If you were Interior secretary, how would you respond if seven former National Park Service directors lobbied you on an issue? In the case at hand, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is being urged not to allow national park visitors to carry weapons.
The seven former directors today sent a letter (attached below) to Secretary Kempthorne in which they argue that the current regulations, which allow guns to be transported through parks if they're unloaded and stowed out of reach, are reasonable and should be continued.
The National Rifle Association disagrees, and has succeeded in getting the Interior secretary to rethink those regulations, which, somewhat ironically, were adopted by the Reagan administration. A much earlier version of the regulation was established in 1936 to prevent the poaching of wildlife, and was included in the Park Service’s first general regulations adopted after the creation of the agency in 1916.
"Informing visitors as they enter a park that their guns must be unloaded and stowed away puts them on notice that they are entering a special place where wildlife are protected and the environment is respected both for the visitor’s enjoyment and the enjoyment of others," reads the former directors' letter. "While most gun owners are indeed law-abiding citizens, failure to comply with this minimal requirement can be a signal to rangers that something is wrong. Removing that simple point of reference would seriously impair park rangers’ ability to protect people and resources, and if necessary manage crowds.
Signing the letter were former NPS directors Ronald Walker (1973-75), Gary Everhardt (1975-1977), George Hartzog (1964-1972), James Ridenour (1989-1993), Roger Kennedy (1993-1997), Robert Stanton (1997-2001), and Fran Mainella (2001-2006).
A similar position already has been voiced by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
Former Director Mainella, who served during the early years of the current Bush administration, believes "it is critical to leave the current regulations in place if we want the best protection for our resources, visitors, employees and volunteers."
In November, current Park Service Director Mary Bomar told U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, that she believes the current regulations "provide necessary and consistent enforcement parameters throughout the national park system."
In December of 2007 and then again in February of 2008, Secretary Kempthorne received two separate letters orchestrated by the NRA and signed by multiple U.S. senators asking that he re-open the firearm regulations for national parks and national refuges and allow for state firearms laws to be applied instead. The letters misstate current law, erroneously stating that firearms are prohibited in national parks. As a follow-up to the senators’ letter to Secretary Kempthorne, Senator Tom Coburn, R-OK, filed an amendment and later introduced a freestanding bill that would prevent the Secretary from enforcing current firearm regulations for the parks.
“Our national parks are some of the safest places in the world-in fact, the probability of becoming a victim of a violent crime in a national park is less than being struck by lightening during one’s lifetime,” said Bryan Faehner, former park ranger and legislative representative for the NPCA. “NRA politicking must not be allowed to trump the limited and reasonable regulations that have proven effective against combating poaching and keeping our parks safe for families.”