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."