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.


"A gun in a US home is 22 times more likely to be used in an accidental shooting, a murder or a suicide than in self-defense against an attack."..........Gosh Fred, guess if you suddenly stop posting in January we'll know what happened!
Seriously though, women have many options besides kicking and screaming. A few are: taking a self defense course, carrying a can of mace, carrying a taser, being aware of her surroundings, walking in groups etc. A gun in her purse isn't going to stop an assailant from grabbing her from behind, while some basic knowledge of karate might. My daughter took a course several years ago (mainly for the exercise benefits) and I can tell you, God help anyone who tries anything!!
There are one and a half million victims of violent crime in America every year. That's out of over three hundred million people (not counting foreign visitors and uncounted illegals). That's about 0.6% of the population; and unless you live in a high crime area your chances are actually considerably smaller than that. Even though I have been a victim in the past (I have actually had a gun stuck right in my face), I consider my chances of avoiding future problems pretty good. BTW, when I had that gun stuck in my face, it came out of nowhere. I am absolutely convinced that if I had tried to pull a weapon of my own, I WOULD BE DEAD.
Let's face it, though. This law change is a done deal. The Bush administration has already made up their minds to pander to the NRA. They aren't interested in whether or not there is a need to change it (the statistics in this article prove that there isn't). They aren't interested in public opinion. If they were questionnaires would be being handed out at every entrance station and every visitor's center in the National Park System; yet as pointed out on another thread by a former Park Service employee, Parks are being instructed NOT TO BRING THE ISSUE UP WITH ACTUAL PARK VISITORS! They aren't interested in the opinions of professionals who put their lives on the line day in and day out to protect our national treasures, as most law enforcement rangers (current and past) and every single past Park Service Director opposes this. As Stephen Colbert puts it, "The Bush administration never allows facts to get in the way of its decision making!" Just as bison hazing and slaughtering has nothing to do with brucellosis (it's about grass), this has nothing to do with personal protection, the second amendment or gun rights. It's all about political power. Too bad.
My only hope is that the entire weight and power of the United States Justice Department will come down on any illegitimate use of a gun in a Park, whether it's shooting a squirrel, target practice etc. Anyone who thinks that they can "defend" themselves from a charging grizzly bear with most anything that they could carry in a holster (except, of course, a can of bear spray) will find a more instant form of justice, I'm afraid!

The people who will be allowed to carry firearms for self defense in the National Parks are the law abiding majority of responsible citizens. These are not people who act in a careless manner. Rational and reasonable citizens can be in possession of a firearm, a knife, an axe, a saw, explosives, or even a motor vehicle without endangering others. News articles and statistics are unnecessary to see that persons who take responsibility for their defense are not inclined to be negligent or incompetent. There is no possible way for the NPS rangers to provide protection to all the citizens who visit the parks, just as there is no way for law enforcement in other areas to be able to keep people from harm. This nation was founded on self reliance, and our national character is defined by individual liberty. If you think the "government" can protect you, then you are fooling yourself. If you want to be so foolish as to not defend yourself, so be it. Just don't try to deny the smart people their right to a proactive defense. All the worst crimes occur where citizens are denied the right to be armed. When the crazies and the criminals know an area is a "gun free" zone it means, to them, a safe target rich environment where they can do their dirty deeds without adequate opposition.


What were talking about is a basic human right...the right to self defense....

That right to self defense in not limted to HUMAN attackers...

Bears in national parks are increasinly attacking visiters...mountain lions and cougers have attacked , mauled and killed children while their unarmed parents were within feet of them...

Guns cause violence like fire extinguishers cause fires...better yet...most fires in homes occur where there are smoke detectors.....therefore smoke detectors cause home fires.

Correlation does not equal causality..

"Or are they just too remote and have so few visitors that any stats from those parks don't correlate to the parks in the other 49 states."

This is close to the truth. Only six of the sixteen nps units in Alaska are accessible by road. They are extremely remote, and anyone visiting them from the lower states is not intested in rape/murder. At our particular park, Wrangell-St. Elias, guns are allowed because we have aproximately eighty-one hundred people who live inside the park year-round, winter months and all. ANILCA (legislation that established Alaska NPS units) allows "costumary and traditional subsistence" to continue inside the park, meaning that hunting/fishing/trapping/gathering is still allowed for all residents. WRST is also the largest park in the US, just a little over 13.2 million acres. Managing every acre of this land is impossible; aproximately 75% is wilderness, and there are only two roads.

Here are a few facts...
All homocides in our park have been the result of disputes/murder by the residents in the winter, when there are no visitors.
There has never been a fatal bear-mauling in our park; our bears are not food-conditioned or habituated to humans, and they do not attack visitors. In Glacier Bay, however, there have been three or four bear-maulings. If a bear IS a problem, the rangers try to scare it off the area w/out shooting it; the problem with bears is that they are highly territorial and will comes back to the same place unless moved more than two-hundred miles away.
In Denalie NP, most deaths are McKinley-climbing related.

But, you are very correct in your final assumption. Most of what goes on in Alaska National Parks doesn't apply to the rest of the US Parks. Our high rate of residency inside the park and more dedicated travellers means that we almost never have problems with visitors. I myself was born and raised right outside Wrangell-St. Elias, and bear-spray makes more sense than guns.

Interesting how you think. As a husband and father....and person who knows a lot of male and female individuals, I know that if you only gave guns to women, crime statistics would shift...that is if most women wanted guns. My wife and I both stay armed, but we know this is just a last ditch method of defense, and the key to its value is the fact that we don't appear armed.

I'm with Fred on this one. I spend a lot of time in National Parks and I carry a weapon just in case. My father was a park ranger for 25 years and he supports the right to carry guns. Though the chance of being the victim of a violent crime is rare it does happen. I do not want to be a victim. When you restrict the right to carry guns in the national park system only criminals will be the ones carrying since they have no respect for the law anyway.

Memorium for National Park Ranger--Law Enforcement Division Margaret Anderson. Age 34, NPS Ranger for four years, wife of another park ranger who btw was working in the park that same day at another location, and mother of two young daughters. Murdered as she was about to exit her NPS vehicle, her firearm unfired and at her side in her vehicle. Culprit--Loaded Guns allowed in National Parks two years old and having its terrible effect. Arrrrgh. Our parks are supposed to havens, places for restoration, informal learning opportunities, wildlife viewing, history discovery, and memorable & happy family vacations. No longer! This two years of service military veteran, Benjamin Colton Barnes, 34, was afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide. He had this past July been in a custody dispute with the mother of their toddler daughter. She had sought a temporary restraining order against him, court documents indicate. Pierce County Police already knew of his weapons cache. On January 1st, 2012 at 3 am, he shot four persons at a New Year's party in Skylark, a suburb of Seattle. Mr. Barnes, scared and heavily armed, made his fateful decision to get into the deep backcountry by the most readily accessible roads. He chose Mt. Ranier National Park. He drove north from Seattle, and entered Mt. Ranier National Park, driving past a welcome kiosk. B/c of this newly passed by Congress law, effective Jan. 1st, 2010, NPS Rangers at that kiosk welcome station could not have taken those guns even if they had seen them in Mr. Barnes' truck. The next NPS Ranger observation opportunity for this unhinged and dangerous visitor was at an NPS checkpoint that was to ensure that all vehicles had tire chains for snow on high country roads. He blew through that checkpoint. That is what caused NPS Ranger Anderson to trail him. After the murder of the Park Ranger, Mr. Barnes drove on, abandoned his truck and went further on foot. He was able to elude SWAT searchers in snowshoes and their dogs for twenty-four hours. He was found January 2, having died of natural causes, principally hypothermia and exposure.

If parks are not safe for the rangers how can they possibly be safe for me?
If nothing else, the tragic murders of so many rangers over the past 15 years proves that the park service is failing to provide me a safe place to take my family.

Anon, While I'm still completely against guns in parks, they are still among the safest areas. 5 rangers have been killed in the last 15 years. While that is 5 too many, considering that the NPS covers about 84,000,000 acres in the US, that is still a pretty good record. I seriously doubt one can find another 84,000,000 acres that can boast the same (besides other public lands)

Anon @4:33pm, even if firearms weren't allowed in parks, I seriously doubt it would have stopped this man. It's against the law to kill someone, but he still did it. It's against the law to discharge a fire arm in a National Park, but he still did it. It's against the law to blow through a mandatory check-point, but he still did it. One more law broken wouldn't have mattered to him. 4 other rangers were killed while guns were not allowed in parks. That law didn't stop those criminals.

Ranger Lady
The Los Angeles Police Department lost 6 officers to hostile gunfire during the same time the NPS lost 5. LAPD has 10,000 officers.
Seattle PD, with roughly the same staff as the NPS, lost 1 to hostile gunfire in those 15 years.
It appears that NPS rangers have something like 5 times the chance of being murdered as do officers in major cities, with all their drug, gang and organized crime.
Forgive me, but I believe that says something about how safe my family will be in a national park.
If you are indeed a ranger, it might be well to consider another line of work.

NPS visitation statistics do make it difficult to compare against rates based on population.
A 'visit' can be 30 minutes at the Lincoln Memorial, or x hours for every car that goes thru an entrance station. Each park establishes the value of x by conducting visitor surveys once in a while.
I imagine that it is possible for the NPS to determine how all of that adds up against the 365 x 24 population of a city. I don't know that they have.

Anon, very good points. I was looking at it from an acreage standpoint and not as number of officers. But please do not tell me to find another line of work. Luckily my position mostly involves education. In the 8 years I've been a ranger, I have been the recipient of someone's anger a few times, but never any true violence, even from those that had guns on their person. I was assulted many more times working at Wal-mart. I am a ranger and that is what I always will be.

Ranger Lady
You're right. I apologize. The parks need good rangers.
My point, of course, is that your department has a measurable problem with their officer safety. It's important they and you face the problem head on.
I also stand by the observation that when the officers are not safe it is unlikely the public will be.
Best of luck