You are here

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.


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.

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

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.


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

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.

..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.

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

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.

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