You are here

Federal Judge Issues Scathing Opinion in Blocking "Concealed Carry" In National Parks, Wildlife Refuges


A federal judge, in a biting opinion highly critical of the Bush administration's Interior Department, has blocked a rule change that would have allowed national park visitors to carry concealed weapons.

In her ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly scolded those who crafted the rule change for abdicating "their congressionally-mandated obligation to evaluate all reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts..."

The ruling, which also applies to concealed carry in national wildlife refuges, granted the National Parks Conservation Association, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the Association of National Park Rangers a preliminary injunction that blocks the rule change.

“This ruling by Judge Kollar-Kotelly validates the concerns of Americans across the country, every living former director of the National Park Service, ranger organizations, and retired park superintendents —all of whom opposed this eleventh-hour change under the Bush Administration," said Bryan Faehner, associate director, park uses, for the NPCA.

“This decision will help ensure national parks remain one of the safest places for American families and wildlife,” he said.

The rule change, which took effect January 9 and will now be blocked until the court issues a final determination, was seen by gun-control advocates and national park advocates as pandering by the outgoing Bush administration to the National Rifle Association.

Indeed, despite being in office for eight years the administration didn't actively move forward on the rule until its final year in office. And then it moved with haste, moving from a proposal to replace the old rule, which allowed for firearms to be transported through national parks as long as they were broken down and placed out of reach, to language to allow concealed carry in barely two months.

Some of those working under former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne worried that the process was flawed because the rule-change was being pushed through without a National Environmental Policy Act review, which is just what Judge Kollar-Kotelly focused on.

Indeed, at one point the judge, who called the Bush administration's approach "astoundingly flawed," struggled to grasp the logic of Secretary Kempthorne in deciding no NEPA review was necessary.

The lynchpin of Defendants’ response is that the Final Rule has no environmental impacts–and that Defendants were not required to perform any environmental analysis–because the Final Rule only authorizes persons to possess concealed, loaded, and operable firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges, and does not authorize persons to discharge, brandish, or otherwise use the concealed, loaded, and operable firearms. In other words, the Final Rule has no environmental impacts according to Defendants because the Final Rule does not authorize any environmental impacts. (emphasis added)

In her 44-page ruling (attached below) Judge Kollar-Kotelly also noted that the Bush administration, "ignored (without sufficient explanation) substantial information in the administrative record concerning environmental impacts, including (i) Defendants’ own long-standing belief under the previous regulations that allowing only inoperable and stored firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges was necessary to safeguard against certain risks to the environment and (ii) the almost universal view among interested parties that persons who possess concealed, loaded, and operable firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges will use them for any number of reasons, including self-defense against persons and animals (all of which suggests that the Final Rule will have some impact on the environment).

Judge Judge Kollar-Kotelly also made it clear that she was not ruling on the issue of gun rights in general or concealed carry specifically.

"(D)espite many of the arguments raised by the parties, intervenor-movants, and amici curiae, this case is not a platform for resolving disputes concerning the merits of concealed weapons or laws related to concealed weapons that are appropriately directed to the other branches of government," she pointed out. "The Court is bound to consider only whether Defendants have complied with Congress’ statutes and regulations, and not whether Defendants have made wise judgments in any normative sense. Accordingly, the Court expresses no view as to the merits of any laws or regulations related to concealed weapons or firearms generally."


Following Kempthorne's logic, I'm wondering why the previous administration proposed allowing concealed weapons only in parks. Why not allow them in airports as well? After all, such a rule wouldn't authorize the USE of such weapons in an airport, just their presence.

This is absurd. You have the RIGHT to keep and BEAR arms. There is loads of data that show that allowing concealed carry has actually reduced violent crime... even as the budgets of law enforcement has declined, law officers decrease, job losses rise, cost of living rises, and poverty rises (all factors that typically cause crime to increase). There is loads of data showing that states and cities (and countries) that restrict lawful gun ownership actually see and INCREASE in violent crime! Why? For every 1 'gun related violent crime' (did the cop do the shooting?) there are dozens of cases where a firearm was used to save someone. I am sick of listening to the paranoid delusions of the Hug-a-Thug Anti-Gunners. If someone wants to commit a criminal or violent act, they will, no matter what laws there are. If all guns magically vanished, then they would use a kitchen knife, baseball bat, or load a Uhaul up with fertilizer etc etc. The difference, noone would be able to stop them because they would be powerless against them. I know a couple that were mugged and left tied to a tree in freezing weather without a jacket while camping in a national park. Fortunately that was all that happened to them, and we later found out that muggings were quite common in that area. While they aren't the gun owning type, they should have been able to exercise that RIGHT in order to protect themselves. I AM an environmentalist. You want to keep lead out of our parks? Do something about China. 30% of the lead in our surface water comes from smoke stacks at Chinese manufacturing plants. Whether lead bullets are stored in the trunk or stored at your side, really is not going to impact the environment in any which way at all. Absurd. If it is for 'the environment', why not go after the real threats our environment is facing? There are SCORES of them! Unless it has nothing to do with the environment at all.

Ya know... the bill of rights, specifically the second amendment is really fairly simple to read. I'm nor sure what about "shall not be infringed" is difficult to understand. I guess like "Thou shall not lie" and the nine other suggestions it's just an out dated concept in today's enlightened world.

For the past 2 years we had to hear from the past NPS Director how great Kempthorne was. This is part of the evidence that he was no real friend to parks. What role did the past Director play in this? She certainly did not stop the rule. Couldn't she have insisted that it was not NEPA compiant?

Concerned and Anonymous No. 2, as the story pointed out, this ruling had absolutely nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment. It centered 100 percent on the duty of the Interior Department to consider the environmental ramifications of its actions.

Anonymous No. 3, the past two NPS directors were not known to stand up to their Interior Department bosses. That's certainly understandable, albeit disappointing. It will be interesting to see who becomes the next director and how vigorous they are in defending the parks.

In one sentence they say that parks are one of the safest places for Americans. In another sentence they imply that people with concealed handguns will be shooting aggressive people and animals so often that it will negatively impact the environment.
The truth is that the odds of someone having to use a gun for self defense in a National Park is fairly low. Allowing people to carry them will probably result in very few shootings. The "environmental impact" of so few bullets is so low as to be undetectable.
The fact is, it is still illegal to shoot trees, or animals, or targets. In fact it is still illegal to discharge the weapon at all unless done so in self defense. The assumption is that people who legally carry a handgun are suddenly going to become criminals and shoot indiscriminately.
People who have no regard for laws can already take a gun into a National Park and shoot animals. They are breaking at least 3 laws.
Possession of the gun, discharging it, and poaching. If the person has a concealed carry permit, they would be breaking 2 laws, discharging a firearm, and poaching. The fact is that people with concealed carry licenses are statistically very law abiding, and very few would break any laws.
So this rule change really will not affect the number of shots fired in National Parks, only the number of laws that a potential criminal will violate when doing so. And that number is only reduced for poachers or vandals who have a carry permit, which is a very low number.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly calims that her ruling in not related to the merits of using a handgun for protection, but look at who was the main sponsor of this case. The Brady Campaign. This is nothing more than using a technicality to obstruct a rule change that the Brady campaign does not agree with.
Now our government is going to have to spend millions of dollars determinining the Environmental Impact of a hiker firing two bullets at an aggressive would-be thief. Of course the study will find that the impact is negligible, but by then the new administration will have gone through the process to change the rules again.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly argues that although the rule does not expllicitly allow discharge of the firearm, it implicitly allows the gun to be fired in self defense. Is she of the opinion that even in the case of defending oneself against a mortal threat, the impact of a missed shot hitting a tree is more important to the overall "health" of the park then then safety and health of the permit holder?

This is nothing more than classic legal obstructionism, wasting the court's time and resources to further a back-door political agenda.

Take a step back for a minute and consider why the ban on loaded guns in national parks was enacted decades ago. Poaching was already illegal, but enforcement was nearly impossible. The problem is that when loaded guns are legal anywhere in a park, poaching is almost impossible to stop: the only time the poachers are at risk of arrest is when they are actually shooting and packing out their game. [Maybe I'm not as good of a hunter as y'all, but in my limited experience, the vast majority of my time is spent hiking and searching, not actually shooting.] The ban on loaded firearms in parks was enacted so that poaching could be stopped: poachers could be apprehended any time they were in the parks.

You can argue the pros and cons of allowing loaded firearms into national parks, but the history of why the ban was imposed is why claiming that there won't be any environmental impacts doesn't pass the laugh test, and the law requires NEPA review.

If it's so safe, why do the park rangers carry firearms?

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments