A non-profit legal foundation that long has argued for multiple use of public lands now wants to aid the Interior Department in defending a rule that allows national park visitors to carry weapons.
Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has given rise to the likes of former Interior secretaries James Watt and Gale Norton, late last week filed a motion for permission to intervene in the lawsuit the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees brought against the Interior Department over the rule change.
The Bush administration in December finalized a rule to allow loaded, concealed firearms in all national parks except those located in two states: Wisconsin and Illinois, which do not permit concealed weapons. The former rule, put in place by the Reagan administration, required that firearms transported through national parks be safely stowed and unloaded. The rule change took effect January 9, before President Obama was sworn in.
Both lawsuits claim Interior officials violated several federal laws to implement the rule before President Bush left office. Specifically, they allege 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 lawsuit filed by the NPCA and the retirees also claims that Interior officials ignored the National Park Service Organic Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation maintains it should be allowed to intervene in the case in part because many of its members hold concealed weapons permits and their rights would be infringed if the new rule is overturned.
"... MSLF’s members have a present, existing interest in exercising their right to carry in national park areas and National Wildlife Refuges, for which they expended their time, energy, and economic resources—both to obtain licenses to carry concealed weapons and in supporting MSLF’s advocacy of the updated regulations during the public comment period," reads a portion of the motion. "Should judgment be rendered for Plaintiffs, this time, energy, and financial expenditure would be for naught, because MSLF’s members would be barred from exercising the rights protected by the updated regulations."
Part of the motion, though, almost sounds as if it could be used by the NPCA, retirees, and Brady Campaign in their bid to have the rule overturned, as the legal foundation maintains that only a "small fraction" of Americans hold concealed weapons permits and the Interior Department has an obligation to represent the general public, "most of whom do not" carry concealed weapons.
Federal Defendants are charged by law with representing the public interest of the citizens of the United States, not the more narrow and “parochial” interests of MSLF’s members. MSLF’s members have expended time, money, and effort to obtain licenses to carry concealed weapons. Because only a small fraction of the general public obtains such licenses, Federal Defendants’ obligation to represent the interests of the general public, most of whom do not have concealed carry licenses, is at odds with the interests of MSLF’s members. At best there is a partial congruence of interests, which does not guarantee the adequacy of the representation.