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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.”


Kurt presents a list of firearms-concerns assembled by former Park-employee groups.

1. Families & children at Parks will be spooked by the mere idea that some other visitors may be armed.

People know that other people in the communities they are in, are armed. Guns are part of many families' experience. In isn't a novel concept, that some people have guns.

2. Rangers will be forced to mount extraordinary security measures, to prevent guns in buildings.

I understand that under Federal law, Parks staff will be required to mount signage on buildings alerting those with firearms that such weapons (and others) are not allowed within the building. While I also understand that some courtrooms and maybe even some Federal buildings have installed metal detectors, I think this is done only where it is thought (or demonstrated) that there is an actual security-threat.

3. Solitude will be subject to threat & hazard.

Solitude is where you find it, when you find. The fact that somebody else in the Park, somewhere, smoked pot in the parking lot before going off into the woods does not affect our solitude. The fact that somebody else in the woods, somewhere, is going through a painful divorce, with children who suck the joy out life ... is a personal tragedy. But not ours, and we don't worry about it.

That some people have guns is, and always has been, a fact of life. Normal people aren't going to be disturbed in their solitude, at the mere thought of another visitor, somewhere, possibly being armed.

4. Wildlife will be subject to impulsive & opportunistic shooting.

I would guess that in some areas/Parks, a certain amount of poaching has always gone on. But I seriously doubt that much of this is by licensed concealed carry people, and it is highly doubtful there will be a change - up or down - in what poaching occurs due to the new rule.

5. Trigger-happy varmint-hunters will be shooting up everything that twitches.

Although some classes of citizens deplore varmint-hunting, the truth about the sport is that it takes place under specific conditions, in specific locations, with specific species as targets.

In sum, most of the objections raised in this article are such over-wrought caricatures that I think their real purpose is to provoke (ill-considered) reaction in the pro-gun community.

All you hunters and firearms-owners out there do understand bait, don't you? ;-)


Thanks for sicing the dogs on the bait. But first things first. Let's make the record clear that *I* didn't "present" those concerns, they were presented by the Association of National Park Rangers. I merely reported on 'em.

I just want to make that clear because, while you understand the construction, there are others out there who are awfully darn quick to blame the messenger. Over the past few years *I've* been taken to task for reporting what OTHERS have said regarding guns in the parks. And you know what? It's tiresome and has led my wife to suggest I enter the witness protection program. I'm pretty sure she was joking.

I mean, it's really quite amazing how "civilized" many Second Amendment-rights advocates can be. I've had my masculinity challenged, my sexual orientation questioned, my maturity and god knows what else taken to task. From folks who claim they are law-abiding, upstanding, just-a-regular-Joe-who-I'd-never-realize-was-packin'-in-the-parks. And then they occasionally use ALL CAPS or underline their words in a futile bid to raise the sound of their typing to make it appear as if they're shouting.

Hell, Ted, if they act like that on an Internet forum....what might transpire face-to-face on a backcountry trail?

Now, that said, let me make it clear (that's for emphasis, Ted and anyone else reading this, not shouting) that I fully realize those folks are in the minority. I would indeed agree that most CCW permit holders are upstanding individuals who'd watch my back in a pinch. At the same time, I hoped you'd agree that accidents (here's one, here's another, here are a couple more, though you can ignore the hunting accident) happen.

Still, I'm one of those who, like Warren Z, probably are just too dang naive after spending quite a bit of time over the past four decades tromping about woods, deserts, national parks, national forests and who knows where else without a scent of crime or furry attacker and just don't feel that in the parks I need firepower to protect myself from man nor beast. Now, out on the highway, that's something else....

Oh, one other point I'd like to make clear to those who you hope will beeline it for the bait: I'm not anti-2nd Amendment. I could care less if you own a gun. I've fired a rifle and what at the time was reputed to be the world's most powerful handgun. A good life-long friend is an ex-state trooper who often was armed around me (not that I always knew it). So let's not have any bashing Kurt cuz he's anti-gun, because he ain't.

All that said, I'll let others debate (hopefully constructively) the list presented by ANPR. Perhaps we could even entice some active-duty rangers to describe some of the incidents they've encountered.

"How will families with youngsters feel about attending interpretive programs in national parks when the person next to them might be armed?"

They will feel the same way as they do today (whatever that may be) since the person next to them today might be armed. Not everyone follows the rules.

The first line of my previous comment is:

"Kurt presents a list of firearms-concerns assembled by former Park-employee groups."

Kurt presents a list. Of firearms-concerns. Assembled by former Park-employee groups.

Read the sentence again. The concerns are "assembled" by former Park-employee groups. Kurt "presents" a list of them.

Kurt is not the author of the "concerns". I didn't even pin authorship on the "groups". Only that they were "assembled" by them.

Kurt presents "a list". The stuff in the list is somebody else's. Not Kurt's.

I pointed out in my previous comment that the "concerns" (being "caricatures" (aka, 'cartoons') appear intended to:

"provoke (ill-considered) reaction in the pro-gun community."

In other words, to induce gun-owners to, um, go off half-cocked and, um, shoot themselves in the foot.

This is pretty standard-brand politics. We watch McCain and Obama and Romney and Clinton and Palin and (Caroline) Kennedy do this to each other 24/7 wall-to-wall non-stop. (Biden doesn't count, because he does it to himself without provocation.) Hey, I even watch little kids who don't what puberty is do this!

Make a statement designed to get your opponent's panties in a twist, whereupon he jumps up and in four seconds convinces the entire audience that he's a congenital imbicile. He did it to himself, and you walk.

The former Park-employee groups are putting out these outlandish statements about how horrible it will be when folks can carry concealed pistols in the Parks. The idea is to provoke the pro-gun folks into jumping up all in a lather and making themselves look ... as ding-dong as the Park-employee groups wants the public to see them.

It's bait. Don't bite!

I guess that your name is on the page so you get the glory and the blame. I've enjoyed the Traveler and I'm a person who believes that we would be more respectful of each other if there was the possibility that someone was armed. You make a point that people rant and rave across the internet at you. They wouldn't be so brave in a face to face situation. They would be down right civil if they thought old Kurt was armed somehow (gun, attack dog or your own set of bodyguards). I looked at the accidents and they were all tragic. They were all preventable if the people involved parents,hunters had used any intelligence. You can't protect against stupidity! I agree that the street is far more dangerous then the woods. You do read about mountain lions out in California attacking bike riders. I spent a week this past summer up at Baniff national park in Canada while we were there a park employee was attacked by a black bear. She was jogging and the bear took an interest. She walked backwards yelling at the bear for about a quarter mile. the bear followed her then she made the mistake of playing dead and was bitten. She fought back then and the bear went away.Bear Spray would have been ideal. I'm sixty and if i go walking in the woods, I bring some sort of weapon. It's usually a large stick and a decent knife but there were times that I've taken a firearm. I wish that as a society that we weren't always adjusting for those on the lowest level of intelligence. If you do something stupid or bad you should be punished, the same way if I'm backing out of a parking space to fast and kill someone. It doesn't matter that i was in a hurry, I was negligent with a three thousand pound weapon. Gun owners are a persecuted bunch and sometimes they get excited since we can't understand why us legal guys always have to change. Thanks for doing a great job!

Ted, you are probably correct in your assumption that many of these comments were made to bait the Pro-Gun folks, but I suggest that it is not the only reason for the comments. I genuinely believe that these folks (park employee groups) have actual concerns about being exposed to higher numbers of firearms on a daily basis, and that maybe they just aren't very good at nonconfrontational speaking. Should their concerns be overtly ignored when it would appear there is a 2-to-1 margin of the public in the comment period agreeing with them? Isn't that rather undemocratic? I suggest that gun-rule changes put into place despite the lack of a majority support really makes it irrelevant as far as a constitutional issue. The Pro -Gun (In the Parks) Folks will get their way due to the activist-policies of an administration that doesn't seem to give a SH*# about the will of the people who have the most vested in these parks. When a public outcry for keeping guns out of national parks (about 98,000 people) is absolutely ignored, I think it's safe to say that Pro-Gun folks aren't really being baited, but are instead being out & out reviled as thugs. But you are correct, as long as the gun lobby is winning, Ya'll should probably just keep quiet.

As I have stated before. I carry a gun on my RV for protection. I consider this my home space and I will continue to carry the gun onboard legal or not. I see no reason to carry concealed . If someone thinks they need protection while out on a trail, carry bear spray. In my opinion it will do as good on a man or beast as a handgun. These are my thoughts only not intended to cause a major debate.

You do an awesome job with this site, I for one appreciate the breadth of coverage, and the amount of content, and the sometimes alternative viewpoint you present for debate.
So far I've only found myself posting comments related to the legal carry in National Parks issue. (What can I say, I enjoy a good debate.)
Keep up the good work!


Since the pro- carry folks are focusing their comments on a civil-rights based platform built on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so will I. At the risk of Ted calling me a politician again (!) I will ask the pro- carry folks for evidence of their support on all civil rights issues, or at least one particular issue that matters to me.

A couple of commentators here at NPT have compared no- carry laws to Jim Crow laws, i.e. gun owners had been treated in a separate but equal way in our National Parks. I will ask here (as I have in another comment string concerned with the guns in parks issue) if the gun owning civil rights advocates will join my fight for legal same-sex marriage. How does legalization of same-sex marriage relate to legal carry in our National Parks, you might wonder.

I am a gay man in a relationship of 18+ years, hurray for me. Yet the Federal government, and most states (including my own) refuse to legally recognize the stability and worth of my long-term relationship because of religious prejudice (based on idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible) towards what I do in the privacy of my bedroom. (And let me tell ya fellas, after 18 years there ain't much going in there, I'm sure you can appreciate that little tidbit! It's as if I'm married, just like you.)
Wouldn't you agree that legal bans on same-sex marriage are as much a violation of my civil rights as prohibitions on concealed carry of firearms are on yours? After all, just about every civil marriage law on the books (on both the state and federal levels) is based on a religious definition or belief. Isn't that a violation of the Constitutional Principle of the Separation of Church and State? Love the sinner but hate the sin? Separate but equal. Legal recognition of "civil unions"? That's just separate but equal again.
(As for the argument that legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to legalized human/animal marriage, or intra-family marriage, or legalized bigamy... well, that's just the same as saying that a legal gun owner will always use it an illegal manner, or will buy their guns illegally, or refuse to take the requisite training courses for proper, safe usage.)

Do you see where I'm going with this?

As far as I'm concerned, all those organizations out there devoting their time and effort to making legal carry a Second Amendment issue need to get on board the Constitution train and fight for lawful interpretation of the 10th Amendment, the 14th Amendment... heck, why not support the entire Constitution as it applies to all Americans. History shows us that the most effective movements are those built on broad-based coalitions.

This is not bait, nor a politician's argument, just the sincere plea for fair, consistent application of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The same sex marriage folks just flat out need your devotion to Constitutional Principles.

I look forward to the good folks at the NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Second Amendment Committee ( ), ,, , etc., joining me in a coalition based on Constitutional consistency when it comes to civil rights in America. You don't want me to pick and choose which portions of the Constitution I'm obligated to support, so don't you either. Okay?

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