Unless one takes the preposterous position that national parks are, or should be, Constitution-free zones, there’s no tenable legal reason why the gun ban in parks should continue. But the push by some in Congress -- here and here -- to lift the ban rarely focuses on such fundamental questions. Instead, backers of maintaining the ban make it seem, equally implausibly, that parks are crime- and violence- and danger-free zones -- pristine sanctuaries akin to the Garden of Eden, where firearms aren’t just unnecessary but an abomination.
This argument, too, is untenable, since parks are not, and can’t be, walled off from the rest of society. Crimes against property and people do occur there, including robbery, rape and murder. Wild animal encounters, although rare, also can happen. And the chance of running into potential trouble in a park is on the increase, since they’ve become pot plantations for drug cartels, as this recent story in USA Today makes clear. Here’s a related news report from a few days ago.
This graph from The Washington Post provides relatively up-to-date figures on crime in parks. And while the Post downplays the statistics, calling crime there “relatively rare,” that’s little consolation to the park visitor who is deprived of the ability to defend himself with a firearm if he's unlucky enough to become a statistic. One sees a steady increase in crime over the past 5 years, with a slight decline in 2006. And I venture to guess that, if one looked at the trend lines over 10 to 20 years, the mounting crime threat would become even more noticeable.
Here’s a Christian Science Monitor write-up on the subject from several years ago, before the gun ban became an issue, so there's no attempt by firearms-phobes to sugarcoat the situation. Here’s another in The Seattle Times.
And you know things are getting a little sketchy out there when hunters – who already go armed – are receiving what amount to State Department travel advisories about venturing into our national forests. The warning to hunters in Washington State involves a national forest, not a national park, but whether criminals recognize or respect such boundaries is doubtful. They are just looking for a secluded and relatively safe -- from their perspective -- place to operate. And in national parks, they can count on the fact that any interlopers they stumble across will be unarmed -- which can only make these locales more inviting.
Clearly, there’s no legal, moral or public safety justification for keeping the national park gun ban.