Comment Period For Revised Gun Regulations for National Parks About to Close

Barring a last-minute change of heart, the Interior Department on Monday will close the public comment period on a proposal to allow national park visitors to arm themselves.

But don't expect the controversy to simmer down once the comment period closes. Rather, expect it to be notched up a bit as the Interior Department is sued over failing to conduct any environmental studies into how the proposed rule would impact the national parks. Already Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has indicated it will sue the agency on just that point if it changes the regulations. Here's what the organization said in a release:

Another large defect with the plan is the failure of the Bush Interior Department to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for conducting a formal assessment of any significant action with potential environmental impacts. In its Federal Register notice Interior concedes the proposal will have effects on "visitor safety [and] resource protection" but states that:

"We are currently working to determine the appropriate level of NEPA assessment and documentation that will be required for the promulgation of this regulation."

Nonetheless, the Park Service has prepared NEPA assessments for far less significant proposed rulemakings. If these rules are adopted, a NEPA lawsuit would likely result in the judicial cancellation of the rules until NEPA requirements have been satisfied, a process that would take months, if not years.

"NEPA litigation will stall these firearm rules until the next administration where they may never again see the light of day," says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "It is completely in character for this Interior Department to overlook the very environmental laws they are supposed to be administering."

As to what impact the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Thursday on gun rights will have on the current national park gun rules or the proposed change, it's hard to say at this point, though some question whether it will have any impact at all.

"It is difficult to fully speculate on the impact of the decision having not read the court's opinion myself," Scot McElveen, president of the Association of National Park Rangers, tells me. "If the sound bites I've heard are accurate, then the opinion of the court makes two points:

"1) that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right to bears arms (which I applaud)

"2) this individual right is sacrosanct is one's home (which I applaud), but it is not sacrosanct at all other locations and times (which I really applaud)

"So, there is going to be a long period of sorting out these other locations and times, including NPS sites," Mr. McElveen continued. "There will be those that report the individual right part of the opinion without mentioning the court's equally valid conclusion that there are locations and times where firearms restrictions are reasonable and constitutional, as well as restrictions on certain types of firearms.

"I speculate these same folks that would try to put this spin on the court's opinion will also try to imply that loaded firearms are now a right in NPS sites," he added. "The department may use this case as they respond to the comments submitted by citizens as part of their rationale to adopt the proposed regulation. My perception is that this decision does not really impact the guns-in-parks revised regulation in reality. Only the spin of those that will try to expand what the court said might."

Over at the National Parks Conservation Association, legislative liaison Bryan Faehner said his organization hoped Interior officials would extend the comment period in light of the Supreme Court decision.

"Clearly, having two business days to review the decision before comments are due on the proposal is inadequate," said Mr. Faehner. "The DOI needs to provide an extension as we requested back in April. The Supreme Court last looked at the 2nd Amendment 70 years ago. Certainly a 60-day or more extension is warranted so that the public can better inform their comments."

If you haven't yet submitted your comments on the proposed rule change, you can do so at this site.

Comments

You knew I'd have to comment on this one. With today's Supreme Court decision, are we sure we want to try to BAN handguns someplace??

I just checked; there are more than 15,000 comments posted about the proposed rule change. I'm sure all will agree that the vast majority of the posters SUPPORT the rule change.

I'm no lawyer, but I can't help but wonder how a lawsuit will be perceived by an American public that has spoken loud and clear about this issue.

I am retired peace officer. I am authorized to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the US. Is it illeagal to carry in national parks?

The Supreme Court has ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right. 67% of Americans also believe it is an individual right. The debate is over. It is time to return constitutional civil liberties to those traveling through and residing in national parks.

Frank, let's make it clear to Traveler readers WHICH debate is over. The Supreme Court ruling clarifies that the Second Amendment extends to individuals, not just to militia, the right to bear arms. The debate over that matter (individuals vs. militia) is over. But you didn't mention, Frank, that the Supreme Court ruling didn't sweep away all restrictions on the bearing of arms. Kind of important that you mention that, don't you think so Frank? The Supreme Court has made it clear that we can't have blanket bans on guns kept in the home and used for self-defense (that's what was deemed wrong with the Washington, DC gun restrictions). But most state and municipal gun restrictions appear to be allowed under the ruling. That means, until the Supreme Court rules differently, you apparently can have licensing laws (as long as they aren't blanket bans on possession), you can limit commercial sale of guns, you can forbid felons and the mentally ill to possess firearms, you can ban "dangerous and unusual weapons," AND you can have restrictions on guns in sensitive places (like schools, government buildings, etc.). As for the matter of carrying concealed weapons in national parks, well, that particular debate remains to be resolved.


Bob Janiskee is exactly right. Read the decision.

The identification in the Scalia Decision of government buildings and schools as places guns can be excluded is clearly intended in the Decision as the opportunity to provide carefully targeted regulations for good public policy reasons.

The argument for excluding guns from national park system units has always been well grounded, for solid and demonstrable purposes. The opposing justification, from Sec. Kempthorne, that consistency with changing State possession rules is clearly incorrect on its face, inasmuch as State rules ARE NOT consistent around ALL national parks.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to have one consistent policy to prevent carrying weapons that are ready to fire within these FEDERAL ENCLAVES for the good public policy reason that such guns are inconsistent with the management purposes, public needs and expectations, and policy consistency of national parks.

Currently I am employed in the Philippines. I love the United States and miss it terribly. It's odd to me that going through a country that has complete gun restrictions like the Philippines, I get frisked at any entry to malls, movies, Starbucks, or virtually anywhere. I saw a school yard that had a HUGE sign that said "no gun zone". That sure is a strange thing to see in a place where there aren't suppose to be any guns. I wonder why they would go through such trouble to put those checkpoints up. I wonder why they feel they have to tell people who don't have guns to not bring them in the school yard. I wonder why gunman after gunman chooses their rampage site based on gun-free zones.

I guess the thing I wonder most is why Americans (Incredible as we are) don't realize that all the freedoms awarded in the constitution protect our way of life. We have virtually no fear of our own government. I personally own more than a dozen guns, many are for hunting. When I think about how fragile governments are throughout world history I feel urgency for independence. I feel as though I cannot rely on the government for any of my needs. While performing civic work in Southern California years ago I watched a drive-by shooting. I took cover in my apartment and waiting as the police took over an hour to show up. With no exaggeration I can tell you that just for witnessing the event our apartment was shot full of holes. How in the world can we look at the modern incidents like the Riots in LA and the looting after Katrina and feel like government can take care of us? It's not governments fault. It's not anyone’s fault. Have we forgotten that this is a world of chance? Have we forgotten that we are responsible for our own livelihood, loss, gain, and prosperity? Hardship is part of life. Bad things happen to good people. Who are we to judge when another person can protect their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Does someone really have a place to go in the world if they don’t like the setup of society? Precautionary laws always limit freedoms. Why would we not rather have laws that penalize people for harming others? Isn’t that the only way to guarantee sovereignty and order? Choice is impossible to remove from the equation.

Let's see what Justice Scalia actually said in the Supreme Court opinion (http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/scotus-op-heller06262008.pdf) that's relevant to regulation of guns in national parks.

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings ...

Specifically, the Court ruled that absolute prohibition of handguns in the home violates the Second Amendment:

[T]he enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.

It did not say that the Federal government can not regulate hand guns outside the home. So all the arguments heard on this blog and elsewhere that the existing 1983 regulation on gun possession in national parks (which is not an outright prohibition) violates the Second Amendment are rhetorical excesses.

There's nothing in the recent Court decision which gives support to the idea that concealed gun regulations are illegal, or that the federal government can not restrict the carrying of guns in some locations.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the national parks can legitimately be considered sensitive places or not. But until that is litigated, this is a policy choice, not a constitutional one. Whether you support concealed carry in national parks or not, however, what the logic of having 50 different state rules applying in the national system of parks is beyond me. If this was truly about concealed carry (as opposed to states rights or the gun lobby asserting its power) then this proposed rule would at least make more sense if it authorized concealed carry consistently across the national park system. But that still wouldn't make it a good policy choice.

J Longstreet
A National Park Superintendent

J Longstreet might be the right guy to ask a question that has bugged me for a long time. Which should it be: Pickett's Charge, or Longstreet's Assault? The NPS can't seem to make up its mind. :-)

Gen'l Longstreet performs brilliantly again. In a very few words, it seems to me he nails the essential situation.

It seems to me the issue of firearms in HOMES is enormous, Scalia going so far as to describing the owner drawing a bead with a handgun while dialing a phone. The issue of the home is also enormous throughout common law, and in the Supremes establishing other consitutional rights, such as the CT case, where the state law on birth control was seen by the Court as compromising the rights of a person within her/his home.

Personally, I do find it an enormous leap to go from the stated purpose of the 2nd Amend. being a militia, to Scalia's argument of self defense in one's home, but I think Gen. Longstreet is right to emphasize the way the decision aggregated constitutional and common law. and frankly, it seems to me at the time of the Framing there were still powerful risidual feelings throughout the land of stories of British soldiers being stationed in private homes and of British soldiers carting away weapons and powder whenever they could (or so the inflamed opinion went, with enough real examples to make it stick). But all this rationale is a far cry from guns in parks.

For the long term, of course, the NRA and its advocates will point to the simplicity of the term 'right to bear arms shall not be abridged' as the essence of the thing, therefore ultimately permitting every sort of access to arms, without any abridgement. It is interesting to note that on the similar argument for a "pure" reading of the First Amendment, the Minority [can I call them 'left-wing'?] Justices would say in their dissent "when the Constitution says 'no law' it means NO LAW." But in view of circumstances perceived by the Majority to make the law ridiculous if such an absolute interpretation were taken, found ways to apply common sense to the constitution in providing exceptions, or often redefinitions.

And, in the case of the Second Amendment, even such an extreme fulminator as Scalia found ways to avoid making the Court appear as ridiculous as the NRA would want. For Scalia seems to be saying that there are circumstances in which the right to bear arms can be abridged.

I just read the article posted by the PEER. They sound like gun-grabbers to me. I just can't understand how I will impact the Park environment by carrying my CONCEALED handgun with me. Is it the extra weight causing me to make deeper footprints? C'mon, it only weighs 31 ounces! You've got to be kidding me.

They actually make a good point to justify how important it is for me to carry my pistol: “Rangers are few, and the miles of roads and acres in the park system are many."

And please explain to me again how this affects poaching. Any Ranger will be able to tell that I didn't fire my gun. Especially when he sees that the first four rounds are rat shot. If the Ranger is trying to apprehend a poacher, I'm going to offer to help him/her find them!

Bob Janiskee --

It's probably fair to call it either one, or perhaps more accurately than either, Lee's Strategic Error. Longstreet argued against it but faithfully followed orders, however reluctantly. Pickett was the guy on the front line but it surely wasn't his idea.

I may have borrowed the General's name but I don't profess to be an authority on all things Civil War. I admire the General, though, for his integrity and courage in respectfully challenging his superior when he had deep concerns about his orders. He remained loyal despite his misgivings, and executed those orders to the best of his ability. He paid a profound price for doing so the rest of his life and in history. It's only in recent years that a more complete picture of the General has emerged. (For the record, I also think he was on the wrong side but the South had a number of leaders worth learning from, even admiring, despite everything.)

Ah, but this is WAY off the pertinent NPT topic!

J Longstreet, not the Civil War General but a National Park Superintendent

When 51 U.S. Senators sign a letter to change the rule on carrying firearms and 20,000+ comments are submitted (most favoring a change to allow concealed carry) the debate is essentially over.

At the first level of a lawsuit someone might find a sympathetic judge but on appeal those grasping at this straw are going to lose.

The Supreme Court ruling is going to be applied well beyond a person’s home and in the case of the National Parks where you are sleeping becomes your temporary domicile—this is a long standing common law interpretation.

The fat lady has sung.

Speaking of Gettysburg, it is the prime example of why the firearm prohibitions in national parks rule needs to be revised, First of all it isn't easy to determine within the town of Gettysburg where the town ends and the national park begins, it is an insane burden upon someone who is otherwise legally carrying a firearm for self protection. Second, Criminals don't care about the NPS regulations, As a matter of fact the last time I was in Gettysburg, there was a store on Steinwehr Ave, that was robbed at gunpoint, thankfully no one was hurt but it could've ended much differently.

In the end there is no reason why a person who has a license to carry should be forced to disarm while visiting a national park. These people have submitted to background checks and are certified good guys. They aren't going to instantly change into homicidal maniacs when crossing the border into a national park. It's ludicrous.