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Gun Rules for The National Parks: Will They Really Make It Easier To Pack in the Parks?


The impending change of rules that would allow national park visitors to arm themselves stands a good chance of being placed in limbo, if not overturned, by legal challenges in the coming weeks and months. But if that doesn't happen, it'll be interesting to see how many gun owners actually follow the rules.

There already have been more than a few concealed weapons permit owners admit on the Traveler that they've carried in the parks before this rule change, so some apparently don't mind bending, if not outright breaking, rules and regulations when it fits them. But what makes that seem even more likely to occur in the not-too-distant future are the guidelines those who arm themselves in the parks will have to follow if the rule change stands.

For instance, here's how the folks at Voyageurs National Park outlined the impending rule change in a release:

Firearms are prohibited on tour boats and within all federal buildings including visitor centers, park headquarters, and the Kettle Falls hotel.

Now, I long ago wondered how lodging concession operators would deal with this rule change, and this release from Voyageurs certainly seems to spell it out: Basically, if you decide to carry a handgun into a national park, you may not carry it into a hotel, a tent cabin (in Yosemite, for example), a restaurant, a visitor center, a gift shop, a warming hut (for those who head to Yellowstone National Park on their snowmobile, skis or snowshoes), or, believe it or not, not even a restroom. And most likely packing on any concessionaire-operated tour bus (ie. the Red Jammers in Glacier or the Yellow Jammers in Yellowstone) will be off-limits, as well.

So, under these prohibitions, will those who carry in the parks be conscientious about running back to the parking lot to store their handgun in their rig when it's time to buy or mail a postcard, time to get a backcountry permit, time to ask directions, time to take a cruise on a park tour boat, time for breakfast, lunch or dinner, time to call it a night, or simply time to answer the call of nature, or will they figure no one will know if they're packing and simply ignore these rules?

Whether you support this rule change or adamantly oppose it, I think everyone can agree, in light of these rules, that going down the rule-making road can be a perilous thing.


Kurt wonders:

... if this rule change really wasn't intended to be an economic stimuli of its own.

In English & Spanish, right?

Don't we have regulations for the mounting of signage? What do we do about buildings that don't offer proper mounting surfaces/structures? Rebuild them!

And structures like trail-signage that are smaller than the gun-signs - oh no!

This should keep half the country busy for years ... must be a genius of economics behind it. ;-)

You know, I wonder if this rule change really wasn't intended to be an economic stimuli of its own. Think of all the signage that will have to be changed throughout the national parks: gun ban signs at entrances, at trailheads, etc, etc.;-)

Gary Slider said:

[The law (18 USC 93) says] they must post the building if they don't want anyone carrying.

You're right, unambiguously.

Certainly, I see these postings when I go to 'real' Federal Builds & Courts, in the big city ... but I don't see them on many Park-buildings.

Could we be looking at some kind of "Don't ask, don't tell" situation, in the Parks? ;-)

Ted, I agree and I read the law that way also. I read it even if the building is posted I can still carry there if I have a permit/license that makes it legal for me to carry in the state the National park is located in. The law also states they must post the buildings. If they post them and they say it applies to those with a legal permit/license to carry is what we have to find out. This will take a court case to decide since I believe the feds say that this means everyone and that section does not pertain to those who can legally carry. But getting back to the law that to me is very black and white they must post the building if they don't want anyone carrying. Every entrance must be posted and it must be very visible.

Here is an easier-to-read copy of 18 USC Sec. 930.

I believe that published assessments generally recognize a conflict, or at least the appearance of a conflict, between the new guns-in-Parks rule and "18 USC Sec. 930".

Do note that Subsection (d), explicitly referenced in the first words of Subsection (a), contains 3 paragraphs, providing exceptions to the thrust of the ban on guns in Federal facilities. Subsection (d) and Paragraph (3) jointly state:

"(d) Subsection (a) [no guns in Federal buildings] shall not apply to - (3) the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes." [emph. added]

Paragraph (d)(3) certainly appears to be capable of providing for the explicitly authorized lawful Concealed Carry provided in the new regulations.

You need to read the US Code below and especially (3)(h) The National Parks will have to post all their buildings except for the Park Offices which fall under the law as defined below. The Camp Stores etc are not office buildings they have to be posted or National Parks would have to put up a sign at all entrances to the park stating all buildings are off limits to those who can legally carry in the National Parks. I don't write the laws I just report them. But Title 18 Part I Chapter 44 Sec 930 is what the Federal Government has passed as laws and we have to stay within the law.

18 USC Sec. 930 01/03/2007


Sec. 930. Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in Federal facilities

(a) Except as provided in subsection (d), whoever knowingly possesses or causes to be present a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a Federal facility (other than a Federal court facility), or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.
(b) Whoever, with intent that a firearm or other dangerous weapon be used in the commission of a crime, knowingly possesses or causes to be present such firearm or dangerous weapon in a Federal facility, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
(c) A person who kills any person in the course of a violation of subsection (a) or (b), or in the course of an attack on a Federal facility involving the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be punished as provided in sections 1111, 1112, 1113, and 1117.
(d) Subsection (a) shall not apply to -
(1) the lawful performance of official duties by an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof, who is authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of law;
(2) the possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon by a Federal official or a member of the Armed Forces if such possession is authorized by law; or
(3) the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), whoever knowingly possesses or causes to be present a firearm in a Federal court facility, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
(2) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to conduct which is described in paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (d).
(f) Nothing in this section limits the power of a court of the United States to punish for contempt or to promulgate rules or orders regulating, restricting, or prohibiting the possession of weapons within any building housing such court or any of its proceedings, or upon any grounds appurtenant to such building.
(g) As used in this section:
(1) The term "Federal facility" means a building or part thereof owned or leased by the Federal Government, where Federal employees are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties.
(2) The term "dangerous weapon" means a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2 1/2 inches in length.
(3) The term "Federal court facility" means the courtroom, judges' chambers, witness rooms, jury deliberation rooms, attorney conference rooms, prisoner holding cells, offices of the court clerks, the United States attorney, and the United States marshal, probation and parole offices, and adjoining corridors of any court of the United States.
(h) Notice of the provisions of subsections (a) and (b) shall be posted conspicuously at each public entrance to each Federal facility, and notice of subsection (e) shall be posted conspicuously at each public entrance to each Federal court facility, and no person shall be convicted of an offense under subsection (a) or (e) with respect to a Federal facility if such notice is not so posted at such facility, unless such person had actual notice of subsection (a) or (e), as the case may be.

Kurt said:

In [the D.C. vs Heller] ruling the [Supreme Court] said the federal government was well within its rights to regulate where concealed weapons could be carried beyond the confines of your home.

That's not really untrue guys, but there is some rather significant & extensive nuance involved that we may want to be careful to observe.

I have a text copy of D.C. vs Heller, and searched on the work 'conceal'. There are 14 instances, most or all of them being "concealed". Many of them occur in historical discussion, and a heavy cluster is in the Dissent-arguments. The two most-pertinent, and most-familiar uses are as follows.

On p. 2 of the Syllabus:

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, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

On pp. 54-55

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.
Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should 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, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

The key difference between what can be found in D.C. vs Heller, and the statement that Kurt makes, is that although concealed carry can be regulated (as can other aspects of the Right), the context for regulation is quite limited and rather tightly bound to the "longstanding" qualifier.

Specifically, I would protest that regulating bathrooms, watercraft, snowmobiles needs to show "due cause", to establish the importance & merit of the abridgement of the Right in those circumstances. That a welter of patently frivolous restrictions is supported by D.C. vs Heller: quite the opposite.

Really, the situation with restricting & regulating the Second Amendment bears a strong (though not perfect) comparison with contexts for restricting the First Amendment (not surprisingly), i.e., Freedom of Speech, and the Press (e.g., the National Parks Traveler): it can done, and is done, but any effort to 'creatively' encumber either of these Bill of Rights Amendments will have to adhere to very firm & very high standards - and of "longstanding".

Bluntly put, we cannot hogtie the speech of persons or groups whom we dislike, disapprove, etc, and likewise those seeking to impair the exercise of the Second Amendment with such novelties as "So, where do you think you're going to go the bathroom, buddy, Huh?" really ought to take a careful second look at their legal footing ... 'cause I think they just pulled a classic Wile E. Coyote - right off the edge of the cliff into legal thin-air. ;-)

(I wrote this before other comments had appeared, and it is circumstance that I use some of the same examples as others. ;-)

Yes, as pointed out in this post, some Concealed Carry Permit holders have taken weapons into Parks when it was illegal to do so. The implication that that has anything to do with the general right to be armed is on the same level as implying that because some people drive without a seatbelt, my driving privileges should be reviewed.

Realistically, though, most of the illegal packing that has been going on for years in the Parks, has been by people who pack out of practical concerns, and not out of 2nd Amendment principles, and very often, without training or experience. I know certified tree-huggers and regular Sierra Club contributors who arm themselves ONLY in the Parks, because their instinct for survival has been triggered by bears snuffling around their tent, etc. (And, really, the fact that there are so few incidents of inappropriate gun-use in the backcountry has to point to a high level of due care by those choosing to arm themselves in spite of Park rules.)

So, what really is the firearms problem in Parks? That CC people are two-faced by swearing fidelity to the law, then breaking it? Or is it actually a broader phenomena, that folks who are unprepared to have & use a gun, find themselves Catch-22'ed into sneaking a pistol into their backpack? In reality, I think CC'ers who compromised themselves are a minor part of the big picture, and the bulk of illegal-carry in the Parks has been and will continue to be, nice liberal eco-friendly people who can no longer square the behavior of increasingly brazen (protected, semi-sacred) carnivores with their own primal priorities. There are simply vastly more non-CC folks than CC'ers, and enough of them are sufficiently scared in the dark woods that they outweigh CC-violators as the main component of clandestine armed citizens in the Parks.

Making clever regulations to prevent an armed person from legally going potty probably isn't a meaningful part of the ultimate resolution. This is peanut-gallery stuff. Besides, the motive for being armed is not to pack heat while shopping for trinkets, renting a paddle-boat, taking a leak, etc. This is a diversion from the substance of the issue(s), and not a compelling one. Firearms in the Parks today are primarily about carnivores, and isolation with unknown human threats. The current motives for illegal carry are about the absence of recourse to the protections of civilization, not about spooking the tourists in commerce-venues.

That said, I must reiterate that citizens do not have to provide reasons or excuses for being armed: They have the right to be armed, and those who would prefer to abridge it are the ones who must prove their case worthy.

Where the questions & points start to become more reasonable & relevant, is in the election of a fairly liberal & Democratic Party President, and a Democratic Party Congress. First & foremost, will Obama set as a goal to reverse the recent ruling to allow concealed carry in Parks? Although it would be an obvious thing for him to do as part of an existing policy & intent to undo as much of Pres. Bush's legacy as practical ... it could be that this is one of those items that will stay on the 'impractical' list. We will just have to wait & see on this question ... both gun-opponents and gun-supporters will have to be prepared to be disappointed, and to accept (for the time being anyway) whatever our elected Commander in Chief and Congress decide.

Obviously, DC vs Heller was and will remain a very big deal. The historic lack of judicial interpretive guidance on the 2nd Amendment created the context for a highly charged legal & social scene. Really though, the legal drama is 'in appearance only'. The substance of the legal basis for an armed citizenry in the United States is dirt-simple & rock-solid. The 2nd Amendment stands on identical Constitutional footing with the First Amendment. There is a large, powerful, deeply committed constituency that will absolutely champion the 2nd Amendment.

The legal & social realities of firearms will 'inform' Obama as he considers how to decide on the guns-in-Parks matter. This is a juncture at which he could definitely stick his foot in a gopher-hole, just as he is leaping forward off the starting-blocks. He knows it, no question.

I predict that President-elect Obama will 'pass' on the guns-in-Parks dust-up, leaving it largely or entirely as-is. The new measure was crafted to stake only a modest foothold of socio-political turf, by confining itself to those with official Concealed Carry authority. That is well shy of asserting general 2nd Amendment jurisprudence (which very likely does pertain in Parks, and will eventually be asserted ... later). The antics of the peanut gallery are less meaningful, and will in due course be attended to by the courts.

Ultimately, I think the traditional regulations of the Parks have been way too similar to those of Washington D.C.. "Draconian" is the popular term. Reading the 65 page Supreme Court decision in D.C. vs Heller, the two situations (D.C. & Parks gun-regulations) seem quite comparable. The close correspondence of the two situations makes the application of D.C. vs Heller too direct & unambiguous for informed decision-makers to try to skirt it, irrespective of their personal views and/or political obligations.

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