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Interior Officials Want to Allow Concealed Carry in the National Parks


Interior Department officials on Tuesday published in the Federal Register a proposed regulation that would allow national park visitors to carry concealed weapons.

Moving at a politically expedient speed, Interior Department officials are proposing to allow national park visitors to carry concealed weapons with them.

Whereas the National Park Service has been dragging its feet on endorsing Glacier National Park's decision not to allow a railroad to use explosives to control avalanche danger, Interior moved practically at light speed in proposing the gun language. Put up for limited review today, it will formally be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, barely two months after Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne decided to open up the regulations for possible recasting.

"This is truly changing the culture of the National Park Service in literally one stroke of a pen," says Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society.

The proposed regulation calls for a 60-day comment period, but there was no mention of plans for public hearings on the change. Interior Department officials were not immediately available to comment on the proposal.

The highly controversial change has been opposed by seven past Park Service directors, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

The coalition wasted no time in criticizing the proposed regulation.

"We think the proposed rule is manufactured and driven politically to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Data show that parks are among the safest places to be in this country. Moreover, we believe it will create more problems than it can possibly fix," said Bill Wade, who chairs the group's executive council. "It is likely to alter, over time, the friendly atmosphere visitors look forward to in parks, where they go to get away from the day to day pressures and influences of their everyday lives, including worry about guns.

"How many visitors want to be concerned about whether the person next to them during a ranger-guided walk, or that shares a backcountry campsite, has a concealed, loaded gun? Reliance on impulsive use of guns in the face of perceived threats or disputes, such as in campgrounds will increase the risk to visitors and employees," continued Mr. Wade. "Impulsive uses of guns in response to being startled by or by perceived threats from wildlife will increase the risks to wildlife and to visitors, such as from wounded wildlife or shots fired at wildlife, such as in campgrounds, that miss and connect with nearby campers.

"Administrative requirements related to this rule in parks will become complicated. Issues of reciprocity of authorities for guns between states will have to be sorted out. Decisions about how to keep guns out of administrative and concession buildings will involve signing, further cluttering the developed areas; and potentially even security screening. The existing regulation works just fine, and has for decades. This is a proposed rule that deserves to be shot down!

At The Wilderness Society, Ms. Brengel said the "argument for revising the regulation seemed poorly thought out and rather short."

"So, you can carry a gun as long as the state allows concealed weapons and the analogous state lands allow for possession," she said. "And this is supposed to clear up confusion? Or, is it supposed to create confusion?"

Indeed, there are a number of national parks that cross state boundaries. Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Death Valley, and the Blue Ridge Parkway come immediately to mind. The proposed regulation made no allowance for how rangers were to police the various gun laws in those parks.

While the proposed regulation said DOI officials were uncertain whether a review under the National Environmental Policy Act would be required, Ms. Brengel thought a thorough review was necessary.

"Rather than directly addressing potential harm to wildlife, the agencies didn’t even mention poaching, off-season hunting, and other possible problems with this proposal," she said. "The public deserves to know if Park Service professionals, not political appointees, think there will be impacts to cherished wildlife and hunting opportunities due to this change in the rules."

If the decision to make guns more available in national parks stands, it will be interesting to see not only how it impacts domestic visitation to the parks, but also international tourism in light of how many other countries view America's pervasive gun laws.

Somewhat curiously, in light of the building debate over how this change would impact national parks, comments on the proposed regulation are being directed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose lands also would be open to concealed carry under this change.

A copy of the Federal Register notice is attached below. Comments are being directed to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: 1024-AD70; Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, Virginia, 22203.

Secretary Kempthorne's decision to consider concealed carry in national parks came in the wake of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, which got U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, to introduce legislation that would overturn the current regulations, which allow weapons to be transported through parks as long as they're broken down and stored out of easy reach.

Additionally, roughly half of the Senate's 100 members wrote to the Interior secretary asking him to reconsider the regulations.

Somewhat ironically, the current regulations 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.

In opposing a change, the seven former Park Service directors told Secretary Kempthorne in a letter that, "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."

"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," the letter continued. "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).

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For this, someone can find enough time away from truly important issues to assist special interests in an election stunt. Speaks loudly and succinctly about who’s the puppeteer and who’s the marionette in this debate.

Are these politicians idiots? This doesnt even make sense! What in the world do we need to carry guns for in a National Park? The world is coming to an end.

Once again people think guns and the Wild West. The people that have a concealed carry permit have higher standards than that. They have had training on the use of a firearm and the consequences of its inappropriate use. And besides, how many times have you heard of someone that has a permit using a firearm illegally. Yea that's what I thought, NONE

Appalling! But then, everything that this administration has done in its eight years of ruinous misery is consistent with this insanity. The true responsibility for this lies not with Bush, Cheney, or the NRA, but with the American public for electing, then re-electing these lunatics, and then not having the backbone or ethics to impeach them. Is this really a surprise? Shame on America - we're pathetic.

This is as bad as it gets. There is zero reason to carry a concealed weapon in a park. And the argument that it clears up confusion is ludicrous. It creates more. This is an idea that as the Coalition of NPS Retrees says deserves to be shot down.

Rick Smith

Ok Mr M, lets put you on the hotseat for once, since you think we're all over-reacting once again. Lets ask you a simple question. Do you think there are going to be people who don't give a damn about wether or not you have to have a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun and bring them into the park? YES there will be. So your argument is one sided of course. You're talking about the SMALL percentage of the population that has a consciensce and does act responsibly when it comes to firearms. Unfortunately the entire population out there doesn't fall into this category, so your defense of this bill based on the small percentage of people who actually HAVE a permit is weak. There will be twice as many people who will see this bill as an open door to bring guns into the park and won't read or care or even know about the fine print about permits. THOSE are the idiots we are worried about. If the coalition that spoke out about this bill has worries about individuals shooting off their weapons "wild west style", then isn't it reasonable to think that the rest of us who visit and play in these parks might think the same way?

No, people aren't equating firearms and a segment of American history. People are correlating questionable judgment by those who think "firearms first" as a defense against whatever it is you think you're defending yourself against. I haven't seen one item in any of these threads that questions the "preparations" gun owners say are so rigorous to obtain permits. Personally, I didn't think it so difficult. That of course is in the eye of the beholder, and it sounds like a rock-solid position from which to preach. For all the alleged gun-handling skills the permit holders possess, I am more than mildly uneasy with their eagerness to "protect me and my family", as if you would be more accessible that the rangers who you always admit a "miles away", and as if we'd be totally helpless without such aid. If only you knew......

Trained peace officers are schooled to draw weapons as a last, NOT FIRST resort to diffuse highly charged situations. For all your gun-related training, you lack the psychological training, ability to assess situations and make the proper choice in peaceful resolution of conflict. The willingness to use deadly force places you on the same platform with the "real criminals", not at all equal to those trained in managing chaotic circumstances. More firearms simply does not equate to an environment that is more sanitized, it only serves to heighten the probability of a deadly outcome. Bad guy or good guy, dead is dead. I've seen the statistics on crime in the parks and I'm not impressed. Growing up in a major metropolitan area I'm at more risk waking up every morning and driving to work than I'll EVER be while backcountry backpacking in the NPS.

Maybe the pro-gun contingent should start a letter writing campaign to Mayor Richard J. Daley in Chicago, what with all the gun-related killing of teenagers, public school students dying at the rate of 1 every week, 150 pound cougars roaming the streets, how could ANYBODY feel safe living there without a concealed carry permit?

With all due respect, as a CCW holder, I welcome the regulations. You seem to be afraid of the possibility of somebody using their gun to settle an argument. Frankly, to get a CCW permit you have to go through a background check. These are not just some willy-nilly morons carrying guns. Problems with CCW holders are few and far between. In fact if you think about it, a CCW holder has to typically go through some amount of training and must have a squeaky clean record. Why would that same person pull his gun to get a camp spot? It makes no sense. CCW holders are held up to a higher standard and would immediately lose the permit and land in jail.

For myself, I hike with my eight year old daughter. I do not take her into the NP because I cannot carry there (see I still follow the law). We hike in the national forest. I truly believe all the hoopla is for nothing and time will prove that. In any case I want protection in the case of a bear attack or human attack when hiking with my daughter. It is that simple and I should have that right.

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