Senator Coburn Vastly Misstates Impact Of Allowing Guns In National Parks

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who used sleight of legislative hand to see that national park visitors could arm themselves, boasted the other day that violent crime in the parks has decreased 85 percent thanks to that legislation. Unfortunately, he was far from accurate with that statement, according to fact checkers.

It was the Oklahoma Republican who, back in 2009, attached an amendment to credit card legislation to allow national park visitors to carry firearms with them as long as they were allowed to carry them in the state in which the park in question was located. That legislation, amid much controversy, took effect the following year.

Last week, while appearing on the MSNBC show Morning Joe, Sen. Coburn boasted that "(I)n 2010, everybody said you can't dare let guns go into the national parks, and of course the rapes, murders, robberies and assaults are down about 85 percent since we did that."

But a check of the facts by Politifact, a "project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics," discovered that the senator not only misstated the facts, but did so by an incredibly wide margin.

Of course, crime in national parks is generally far lower than in other areas of the country, particularly major metropolitan areas. As a result, even a few swings -- up or down -- in crime can result in significant percentage changes.

Nevertheless, Sen. Coburn's statement was far off the mark, Politifact found. When the fact checkers contacted the senator's staff, they acknowledged that "(T)he numbers show crime rates have declined, but he misspoke when he mentioned 85 percent. On balance, the facts support our conclusion that crime rates would go down under our policy, not the conclusion of the amendment’s critics who said that allowing guns in national parks would lead to more crime."

But Politifact didn't take that statement on face value, instead digging into the FBI crime numbers and analyzing them. What they found was that the senator's staff was selective in the crime numbers it used to justify Sen. Coburn's comments. For example, while the gun law took effect in 2010, the senator's staff used 2008, not 2009, as the base year. But even if one used 2008 as a base year, murders in the parks actually increased from then until 2011, the most recent year that crime statistics are available for, from five to seven.

And if you use 2009 as the base year, which Politifact says would be a more accurate approach, murders jumped from three to seven in 2011 -- and there were 15 in 2010, the year the legislation took effect.

Statistically, murders in the parks rose 133 percent from 2009 to 2011, notes Politifact, and aggravated assaults went up 9 percent. The number of forcible rapes in 2009 and 2011 were 34 for each year, while robberies decreased 9 percent, from 64 to 58.

Lump all violent crimes together, and they increased 5 percent from 2009, the year before the gun legislation took effect, to 2011, the year after it took effect, Politifact found. The bottom line, according to the fact checkers, was Sen. Coburn's claim was far off-base. And more thorough analysis is needed before one can claim what impact allowing guns to be carried in national parks has, noted Politifact.

Finally, we’ll point out that Coburn’s stated decline may -- or may not -- have been caused by the deterrence of having guns around. But if they were a cause for the decline from 2008 to 2011, what’s to stop someone from arguing that they were the cause of the increase from 2009 to 2011? The numbers alone simply don’t tell us.


“Figures lie and lairs figure” is the old saying and there is no stronger example of that than politicians. It really is disgraceful to have people running my/our government who are so deceptive.

Millions of visitors, a few crimes, you really can't use numbers to discern a pattern but leave it to those people and their staffs to make a mockery of truthfulness.

With the way he is able to manipulate data, Coburn would do great as a replacement for the Smokies Superintendent.

Really? Mr. Ditmanson has a career spanning more than 30 years in the NPS and is one of the most honorable and admired employees of the agency. I understand you disagree with the new fees, but impuning an individual personally because you disagree with management decisions is uncalled for and uncivil.

Misstates? Misspoke? Give me a break. Figures manipulated combined with downright lies to promote his extremist agenda. If anything, guns being waved around National Parks make things less safe. There's a much higher likelihood of an accidental shooting happening than to fight off hordes of criminals or stampeding grizzly bears.

I never mentioned anyone by name but there is a long list of questionable actions by the Smokies superintendent that have nothing to do with backcountry fees. Most recently, his relationships with concessionaires has been very scrutinized especially his rewarding of contracts to crony friends and political allies. He may have a 30 year assoc with NPS but the last 8 here in the Smokies have been scandal plagued. His handling of the cemetary issue is of great concern to North Carolina Smokies relatives. I could go on and on. This is the National Parks Traveler and he is a National Parks employee.

Yes, you can carry guns in National parks; but, using them legally in the National Parks is not straight forward and could very easily get you into trouble.

Gun Regulations in the National Parks

DD. Do you have anything to backup your assertion that there is a greater likelihood of an accidental shooting than of a defensive use of a gun. That certainly isn't the case for the nation as a whole. How many accidental shootings have there been since the law was enacted?

I've carried a guns (in the Land Rover) into and out of National parks and they never saw the light of day. That said, IF I was hiking in Yellowstone or Alaska, you could bet you'd see me carrying one pistol and maybe a rifle... can you say GRIZ?

I have backpacked in Yellowstone and have done several solo trips in Gates of the Arctic in Alaska. When I got to Alsaska many seemed scared to death of both black and grizzly bears so I thought they may know something I don't. I carried a short barreled 12 guage with a pistol grip for a few years. I only used it as something to sit on in wet tundra and as an ice ax decending steep snow slopes. After crossing several rain swollen streams I decided I should carry a life preserver if I was truly concerned about the dangers in Alaska. I never carried the life preserver, but I quit the gun and switched to bear spray which makes more sense and is much lighter than a shotgun. I realize that talking about guns is about male masculinity and the subject is immune to rationality.

I realize that talking about guns is about male masculinity

Really? Can you explain that to the millions of women that talk about guns?

You do notice that every Backcountry Ranger in Alaska (or anywhere else) is packing don't you? Much more connected to bear behavior than visitors, obviously, but still their back-up in tense situations whether they be man or beast. Sounds like the trend is only for them to be packing. Maybe the culture needs to grow up and get real instead of fantasy (Sierra Club, no ofense). Until then.... BTW, how do Tasers work on the Griz? Haven't heard. Know they've been tried on Javelinas with mixed results:).

This is probably a political win for Coburn, in that the gesture of the statement is more important than what it purports. So, probably not a "misstatement."

You do notice that every Backcountry Ranger in Alaska (or anywhere else) is packing don't you?

Dont know about Backcountry Rangers but I familiar with Alaskan State Troopers (from the Nat Geo show). They don't leave the highway without a rifle for bear protection. But then, they are probably just a bunch of gun nuts worried about their masculinity.

I carried a pistol (357) in my saddle bags when a wilderness ranger in Yellowstone. In my 35 years in Yosemite, I would carry a 38 in my saddle bags when traveling with livestock, in case a horse or mule had to be put down. I had to do that twice. Otherwise, I did not carry a firearm while in the wilderness areas of the park. I personally am opposed to firearms being carried in parks, I think its great that there are areas where guns are held to a minimum. EC, must admit being in some of the California National Forests during hunting season can be scary, especially if there is much drinking going on, which unfortunately, is way to common. Target shooters and poachers are becoming an issue also.

EC, must admit being in some of the California National Forests during hunting season can be scary, especially if there is much drinking going on, which unfortunately, is way to common. Target shooters and poachers are becoming an issue also.

Don't hang out in California National Forest so can't comment on that. I have never been "scared" in Colorado National Forest where I frequent. And of course shooting while drunk or poaching are illegal so why would anyone doing those worry about a law against guns in the National Park or anywhere else. Just highlights the point. If someone is going to do something illegal, they will do it. No sense punishing (risking) those that abide by the law.

I didn't intend to slight the women who carry guns, and some with very good reason. I mentioned men because they are the majority and I know from experience how many feel about carrying a gun. Two years ago three of us did an 80 mile backpack in the arctic refuge Our packs for 8 days with all of our food and two tents weighed 30 pounds at the start. We had no guns. On our 6th day we met a guide and his client going the opposite direction. It had taken them six days to do what we did in two.The guide had a huge automatic on his chest and I assume the client had one also. Their packs weighed almost 100 lbs. and they had to help each other get them on. I guess it depends on how scared you are in the wilderness and how much you want to enjoy the hike. Years earlier park rangers in Gates of the Arctic had to rescue one of three packpackers who had gotten lost from his companions. I talked to the lost one who was picked up by a helicopter and he showed me his campsites on a map. They were two miles apart and they were carrying so many guns and so much ammo he said that was all they could do in a day. I never did a backpack in Gates where I didn't figure on 15 miles a day. I have heard of the latest National Geographic Alaska special and it sounds real stupid like the Bear Gryllis shows.

Roger - I have encountered similar overweight packers and short distance hikers that didn't have a single gun on them. That was their choice. Not my roll to be judemental on how they wanted to hike their hike.

I meet many people down here in Texas that are afraid of rattlesnakes, bears, and mountain lions. Don't blame them for being afraid but I would never let a little fear of wild animals stop me from doing something I liked since the odds are far lower of being hurt or killed than driving the car to town. Women have good reason to be afraid of men and wouldn't blame any of them for carrying a concealed handgun. I would consider carrying one in case I had to shoot my neighbor or his dog. In Texas both are legal if you feel threatened where you have a right to be. Stand Your Ground laws you know.

You really need to do some homework. Concession contracts are awarded by Regional Directors, not superintendents.

..and I'm sure the Superintendents have no sway with the regional directors regarding who they would like to see get concession contracts, huh? If the public were as ignorant as the NPS wished we were, their abuses would be even more rampant.

I am ready to leave Senator Coburn behind and hope the rest of you are too. Besides Senator Coburn is not that bad compared to our other Texas Senator, Ted Cruz. The horse left the barn a long time ago regarding guns and it is not worth arguing about them anymore.

Mr. Coburn is from Oklahoma and Mr. Cruz is an excellent young senator with a great future...

You're right, MikeG. Cruz will be a Senator from Texas as long as he wants to be. His place on the national stage is less certain.


Roger--- I assume that short barreled 12 ga you used for a seat had the barrel pointed in the right direction?

It was sometimes hard to find a dry spot to sit in the arctic and I can recall only a very few days in a thousand miles of backpacking where it was warm and dry enough to stretch out comfortably on the tundra for a nap. It was usually raining, or cold, or the mosquitos were bad. As I often said you had to work hard to enjoy the arctic. Of couse I laid the 12 guage flat on the ground, and the barrel worked well as an ice ax on soft and moderate snow slopes. Otherwise it was a poor subtitute for bear spray and if park visitors are concerned about their safety it makes more sense than a gun. Besides bear spray doesn't kill anything and would allow a bluffing wild animal to walk away from an encounter. If it leaks in your car or house it will have to be evacuated for a while. Occasionally a pilot in Alaska would have to fly with his head out the window if a can leaked and they were usually fastened to a wing strut or elsewhere outside the cabin.