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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.


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.

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.

"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.


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..

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.

"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!

Point to ponder about a "gun-free" utopia: In 87% of rape cases, the assailant is UNARMED. The only protection the victim has is to kick and scream. I'm buying my wife a gun for Christmas. Don't tell her; it's a surprise!

".....against all the proscribed rules, ALWAYS carried a Colt Model 1911 in his day pack."
".....I might be illegal when I carry my gun, but i"m going to carry it."
".....I am going to be illegal in national parks until they the laws are changed."
So much for the highly touted "law abiding citizens should have the right...blah, blah, blah!" By their own admissions these individuals are not "law abiding citizens".
Personally I don't like guns. I wish that they did not exist. If they did not, there would be zero gun related deaths or injuries; I don't think that anyone can argue with that. However, they do exist, and I am not arguing against anyone's second amendment "rights". Nor am I arguing for the abolition of guns. I have no problem with my next door neighbor owning several hunting rifles, or a store manager carrying a gun while transporting money (even though, as a store manager for several years, I transported 30 to fifty thousand dollars in cash and checks daily without one); nor do I have a problem with someone owning a gun for self protection in their home (though, once again, I think it's a bad idea with children around....just my PERSONAL opinion, not to be forced on anyone else). There will ALWAYS be, however, certain places where guns are inappropriate. As gun happy as the current Supreme Court is, for example, I sincerely doubt that any of the Justices would care to see lawyers and defendants packing heat in that august institution. The same is true for other courts and government buildings (I wonder if we will see metal detectors go up at park visitor centers?) Schools are another example. Even though some would argue that, if students and faculty were allowed to carry guns, Columbine or Virginia Tech could have been stopped; I really do not believe that the majority of parents in this country want our schools turning into shooting galleries; especially as unstable as your average teenager is: "What do you mean you are breaking up with me?!" BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!! Nor do I believe that teachers became teachers because they wanted to be police officers. Surprise attacks by sick individuals who are ready to die are never going to be stopped by, I don't care how many, terrified people pulling guns and blasting away themselves. If anything armed, professional security people or metal detectors are a far better answer. The bottom line is in the statistics in the article above: "During 2006, when 273 million visitors toured the parks, 11 deaths were investigated across the system." There simply is no need to change this law (and I don't give a darn how many of those visitors were repeat, that's still a ton of people!)
"So I hope you continue to enjoy your many days in the wilderness without event but I know that treks into the woods don't always go the way man plans." Thanks, Doc. I intend to. I do it by being smart. By being cautious. By always knowing where I am and by always paying attention. I do it by making plenty of noise where viability is poor, and by not thrashing through the willows during the fall rut! I do it by attuning each one of my senses to the environment around me....good advice in the city or the mountains. A fellow that I respect very much once told me that bear spray is a two edged sword. On the one hand it can save your life (proven more effective against attacking bears than guns BTW), but on the other, people tend to carry their bear spray and leave their common sense in the car. I'd rather they did the opposite, he'd say. That's how I feel about guns in National Parks. I'd rather carry my common sense than a false sense of security strapped to my shoulder.
My Daddy used to always tell us kids, "You can spend your life worrying about what MIGHT happen, or you can just spend your life LIVING!" I prefer to do the later.

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