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.