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NPCA, Park Retirees File Lawsuit to Halt Change in National Park Gun Rules


Another lawsuit has been filed in a bid to prevent a change in national park gun rules. Late Tuesday the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Back on December 30 the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence filed a similar lawsuit.

The filing by the NPCA and retirees coalition seeks an injunction against enforcement of the Bush administration’s new regulation that would allow national park visitors with concealed weapons permits to arm themselves throughout their visits. In their lawsuit the two groups contend the rule change would increase the risk to visitors, park staff, and wildlife.

The rule is scheduled to take effect this Friday, January 9.

“In a rush to judgment, as a result of political pressure, the outgoing administration failed to comply with the law, and did not offer adequate reasons for doing so,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan.

The Bush administration last month finalized a National Rifle Association-driven rule change 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.

“Our members, with over 20,000 years accumulated experience managing national parks, can see absolutely no good coming from the implementation of this rule. More guns equal more risk,” said Bill Wade, chair of the coalition's executive council. “Apparently, the Bush administration chose to ignore the outpouring of concern voiced during the public comment period."

According to the lawsuit, the Department of the Interior “adopted the gun rule with unwarranted haste, without following procedures required by law and without the consideration of its consequences that they are required to observe under law… The new regulation is an affront to the national parks’ missions and purposes and a threat to the national parks’ resources and values, which must be held unlawful and set aside.”

As with the Brady Campaign, the NPCA and retirees coalition maintain that the rule is unlawful because the Interior Department failed to conduct an analysis of the rule’s environmental effects, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, including the effects of the rule on threatened and endangered species. The lawsuit also argues that Interior officials ignored the National Park Service Organic Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Any reasonable person would have to conclude that changing these rules to allow more firearms in the national parks could have an environmental impact on park wildlife and resources,” Mr. Kiernan said.

In a letter sent to Interior Secretary Kempthorne on April 3, seven former directors of the National Park Service stated that there is no need to change the regulations. “In all our years with the National Park Service, we experienced very few instances in which this limited regulation created confusion or resistance,” the letter stated. “There is no evidence that any potential problems that one can imagine arising from the existing regulations might overwhelm the good they are known to do.”

The rule also was opposed by the current career leadership of the National Park Service and other park management professionals, including the Association of National Park Rangers and the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The public agrees: of the 140,000 people who voiced their opinion on this issue during the public comment period, 73 percent opposed allowing loaded, concealed firearms in the national parks, according to NPCA tallies.


The reason most of use choose to conceal and carry guns is for self-protection. Like Uncle Lar notes above, violent crimes sadly DO occur in our national parks. If you don't want to carry a gun to protect yourself or your loved ones that is certainly your right. As for me, I hope I never have to use it, but I like having the "insurance policy" that my gun--and my training--provides me.

It'll hurt the wildlife, it'll increase the danger. Where are the facts tio back these claims up? As usual anti-gun people make statements claiming that their opinions are facts. The actual facts are that incredibly few CCW permit holders ever do ANYTHING that violates any gun use laws. The extremely few times CCW permit holders (as in a small fraction of a percent) who lose their permits turn out to involve are cases of carrying a gun in a place (such as an airport) where guns are forbidden, not cases of actually doing anything wrong with a gun, and these cases are almost always a case of an error of some kind. But error or not, the permit gets revoked.
Anti-gun folks would have everyone believe that any idiot who wants to can carry a concealed weapon, and that all the people are somehow dangerous. If this is the case, why did violent crime, especially gun crime, not go up in states where "will issue" laws were passed, suddenly allowing thousands of honest citizens to carry firearms, over the past couple of decades?

Why did the shooter in Binghamton, NY block the rear door of the building before entering through the front? Because he was in NY State, which, excepting the 2 states that allow essentially NO citizen to carry a handgun, has the toughest handgun control laws in the country. In NY State you have to get a permit to even own a handgun, let alone to ever carry it anywhere. And because issuing a permit is left totally up to the discretion of the head of the police agency that has jurisdiction (he decides whether someone's reason is good enough or not, with no rules in the law for making that decision), permits are most often impossible to get unless you work as an armed guard. The guy locked everyone in the building because he knew for a fact that, unless an off duty police officer was visiting the place, he would be the only person in that building who was armed.

If there was some way to suddenly eliminate all of the firearms in the country, not even the police would have to be armed. But it is not possible to do that. The result is that gun "control" laws only control the use of guns by honest citizens. There are too many guns in circulation to keep them away from crooks by taking away all the guns honest folks have. There is no way to confiscate all of the guns in dishonest hands. And, unfortunately, no robber, murderer, or other persdonm planning on committing a felony worries for even one second about some piddly gun control violation.

Perhaps of the government started enforcing the existing laws, for example by prosecuting felons who attempt to buy guns, some gun "control" laws might have an effect. Unfortunately, the government for some reason does not bother doing things like that. I sure wish I knew why that is.

RAH, it is better when you come to an argument that you are possessed with the facts. The regulation in place in 1976 was simply another of several change in existing regulations that had existed since the 1930's prohibiting loaded firearms in parks. One could fairly say that change weakened the existing regulations in place at the time - something you won't read in a NRA publication by the way.

Also, possessing a loaded firearm in a National Park area is not, nor has it ever been, a felony, unless some other aggravating factor wholly unrelated to the administration of the National Park service is involved.

First of all free men and women have the right to keep and bear arms. Bear arms means exactly that, to carry on their person. There is no logical reason that National Parks should restrict that right as that lawful citizens are are not committing crimes in National Parks. The main impetus was against vandalism and poachers. CCW holders have a better record than even the police in not comitting crimes. There is no reason to suppose that CCW holders will suddenly feel required to shoot at animals or signs or even people. There are already laws against poaching and vandalism and shooting against people so a law restricting guns in parks is unecessary.

Furthermore, there are National Parks in the Southeast that many researchers are told not to visit due to the lawlessness and the drug labs. Large areas of Oregon and Washington National Parks have acreages of marijuana farms. Rangers are considered more at risk than FBI agents due to increase crime.

The main reason this regulation was changed is that many CCW people cross National Park land every day on the roads and unless they stop and unload and secure weapon and ammo they are committing a felony. Laws should not be created that make people who are othewise lawabiding commit a felony. The idea of laws is not to make lawabiding people to be criminals because of a regulation that is hard not to break going about their business innocently without ill intent.

So to all that are scared of this change in regulation it simply a step back to pre 1976 when carrying guns in National Parks were allowed. This simply make it easier for CCW holders to cross park lands in a car not to break a law inadvertantly.

There is no reason to presume that CCW holders will suddenly feel the urge to shoot in a National Park when they don't in the store or movie theater. This unreasonable fear that a gun has the ability to create homicidal urges in otherwise law abiding is ridiculous. Criminals are criminalbecasue the choose to break laws and those criminal will carry anyway like they do in cities. This allows the non criminals to also carry.

The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun whether a cop or a normal citizen.

Ted: Thanks. I hope you enjoyed your day on the trail. :)

Eric: As beautifully explained in the DC vs Heller opinion, the 2nd Amendment doesn't create a right, it only affirms & protects a preexisting natural right from infringement. As such there really is no reason to explain why one might want to exercise that right. It would be like asking someone to explain why they would want to have free speech on the Internet when they can already have free speech in the newspaper letters to the editor section. We all have a right to free speech, so why would we need to explain? Each person should be allowed to choose for themselves whether they want to exercise that right on the Internet or to abstain from such exercise.

Just as a small side tangent - someone earlier posed the thought that because there are restrictions on free speech such as a prohibition on shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, it is therefore reasonable to have restrictions on firearms. There actually are restrictions on the use of firearms - I am prohibited from pulling it out of my holster & aiming it at someone, or even showing it to someone in an effort to intimidate, much less shooting it at someone, unless very specific criteria are met to fit the legal requirements of a justified shooting, such as self defense for example. There are also specific restrictions on where I'm not prohibited from firing my weapon other than in self defense - for example in town I'm not allowed to fire my gun, nor within specific distances to buildings or city boundaries, etc. The right to keep & bear arms however, is not to be infringed.

OK, back to the question you asked. Although no reason need be given as justification for exercising a right, I will indulge your question from my own point of view. Although I always wear my seat belt while driving it doesn't mean I'm scared that I'm going to crash my car every time I get behind the wheel. Although I have smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide detectors in my home I don't have trouble sleeping at night wondering if my house is going to catch fire. I pay for home, auto, life, and health insurance not because I'm scared that I'll need them. I do these things to be prepared, not because I'm paranoid. If anything, being prepared allows me to relax, which is quite the opposite of being scared.

To anyone who wonders why I would carry my gun in a National Park I ask the question why not? Is there some fortune teller who can tell me exactly on what day & in what location I would need my gun? If such a thing were possible I would simply avoid going to that location on that particular day, and never have a need to carry a tool I could use for self defense.

Bear attack survivor John Shorter was glad he had his gun. Bear attack survivor Joshua McKim was glad he had his gun (as was his sister). Rabid Mountain Lion attack survivor Paul Schalow was glad his uncle had his gun. In fact, having a gun in a moment of great need has mattered to many people.

I'm not trying to say that these attacks are highly likely. However I am trying to say that if you suddenly were to find yourself in need of a self defense tool against predators of either the 2 or 4 legged type, your need will be vast, and it will be immediate. There will be no time in the hour of need to go shopping. Like the parable of the 10 virgins - you either are prepared with what you need, or you are not. How the story ends depends on ones level of preparedness if and when the hour of need arises. You could say that I prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

I carry a gun around town because it is easier than carrying a cop. I carry a gun in the National Forest (and as of today in National Parks as well) because it is easier than carrying a Forest Ranger. In town when seconds count the Police are only minutes away. While out in the wide open space of God's Beautiful Country a Forest Ranger is likely many miles away, long out of ear shot. Even if you happen to be lucky enough to get a signal on your cell phone 911 would likely have difficulty determining where you are & how to get help out to you. Out in God's Country when seconds count you'd be lucky to have help in hours, much less minutes.

So finally, if for no other reason, I carry a gun because I've accepted the fact that I alone am responsible for the safety of myself & my family, not the Police, and not the Forest Rangers. They are available as a crime deterrent, and even to gather evidence or seek out the criminals after the event of a crime, but there is absolutely no way they can be in all places at all times to ensure everyone's safety. We'd all need our own Secret Service agents to have that level of protection which of course would be absurd.

As far as your question about concealed vs open carry - right now National Parks still prohibit open carry - the rule changes only allow concealed carry. I would be very much in favor of allowing open carry as well as concealed carry, but I'm happy to at least finally have concealed carry as an option rather than no option at all. The 2nd Amendment doesn't specify that we can only bear arms in the open, nor that we can only bear them concealed. If they had intended it to be specific they would have made it so - for example, the right to keep and bear concealed arms shall not be infringed, or the other way around.

As far as the choice of open carry vs concealed - the primary issue with open carry would be the loss of tactical advantage against a criminal who first scopes a scene (who would then obviously either decide to look for easier targets or decide to shoot the armed folks before they attack the unarmed folks). The other lesser issue with open carry is that some people have an irrational fear of firearms - the very sight of firearms makes them break out into a cold sweat & dial 911. Concealed carry lets people with that type of phobia go about their lives without having to know that there are armed folks in their midst on a daily basis, which lack of knowledge helps them stay at ease while they sip their hot cup of Java.

I hope that I have been some level of assistance to you Eric, if nothing else to perhaps give you a little food for thought. Deciding whether or not to carry a gun is a very personal decision, one that each of us needs to make on our own for our own personal reasons. Have a great weekend :)

Warren Z wrote: "My life wasn't threatened, though I did suffer bodily harm.
But you know what? I never once thought "I wish I'd had a gun..." The gang that surrounded and attacked me did so swiftly, even efficiently. The lead pipe they used to break my arm and lacerate my scalp almost knocked me unconscious..."

Wow. Hit in the head with a lead pipe? Your definition of "life threatening" must be decidedly different than mine. And speaking for myself, I don't believe I have a moral or legal obligation to suffer head injuries and a broken arm to ensure the comfort and economic success of criminals.

I certainly don't think you need to exercise your First Amendment right by spouting such inane drivel. Obviously , we need to close that loophole in the free speech laws. See how that works...?

Hello All, I have been reading the comments on this subject here for some time now. I hope my comments here don't sound like a wise guy, that is not my intention. I am just trying to understand. I am not anti gun, I own guns myself. I do not hunt anymore, I just enjoy target shooting. Myself, I don't feel the need to carry a concealed weapon in a Nat. Park or elsewhere. I have lived in some remote areas of Montana, Idaho and Minnesota and carried weapons and today I wonder why. I wasn't hunting and have a pretty good head about me while camping where bears, wolves, moose and other animals make their home, and have come across some rather strange people out there. I have been in the backcountry of many Nat. Parks, yet, I have not felt "I wish I had a gun that no one can see". I have read many comments on both sides of this thing and I'm not here to jump in on either side. It just seems like stubborness on the part of the pro carriers. I really haven't heard a good argument other than It's my right. That answer is too easy for me. I see the Nat. Parks as places for friends and families to enjoy what good ol' Mother Nature has given us. Let the people who are hired to protect the parks carry the weapons if necessary. So help me understand the need or right to carry a concealed weapon in a place where there are people other than the carriers family or friends. Accidents do happen and it doesn't seem fair to the others who do not carry these weapons. OK, I did get a bit on one side of this, sorry for that, but Someone give me something to help change that. Thanks for listening.

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