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Park Rangers, Active and Retired, Lament Change in Gun Rules for National Parks


How will families with youngsters feel about attending interpretive programs in national parks when the person next to them might be armed? Will the National Park Service have to install metal detectors in parks to ensure gun owners don't enter buildings with their sidearms?

Those are just two of the questions being asked today by active and retired National Park Service rangers lamenting adoption by the Bush administration of a rule that will allow park visitors to carry concealed weapons.

While many 2nd Amendment rights backers and the National Rifle Association view the rule change as long overdue, not everyone shares their belief. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, and the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police jointly voiced concern Friday that the rule change will not make parks safer and could in fact make them more dangerous.

“This new rule is fraught with a variety of threats and hazards to the solitude and atmosphere visitors have come to appreciate and to seek in national parks,” said Bill Wade, chair of the coalition's executive council.

The coalition has nearly 700 members, all former NPS employees, with more than 20,500 accumulated years of experience in managing national parks and NPS programs, including law enforcement and visitor services.

Mr. Wade, whose Park Service career included a stint as superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, said the rule change stands to create risks to "natural and historic resources in parks." Additionally, he said the coalition is "troubled by the likelihood that the way park visitors relate to each other will be affected."

"Until now, parks have been conducive to visitors having casual chats with each other on hikes. Not uncommonly, visitors camped next to each other share a morning cup of coffee. This open social interaction is liable to change as suspicion and apprehension about the possession of concealed firearms makes people more distrustful,” he said.

At the 1,200-member Association of National Park Rangers, President Scot McElveen, a retired chief park ranger, expressed apprehension about the ability of the Park Service to provide the best available protection to park resources under the new rule.

“Park wildlife, including some rare or endangered species, will face increased threats by visitors with firearms who engage in impulse or opportunistic shooting,” said Mr. McElveen. “We also worry about increased vandalistic shooting at historic monuments, archeological petroglyphs and park signs and markers.”

The ANPR president also described situations in parks that will be confusing or troubling:

* How will a family with small children who are on a ranger-guided tour feel about the fact that other visitors on the tour very well could have concealed guns in their pockets or backpacks?

* How will visitors attending an evening program at an amphitheater in a park campground feel about the possibility that others attending the program could have firearms in their purses or jackets?

* Firearms will still be prohibited in most federal buildings, but will parks now have to provide places for visitors to check their firearms before entering visitor centers or ranger stations? Or will they have to install and staff metal detectors to ensure that firearms don’t get brought inside?

* Some parks lie in more than one state. Natchez Trace Parkway, for instance spans three states, each with a different gun law. What do visitors do when they pass from Tennessee to
Alabama and then to Mississippi?

* Some park visitors have a predisposition to kill on sight animals that they believe to be “varmints.” Such animals include coyotes, wolves, prairie dogs, snakes, and some raptors. Even though harming such animals has been illegal and will continue to be illegal under the new rule, having a loaded, readily-accessible firearm increases the chances that these visitors will act on their misplaced beliefs and fears.

John Waterman is a law enforcement ranger at Valley Forge National Historical Park and president of the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the majority of commissioned Park Service law enforcement rangers. He worries about employee and visitor safety and visitor confusion.

“This new regulation has replaced a clear and consistent regulation prohibiting guns in all national parks unless they are rendered inoperable and inaccessible, with one that opens a Pandora’s Box of confusing exceptions," he said. "Now, if you are in a national park in a state that allows concealed firearms and if you have a concealed-carry permit; or if the state you're from has reciprocal laws with the state you are in, then maybe you can carry a gun, but not in public buildings or if the state says you can't have one in a public park.... This is a regulatory nightmare both for the public and for rangers.

“More guns means more risk," Ranger Waterman stated. "For example, rangers sometimes have to intervene in disputes in campgrounds. With the possibilities of guns being present, the risk increases, not only to the disputants, but to the rangers who have to resolve the problem. Moreover, traffic stops now become more hazardous for rangers in parks.”

Mr. Wade of the retirees group scoffed at the Interior Department's intent in ramming this regulation through without appropriate analysis of the impacts it will have on national park resources and visitors.

“They said it would increase consistency for the public. Clearly it doesn’t. They said there won’t be any impacts to park resources or visitors. But thousands of current and former rangers and other employees – who actually work or worked in parks – say otherwise," he said. "They said this is what the American people wanted, but over 70 percent of the 140,000 who commented during the public comment period opposed the proposed rule.

"They said, ‘if you can carry a gun on Main Street you can now carry a gun in a national park.’ We don’t think Americans want their national parks to be like their main streets; they go to parks because they are special and different, and knowing they can get away from the pressures and stresses they face where they live and work.

“January 9, 2009 is not a good day for national parks or for their visitors,” Mr. Wade added. “We hope the new Interior Secretary will reconsider this ill-advised regulation and keep national parks special and safe.”


The Heller decision said that an individual right to own and possess a firearm was protected under the 2A and that person did not have to be a member of a milita. Your comment was you said the part you did not undestand of "infringement" was a well regulated militia. Regulated in colonial times meant same ammo and same arms to be carried or to well trained, not rules like park regulation.

It did say that restriction such as were common at our founding was that felons could be prohibited. Since CCW holders by definition have background checks, they are not felons so are not restricted in their 2A rights.

The also said carry was part of the right but that was not the issue challenged by Mr Heller. So yes some limited restriction may apply like in schools or by felons acoording to the majority opinion. That does not mean any and all restriction that some may like. These issues will be decided in later challenges.

The issue of self defense in an inherent right that can not be legislated away. Firearms are one of the tools of self defense so the issue of ability to have a weapon prepared for use is part of that right. The request was to have CCW holders be allowed in NPS like on NFS and BLM lands to carry. This request was granted.

The effect will not blood in the parks but rather CCW holder who drive on highways that cross NPS will no longer have to stop , store the gun and then stop and put the gun on again.

Visitors will not be effected since only CCW use is allowed. There will not see or be aware of anyone carrying a guns.

Criminal use will still be punishable just not the act of having a gun on a person.

The most that NPS has to do is change signs and post signs on buildings. Othewise there will be no difference.

I've read the decision. If you have, too, you will see it went out of its way to say it is not definitive, but a narrowly drawn decision based on a specific, overstated local rule. It is not a landmark ruling on whether regulations of guns are legal. Read it again.

Read the SCOTUS Heller decision. It explains that the preface is a purpose ,not the sole purpose. That is what the decesion was about whether an individual not part of the militia has 2A and it was decided in the affirmative .


the part that says "well-regulated militia"

Assuming that you're referring to the rule bringing national parks in line with state concealed carry laws:

a) A common sense rule that ends the prohibition on law-abiding citizens being prepared to defend themselves in wilderness areas where self-reliance is a necessity, and simply brings the national parks into compliance with the Bill of Rights and local law and practice, would only be called "stupid" by someone with a lot of ignorance and/or bias on the subject.

b) Federal lands managed by BLM and the Forest Service generally comply completely with state firearms laws, including open carry where that is not otherwise prohibited by state or local law. It's commonly practiced and doesn't cause any problems as far as I have observed. The new Interior Department guidelines are still, illogically and unnecessarily, more restrictive than other federal lands in that they only allow concealed carry by state permit holders and therefore, no, I'm not satisfied.

What part of "shall not be infringed" do you still find confusing?


Are you satisfied with the stupid new rule that Department of the Interior cubicle-dwelling burearcrats thought was a good idea?

Rick Smith

Some people see stupid rules and break them. Some people see stupid rules, and stupidly follow them. The first group is the group responsible for the Declaration of Independence and the spread of democracy. The second group is responsible for the Holocaust, apartheid, "burn days," and that idiot who insists on driving the speed limit in the left lane while normal people trying to keep up with the flow of traffic are trying to pass. It's not surprising that a career government employee would associate with the second group.

Personally, given the choice between being prepared to defend the lives of myself and my family, or following a stupid rule that some cubicle-dwelling bureaucrat thought was a good idea and potentially paying a fatal price for it, I think the choice is pretty simple.

I dunno Rick, maybe it's sort of like sitting down at a segregated lunch counter in 1959 while completely covered in black skin. There are laws just waiting to be broken. Why I even know some people who have smoked pot in the backcountry of several national parks.

Civil disobedience has a long and storied history in this country.


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