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Brady Campaign Sues Interior Department over Concealed Carry in National Parks


The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department over its plans to allow national park visitors to arm themselves. While the rule change is set to take effect January 9, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia also seeks an injunction to prevent that from occurring.

The lawsuit (attached below) was not unexpected. Indeed, what was more of a question was which group would file it. In announcing the lawsuit, Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke says the rule change would endanger national park visitors.

"The Bush Administration's last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law," said Mr. Helmke. "We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks."

The lawsuit, which names as defendants Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, claims Interior officials violated several federal laws to implement the rule before President Bush leaves office. Specifically, it charges that Interior failed to conduct any environmental review of the harm that the rule will cause, as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Brady Campaign also believes the rule violates the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe enjoyment of all visitors.

Rules in place since the Reagan Administration have allowed visitors to transport guns in national parks and wildlife refuges if they are unloaded and stored or dismantled.

While proponents of the rule change have maintained park visitors' safety is at stake, statistics would seem to indicate otherwise, as crime data show the park system to be one of the safest places in the nation. In arguing to block the rule change, the Brady Campaign claims its members will be irreparably harmed because they "will no longer visit national park areas and refuges out of fear for their personal safety from those who will now be permitted to carry loaded and concealed weapons in such areas. Moreover, those who do visit such areas will have their enjoyment of those areas profoundly diminished by the increased risk to safety created by this rule change."

Additionally, the lawsuit maintains -- citing Interior Department records -- that more than 125,000 comments were received on the proposed rule change, "and that many of these comments expressed opposition to a change in the existing rules."

"In support of their final rule, defendants summarily dismissed various comments that were raised in opposition to the rule change. Among other things, those comments stated that defendants should not rely on state law to manage firearms because Congress has given the federal government complete authority over federal lands," states the lawsuit. "They also pointed out that there is no reason to allow visitors to carry a loaded and concealed firearm for personal safety since national park areas and national wildlife refuges are among the safest areas in the United States.

"These comments also emphasized that parks and refuges are designed to be havens of peace and safety, and visitors who do not like guns will not be able to fully enjoy such areas if they know that another visitor in close proximity may be carrying a loaded and concealed firearm. Finally, these comments pointed out that the rule change will inhibit the ability of park and refuge managers to halt poaching of wildlife in such areas."

Since at least 1936 it has been clear that visitors are not allowed to carry weapons in national parks, unless that park allows hunting, of which there are relatively few. But under the rule change pushed through by the Bush administration, concealed carry in the parks would depend on myriad state laws, some of which carry quite a few nuances.

Jim Burnett, a commissioned law enforcement officer during much of his 30-year Park Service career, discovered the significant challenge that exists for sorting out all of those conflicting regulations. Here's a sampling of his findings:

The State of Wyoming Attorney General's website sums up this problem: "It is extremely important for all concealed firearm permit holders to be aware of the requirements and laws of all reciprocating states. The permit issued by your state does not supersede any other state’s laws or regulations. Legal conduct in your state may not be legal in the state you are visiting."

The State of Florida website on concealed weapons permits notes, "The Division of Licensing constantly monitors changing gun laws in other states and attempts to negotiate agreements as the laws in those states allow." Even if someone took time to sort out the concealed weapons laws of all the states he'd be visiting, some of those laws may have changed recently, so the process has to be repeated before every trip.

Here's only one example of the problem: Florida has reciprocal agreements to honor concealed weapons permits with only 32 of the 50 states. Visit the other 18 and you're out of luck, so don't forget to lock up your gun when you cross the state line. To make matters worse, Florida's official website notes seven different exceptions to those agreements, so even among the 32 states with agreements, guidelines vary. Are you a resident or non-resident? Are you over the age of 18 but under 21? Are you from Vermont, which doesn't even require a concealed weapons permit? (Sorry, you can't "carry" in Florida under the reciprocal agreement guidelines, since Florida can't "reciprocate" if a permit doesn't exist in the first place.) The list of exceptions goes on.

Making all this a bit more complicated are parks -- Yellowstone, Great Smoky, Death Valley, and the Blue Ridge Parkway just for example, as there are more -- that span more than one state. As a result, rangers will not only have to be schooled on those states' gun laws but also, presumably, carry a GPS unit so they know in which state they're in when they're in the backcountry so they'll know which set of laws to apply to armed backcountry travelers.

According to the Brady Campaign, numerous studies have confirmed that concealed carrying of firearms does not reduce crime and, if anything, leads to increased violent crime.

"Experience in states that have allowed concealed carrying of firearms has shown that thousands of dangerous people are able to get licenses. In Florida, for example, more than 4,200 licenses were revoked because many of these licensees committed a crime," says the group. "Since becoming the first state to allow the concealed carrying of firearms in 1987, Florida consistently has had one of the highest rates of violent crime in the nation. Florida has been ranked as the state with the highest annual violent crime rate more often than any other state in the last two decades."


I think this says it all:

“While proponents of the rule change have maintained park visitors' safety is at stake, statistics would seem to indicate otherwise, as crime data show the park system to be one of the safest places in the nation.”

And what percentage of the population have permits to carry, very few I would imagine. As to Florida, and other warm weather states, they seem to draw more criminals than others, maybe that’s why there are more permits, the law bidding residents want them.

This lawsuit is good news for sane, law-abiding, tax-paying, nature-loving citizens who prefer to keep our national parks among the safest places on the planet. Maybe we can create a new park, preferably fenced in like one of those hunting preserves, where gun-lovers can carry their semi-automatic weapons and posture, threaten and shoot at each other all they want.

The Brady Campaign also believes the rule violates the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe enjoyment of all visitors.

For the "safe enjoyment"? Talk about rewriting the Organic Act!

The basic (legally fatal) weakness of arguments by gun-opponents that we do not "need" weapons in Parks, that Parks are "safe", etc, is that the Constitution does not qualify the Second Amendment with the requirement that a threat be present before the right to be armed kicks in.

The Second Amendment makes no distinction between going into a safe or dangerous part of the City, makes no distinction between terrain infested by man-eating bears & tigers, and terrain that is totally subdued and suitable for babes on picnic-blankets. But that is what the no-guns-in-Parks fallacy asserts: "Parks are safe! You do not need a gun, ergo, you cannot have a gun!".

The Second Amendment stands on identical functional & structural footing as the First Amendment: You have the right to free speech, free press, and religion - period. Any exceptions to the rule are exactly that, and each abridgement of the right (yelling "Fire!" in the theater) has to bear the burden of establishment.

We have a few points of limitation on Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Redress of Grievances, but that is the word to focus on: "Points", not limitation. Exceptions to the basic rule are primarily about finding & defining a "point", not primarily about finding & aggrandizing a "limitation".

We do not tolerate broad, sweeping, institutional modifications of the First Amendment. Anyone who seeks to establish limitations in broad strokes, to use the proviso of limitations to erode or chip away at the Right, is booed off the American stage, and quite rightly so.

The application of the Second Amendment works the same way. We aren't going to have High Schools seething with hormones & packin' heat - too crazy. We aren't going to have irate citizens stomping into the local Federal Building or Courtroom to express themselves with the family deer-rifle. Etc. There are limitations ... but there has to be a damn good & solid reason for limiting the right to be armed. That Parks are safe, ain't even close to such a reason.

The plain & forthright truth of the situation is, the bulk of opposition to guns in Parks is simply for the most part opposition to guns, period. (I know, there are some hunters who also oppose guns in Parks - read the qualifiers!) As such, they are alarmed to see any setback of their general Liberal opposition to firearms & the armed citizen. Most of the rhetoric against guns in Parks is plain ol' grasping at straws in service to an engrained bias ... against guns.

I know, and plenty of us realize, that for many years in the United States it has been the common (and liberal-media-promoted) perception that the notion of an armed citizenry is really just too old-fashioned, too inappropriate in modern society, and that the steady erosion & dissipation of the Right was a matter of 'good-riddance'.

It is plain, people, that the tide has changed ... or that the Judiciary had watched this seedy little soap-opera long enough. We in this Nation have the Right to be armed, on equal footing with the Right to free speech, etc. That's the reality & truth of it ... Parks n' all.

Frank C.,

Nice catch & point, Frank. If what we do in the Park had to be "safe", lotta folks just have to pack it up 'n go somplace else, huh?!

How big an inventory of harebrained 'recreations' can we compile? ... in a single breath, just to make it interesting.

It was just time for Brady to generate a spot of publicity - that's all. Part of their budget-deployment. This "lawsuit" is mostly puffery & daytime Hollywood TV.

I'm torn. I hate to see the serenity of our national parks disturbed by violence but the fact is people who should not bring weapons into those parks or anywhere else will continue to do so. As the victim of an extremely violent home burglary while my husband was having heart surgery, I don't really feel safe anywhere anymore. I want the right to protect myself.

Hopefully this lawsuit means a return to sanity. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, in that guns have not been allowed at least since 1936 and parks have consistently had extremely low violent crime rates. Regarding protecting oneself and family from attacking animals, you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightening or being injured in a car accident while visiting the park. A conceled weapon is unlikely to be of much use in a sudden and unexpected bear mauling in any case. The second amendment arguement doesn't fly either, unless one wishes to argue that guns should be allowed in Federal buildings (BTW, be sure to leave that conceled weapon in the car or RV when you go into the Visitor Center), airports and schools. Only the most radical gun proponents would want that, I think.
Good for the Brady Campaign. Hopefully they only need an injuction until January 20. Although the new Interior guy, Salazar, feels that guns should be allowed in Parks (I've read), hopefully he would find himself overruled on this one. We have 72 years worth of evidence proving that they are not needed.

Frank N,

If guns aren't needed in parks, then why do law enforcement rangers carry guns?

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