The new rule overturns a 25 year old regulation that required guns in parks to be unloaded and placed where they are not easily accessible, such as the truck of a car.
Now, a person can carry firearms concealed and loaded at 388 of the country's 391 national park sites if that individual is authorized to carry a concealed weapon under state law in the state where the national park or refuge is located.
Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty today said, "This is the same basic approach adopted by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service, both of which allow visitors to carry weapons consistent with applicable federal and state laws."
The new rule was approved despite concerns raised by every living former director of the National Park Service, several ranger organizations, retired superintendents, and thousands of national park visitors
"Land management agencies have worked diligently over the years to successfully create the different sets of expectations amongst the visiting public to reflect the differing levels of resource protections for each specific area," said John Waterman, president of the Park Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "National parks are different from other public lands. The visitor population expects, demands, and gets a higher degree of protection, enforcement, and restriction in a national park."
"While national parks are amongst the safest areas to be in, the toll on the U.S. Park Ranger is high," said Waterman. "U.S. Park Rangers are the most assaulted federal officers in the country. This vague, wide-open regulation will only increase the danger U.S. Park Rangers face."
Hiker calls Park Police upon finding a loaded, cocked handgun on a trail in the District of Columbia. October 24, 2008. (Photo by Naoma Staley)
The National Rifle Association supports the rule change. "Today's announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior brings clarity and uniformity for law-abiding gun owners visiting our national parks," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families while enjoying America's National Parks and wildlife refuges."
On the other hand, Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said, "Once again, political leaders in the Bush administration have ignored the preferences of the American public by succumbing to political pressure, in this case generated by the National Rifle Association. This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the National Park System at risk."
"We will do everything possible to overturn it and return to a commonsense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades," said Wade.
On February 22, 2008, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says he responded to letters from 51 senators of both parties, as well as from the chairman and ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, urging him to update existing regulations that prohibit the carrying of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Yet, in a letter sent to Secretary Kempthorne on April 3, 2008, seven former directors of the National Park Service said that there is no need to change the existing regulation.
"In all our years with the National Park Service, we experienced very few instances in which this limited regulation created confusion or resistance," the letter stated. "There is no evidence that any potential problems that one can imagine arising from the existing regulations might overwhelm the good they are known to do."
The Department of the Interior received almost 140,000 comments on the proposed rule, the vast majority of which opposed the proposal to allow loaded guns to be carried concealed in national parks.
The regulations overturned today were adopted in 1981 for national wildlife refuges and in 1983 for national parks. Since then, says Laverty, many states have enacted new firearms policies. Currently, 48 states have passed legislation allowing for the lawful possession of concealed weapons.
"The department believes that in managing parks and refuges we should, as appropriate, make every effort to give the greatest respect to the democratic judgments of state legislatures with respect to concealed firearms," said Laverty. "Federal agencies have a responsibility to recognize the expertise of the states in this area, and federal regulations should be developed and implemented in a manner that respects state prerogatives and authority."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.