurt. Perhaps these stats are non-issues. But since I know that I am a responsible person, and I've received many hours of expensive training, received three separate FBI background checks, and purchased a quality conceal-carry handgun I'll continue to carry. But I will be responsible and safe. I only wish you and I could say that about everyone. Our Parks and our world would be better off.

I am a woman who camps alone or with my college age daughter and I agree with Fred. I have been all over the Southwest camping in a tent and sometimes I do not feel safe. There are long stretches of NV that are like Deliverence Territory. I carry a gun and I will continue to do so for the protection of myself and my daughter. Women are more the subject of violent crime then other men as we are seen as an easy target because we are not as strong. I remember what happen not only to those women outside of Yosemite but the young women who was hiking with her dog back east a few months ago and the guy attacked, raped and killed her. He cut off her head he hit her so hard. You would of thought her dog would have scared him off but it didn't. If she had a gun she might have been able to save herself. Please forgive me but you guys are thinking like guys put yourself in a woman's shoes and you would feel different.


Marie, I wouldn't say we're "thinking like guys."

My wife won't go out for a run by herself because she fears for her safety, and we live in a pretty darn safe area. I understand her fears, and I can understand the fears of a single woman or even two or three women out hiking in the backcountry. I certainly wasn't trying to minimize a woman's fears. Sadly, they're justified.

But I feel a lot more insecure walking the streets of New York or Washington or Philadelphia than I do the backcountry of a national park. I do think parks are different than national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. For one reason, most parks, unlike national forests and BLM lands, have specific entrances and exits and you have to pay to enter. I think that right there reduces the criminal element in a national park.

But as I said earlier, I'd like more information on crime in the national parks to get a better feel for how safe or dangerous they are. The statistics alone indicate they're safe, and I'd wager that a close examination of where the assaults and rapes occurred would indicate that, by and far, the majority of NPS units are incredibly safe.

I agree, the hot heads etc. are already carrying guns illegally. It is not the permitted weapon carriers that people need to worry about. It is the untold number of people that already carry them illegally. In most states where permits are allowed, brandishing the firearm irrationally is illegal anyway. Not many people that have a permit and carry do so for illegaly purposes. I carry mine for my family's protection. Changing the rules would allow this to be done legally.

I'm curious why we rarely see stories about how "law abiding" gun carrying individuals stepped forward and prevented a crime? If carrying guns prevents so many crimes, it just seems logical that we would see hundreds of stories of this nature. On the rare occasion that we do, it tends to be a Bernie Getz type. It's highly unlikely that any of the crimes listed in this story would have been prevented if the victim was carrying. I too remember the three women who were attacked and murdered OUTSIDE Yosemite. The key here is that they were, in fact, OUTSIDE of the park where guns were legal. Would have a gun saved them? Maybe. Would have pepper spray saved them? Maybe. Would have a taser saved them? Once again, maybe, maybe not. It's not like no one carrying a gun has ever been raped or murdered. When a criminal sneaks up behind you (or gets you in your sleeping bag) and sticks a knife to your throat or a gun to your ribs, all bets are off. One can certainly turn the argument around to crimes where the victim survived, and say: if they had tried to pull a gun, would have they been killed? Maybe. In any case, if this goes through, loaded guns will still be illegal in Yosemite because they are outlawed by the State of California in any park within the state.
Even in areas where carrying guns is legal, the vast majority of people do not carry. The same will be true in National Parks. Probably even to a greater degree, because your average park visitor is a family man with his wife and children on vacation. He wouldn't think of having a gun around his children. If anything, he may reconsider traveling to a park that allowed guns to be carried. There are much safer alternatives for self defense.
I propose that they do a survey of ACTUAL Park visitors. Hand out questionnaires at Park entrance stations across the country. Ask one question: "Do you believe that people should be allowed to carry loaded guns inside National Parks?" I believe that most ACTUAL PARK VISITORS will say "no".
Another alternative would be, if someone feels some overwhelming need to carry a loaded weapon they could stop at a ranger station and apply for a temporary carry permit? At least rangers would have some control.
Personally, I have hiked, backpacked, horseback ridden, camped, run rapids and just generally hung out in National Parks all of my life, from Canada to Mexico and from Washington to Texas, and I have never felt threatened or the need to have a gun. I currently spend over one hundred days a year in National Parks.
Sec. Kempthorne and the United States Senators supporting this should be ashamed of themselves. National Park employees both present and past (individuals who "lay it on the line" day in and day out for us) are pleading with them, literally begging them not to pass this measure. Shouldn't we listen? Shouldn't they listen?

You have to go out seven decimal places on a calculator to determine what percentage of Park visitors got killed in 2007.
I'll leave my guns at home and take my chances.

Millions of women live in big cities with high crime rates, yet they stay safe without resorting to carrying weapons or staying indoors all the time. You can carry pepper spray, an airhorn or mace. Firearms aren't needed.

Frank -
I'm sorry to say that you'll never see stories in the newspapers, etc. about firearms being used for defensive purposes. It just doesn't make "good story" and it's not "news". The media prefers to report bad news because it sells newspapers and increases viewership of news programs. There are many, many instances of firearms used to protect the lives of the innocent, but you won't hear them by watching the 6 o'clock news. Try doing an internet search of "defensive gun uses" and see what I mean. There are several hundred thousand defensive uses each year. But it's not "news".

If you really would like to read some of the actual reports check

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments