In its apparent haste to rewrite the rules so national park visitors could arm themselves, the Bush administration might have shot itself in the foot.
According to documents obtained by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, the Interior Department was advised to perform, but refused to do so, an environmental analysis of the rule change's impact on national parks.
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.
When his group announced back in December that it would seek to overturn the rule change in court, Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke said the change would endanger national park visitors.
"The Bush Administration's last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law," said Mr. Helmke. "We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks."
The lawsuit, which named as defendants Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, claimed Interior officials violated several federal laws to implement the rule before President Bush leaves office. Specifically, it charged that Interior failed to conduct any environmental review of the harm that the rule might cause, as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Brady Campaign also believes the rule violates the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe enjoyment of all visitors.
Now, in a column Mr. Helmke wrote Thursday, he says there is evidence that the Bush administration ignored NEPA requirements:
...the previous administration ignored warnings from Interior Department officials that the rule was being changed in violation of Federal law because of a rush to get things in place before Bush left office.
These internal Bush administration documents were acquired by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in response to our lawsuit against the Interior Department. You can read the documents here.
These documents show that the Bush administration ignored the procedural concerns and safety warnings of at least two federal agencies in order to push through the rule in time to deny the Obama administration a chance to review it.
For example, on April 3, 2008, the National Park Service's Chief of Environmental Quality, Jacob Hoogland, warned that the rule "required additional NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis" and that "at minimum an Environmental Assessment should be prepared on the proposed revision to the existing firearms regulation."
In the same vein, Michael Schwartz, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Chief of Policy and Directives Management, warned on May 14, 2008 that "The rule was published before they did any NEPA analysis. Last week, I pointed out that this is a procedural flaw."