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Brady Campaign Sues Interior Department over Concealed Carry in National Parks

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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."

Comments

...from 2002 to 2006, 1916 violent crimes occurred in national parks, including murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery.

As I commented on a different post on the gun topic, some of those crimes had only a technical connection to a park (Examples: the body was found in the park but the crime was almost certainly committed elsewhere; a lovers quarrel that ended in a shooting on a greyhound bus that only by coincidence happened to be driving on a road in the DC area that is under NPS jurisdiction.)

Such incidents definitely skew the numbers on the high side, and paint an inaccurately high picture of the number of serious crimes involving visitors who were in the park minding their own business when the crime originated.

...the 240 women raped between 2002 and 2006... were victims because they were denied the means to protect themselves.

First, I fully agree that these sad situations represent reprehensible crimes. However, the same principle cited above applies here as well. Some (I'd go so far as to say many) of these crimes began outside a park (where in almost every case the victims could have been armed if they had chosen to do so.) In such cases, the victim had no idea she would end up in a park before the night was over, so she certainly wouldn't have left her gun at home simply because of the previous NPS rule.

Based on the cited numbers of an average of about 50 such incidents occurred in all NPS areas between 2002 and 2006. I'd be willing to bet that a larger number of such incidents occur each year in plenty of individual cities - where under state law, those victims were not "denied the means to protect themselves."

No, I don't have firm numbers, and had no reason to track that, but during 30 years in NPS law enforcement and 40 years in following such reports in the media and official sources, I feel I'm on solid ground in stating that the number of women who are accosted while visiting a park and then raped are extremely small indeed.

The same could be said of any other violent crime: the chances that a law-abiding park visitor will become the victim of a crime in a park are much lower than even the already small number of reported incidents would suggest.

"...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." True, but “many” does not constitute a majority. They fail to mention the 4.7 million Americans represented in the one letter from the NRA.

Simply counting the number of members in any organization to gauge public support quickly degenerates into a game of spinning the numbers. By that measure, you'd have to consider the total membership of all groups that took a position pro or con on any issue. It's also risky to infer the position of individual members of any group on any issue. As a gun owner and former NRA member, I wasn't in favor of this particular position, and I suspect some NPCA members were.

Sorry, just paying your dues to any group and assuming that registers your position on any topic doesn't impress me very much. If you're trying to get a picture of public sentiment on an important topic, a key measure is how many people cared enough about it respond individually to a call for public comments – which makes the distribution of opinions in those 125,000 comments that were made a much more valid measure in my book.


The Brady Bunch said:
"...crime data show the park system to be one of the safest places in the nation. "

They are correct, less crime occurs in national parks on average than in the rest of the nation, but it does not mean NO crime exists. In fact, from 2002 to 2006, 1916 violent crimes occurred in national parks, including murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery. During the same period, there were an additional 18,105 so called non-violent crimes committed on park property including burglary, theft of motor vehicles and arson. It is should be safe to assume that had some of these non-violent crimes been interrupted while occurring they would have most certainly turned into violent crimes as the perpetrators tried to complete the crime or at least escape. So, "YES" Mr. Helmke and Mrs. Brady, crime is lower in our national parks on average, but if you were one of the 240 women raped between 2002 and 2006 I sincerely doubt it would help you to know it happened in one of the safest places in the nation. These victims were victims because they were denied the means to protect themselves. Using Brady Campaign logic we should disarm our soldiers in Afghanistan because statically it is a safer war zone than any other to date. It is not that soldier do not die there, but fewer die there than die in Iraq or have died daily in other war zones. According to the DOD, as of May 2009 there has only been 686 U.S. soldiers killed in the entire 8 years occupation of Afghanistan compared to the 4300 in Iraq. Therefore, by applying Brady logic, it must be logical that these soldiers pose a greater threat by being armed than they face from the Taliban and should therefore be disarmed. I mean, just think about it, there were almost 17,000 murders in the U.S. last year alone and only 686 in the entire 8 years in Afghanistan, so if the Brady bunch does not consider us justified in protecting ourselves here in the U.S. then they certainly must not support it in Afghanistan. Really Mr. Helmke, how high must crime become in an area before ones earns the right to defend self and family?

The Brady Bunch said:
"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."

The same has been true for thousands of Americans for years, that being those unwilling to disarm and travel into the parks defensive less or those who entered the parks defenseless and spent much of their time worrying about becoming a victim of the current crime occurring there. Unlike the irrational Brady members who falsely believe that they are safe merely because a law exists that prevents someone from carrying a gun, the rest of the nation knows that laws only stop honest people who are not a threat in the first place and give criminals a free crime zone to operate.

The Brady Bunch said:
"numerous studies have confirmed that concealed carrying of firearms does not reduce crime and, if anything, leads to increased violent crime."

To date the Brady Campaign has never produced a single validated study that supports these claims. They rely mostly on reports authored by other anti-gun groups in order to distance themselves from the false reports when they are proven to be fabricated. They love to quote groups with long reputations of fabricating stories and statistics then claim no association when the report is proven bogus. The few studies they have undertaken were so skewed in application that they could in no way be considered an accurate representation of fact. In contrast, both national and state statistics show that violent crime has not risen and has in most cases decreased in areas where concealed or open carry was permitted. It is no coincidence that mass shootings occur in gun free zones.

The Brady Bunch said:
"...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."

True, but “many” does not constitute a majority. They fail to mention the 4.7 million Americans represented in the one letter from the NRA in favor of this change. For some reason the NRA is never recognized for what it actually is, a collection of members, that is American citizens who choose to voice their opinion collectively rather than publically and disruptively like the Brady squad and its numerous off shoot organizations. They want people to believe that the NRA is just a single bully on the block. Let the NRA support one of their causes and see how quick the 4.7 million members become noticed.

In short, the Brady Bunch continues the same old Chicken Little "the sky is falling" fear mongering claims, which have been proven false time and time again across the nation, to garner support for their misguided cause. Despite the fact that disarmament has in every case resulted in an increase in violent crime (England, Canada, Australia, etc.) they continue to forge on in their attempt to make this country as unsafe and dictator ruled as the rest of the world. Fortunately this is a mute point now that President Obama has (reluctantly) signed national park carry into law.


Gee, 2nd amendment, I can be legally armed but choose not to. Does that make me unpatriotic or soft on crime? I notice that anon above says that the second amendment is somehow connected to God so I must be unreligious, also. And, to top it all, I am defenseless. Think I will go eat a worm.

Rick Smith


Another bumbling butt-headed mistake by a ANTI-Self defense group. The Brady Campaign against gun violence is a joke. They might as well change their name to The Brady Campaign for Criminal Protection. Anyone who's going to do anything 'Bad' with a gun isn't going 2 give a crap about the laws. I would not visit areas where wild animals live with out a trusty sidearm to defend myself, not to mention there are so few law enforcement officers in our nations parks that calling 911 would only give then a heads up as to where to find your body if you were being attacked. Some people need to stop living in lala land and realize that the person who is most responsible for their-own safety is themselves and that every citizen who can be legally armed should be at all times in order to take back this country from criminals who prey on the defenseless (those who don't carry a gun). This suit is a waste of money and time.

Editor's note: This comment was edited to conform with the Traveler's code of conduct.


Dave -

Despite your stated intentions, I still hope you'll follow the park's excellent advice:

If you see any activity which looks illegal, suspicious, or out of place, please do not intervene.

Therein lies one of the possible pitfalls for people carrying concealed weapons. I believe you'll be hard-pressed to find many cases of visitors actually observing some of that drug smuggling activity - and cases of visitors being threatened by such activity at Big Bend are even rarer (if they exist at all.) However, a guaranteed way to make any such encounter worse is for an untrained citizen to pull out his concealed handgun.

I understand your point is to be able to use your concealed weapon in self-defense, but drug runners in remote locations aren't looking for a fight, and the last thing they want to do is attract attention to themselves by accosting park visitors. Follow the park's advice, stay out of the middle of such situations, and pass the information along as soon as possible.


We were planning a trip to Big Bend National park in Texas, which borders Mexico. One of the things it says right on the NATIONAL PARK website:

"Visitors should be aware that drug smuggling routes pass through the park. If you see any activity which looks illegal, suspicious, or out of place, please do not intervene. Note your location. Call 911 or report it to a ranger as quickly as possible." -- http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/border_travel.htm

I'm excited about the Brady Campaign because they will make it illegal for drug smugglers to carry guns through the national park, which means everyone in Big Bend should be safe. I guess there's going to be some bins or something at the border where the smugglers can deposit their guns. And after they make gun laws maybe the Brady Campaign could focus on some illegal drug laws too, maybe setup some more bins at the border for the runners to drop off their pot and cocaine.

But until then, I'm headed out to Big Bend to enjoy nature and I'll be carrying a concealed handgun with me in case one of the "safest places in the nation" ends up being not so safe. And the best part is, you'll never know, because it's concealed :)


I think a more realistic way of saying it is:

How sad that criminals exist. But they do exist. Thank Goodness that reasonable, intellegent, honest, law-abiding citizens have their God-given right to self protection guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitutions Bill of Rights. But how sad that so many fools would gladly give up not only their individual rights to self protection, but also plot to take these rights away from the sensible people as well.


The law abiding citizens that have concealed carry permits have gone through a rigirous process to obtain that permit and carry a gun to protect themselves and others from the criminal who will carry a concealed gun or knife whether or not it is legal. The people who carry guns legally don't carry them to "posture, threaten and shoot at each" that is just ignorance. We also are "sane, law-abiding, tax-paying, nature-loving citizens who also prefer to keep our national parks among the safest places on the planet" just like those who choose not to carry a gun.


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