Americans no longer will be asked to surrender their Second Amendment rights -- or their most potent means of self defense -- when they enter a national park, now that the Bush administration has lifted a gun ban that made no constitutional or public safety sense. The anti-gun crowd will of course claim that this will lead to a bloodbath in the parks; that it will be a scene right out of the O.K. Corral at the visitor center gift shop, when some hair-trigger touristas use guns to settle a dispute over the last rubber tomahawk in stock. But such predictions routinely are made when gun rights are restored or expanded, and they routinely prove unfounded.
National parks are not crime free zones, as this blog has repeatedly pointed out. And in fact, their remoteness can even be an invitation to lawlessness and criminal activity, as we've seen with recent efforts by Mexican drug cartels to turn federal parks and forests into pot plantations. Wild animal encounters, though rare, can occur. And if you've ever seen some of the spooky characters who haunt these places -- and I don't just mean the rangers (just kidding, rangers!) -- you can see why one might sleep sounder with a .38 tucked under the pillow.
There's absolutely no rational reason, in short, to disarm Americans simply because they cross a park boundary, unless one wants to argue, rather absurdly, that the Second Amendment and other parts of the Bill of Rights apply in some parts of America, but not others.
The fact that Reagan signed-off on the ban proves nothing, except, perhaps, that he was showing early signs of Alzheimer's.
This is one Bush executive action that Barack Obama may have a tough time reversing, politically speaking, since there is already a lot of fear out in fly-over country about the next president's position on gun rights, and he and his surrogates spent a lot of time and effort during the campaign reassuring folks that he isn’t a gun-grabber. They're still at it, in fact. The surge in gun sales since election day suggests that a lot of Americans aren't convinced. Reinstating the national park gun ban would confirm those fears, and be an early demonstration that Obama isn't the moderate he claims to be.
The write-up below portrays this as a “parting shot on behalf of the National Rifle Association” (and shot at whom the reporter doesn’t explain), but most Americans, and not just NRA members, would agree that there should be no double standard in the application and protection of our constitutional rights. This was the correct -- and the constitutional -- thing to do. It's just a shame the administration waited until the last minute to do it.
But better late than never.
Here's the write-up by The San Francisco Chronicle:
Guns will be allowed in national parks
Campers may now pack heat along with their sleeping bags when they travel to national parks.
The Bush administration on Friday struck down federal regulations banning loaded guns in most national forests, a move that was widely seen as a parting shot on behalf of the National Rifle Association.
The ruling overturned a 25-year-old federal regulation severely restricting concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. The new rule, which would take effect in January, would apparently allow anyone who already has a concealed weapons permit in his or her state to also tote a gun in federal parks within state boundaries.
Conservation groups, park officials and many politicians blasted the decision as a politically motivated slap against public opinion in favor of the gun lobby.
"This is something the park service does not want that is being driven by the political appointees in the Department of the Interior," said Bryan Faehner, associate director for park uses for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit group established in 1919 to look out for the interests of the national parks. "This is pretty outrageous. We're concerned that there is going to be an increase in gun-related accidents in parks and opportunistic poaching."
The decision shoots down a 1981 wildlife refuge and a 1983 national park regulation signed by President Ronald Reagan requiring firearms to be unloaded and placed somewhere not easily accessible, such as in a car trunk, when visiting federal parks. Faehner said folks will now be able to lock and load in 388 of 391 parks, refuges and sites in 48 states, including California.
Only the three national park units in Wisconsin and Illinois, which do not issue concealed carry permits, are excluded.
The idea behind the ruling, according to Lyle Laverty, the assistant interior secretary, was to foster the long-held tradition of having states and the federal government work together on natural resource issues. He said similar rules were recently adopted by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
"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," said Chris Cox, the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist.
The NRA lobbied hard for the change to the gun regulations, which Cox said were inconsistent and unclear. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had also supported the change, organizing a letter-writing campaign to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne complaining about the gun restrictions. The letters were signed by half the Senate - 41 Republicans and nine Democrats.
As of 2007, there were 40,296 people with concealed weapons permits in California, according to Scott Gerber, spokesman for the state attorney general. Such permits are issued by police and sheriff's departments, usually to people in high-profile positions or to those who show a legitimate need for their protection.
The attorney general's office checks the fingerprints of all applicants and excludes people with felonies and violent misdemeanors on their records or who have been committed to mental hospitals.
Faehner said the new regulations go even further to loosen gun regulations than what was proposed earlier this year by the Bush administration. The earlier proposal, he said, would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons in federal parks only if the state parks allowed it.
California state parks do not allow loaded concealed weapons, but the newest ruling ignores the state parks and says that if state law permits concealed weapons, it is OK in a national park within that state's boundary.
"It appears that people who have been issued concealed carry permits will be able to travel into Yosemite with their guns, but they would be prohibited from entering the state parks in California," Faehner said. "So the bar has been lowered."
The change came despite more than 140,000 comments that were sent to the Department of the Interior after the earlier proposal was made. The overwhelming majority of those who commented opposed changing the regulations to allow concealed firearms in national parks, according to representatives of park rangers, retirees and conservation organizations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., joined numerous organizations, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in denouncing the move.
"This unprecedented rule change wipes out common-sense regulations originally enacted by the Reagan administration," Feinstein said in a statement. "There is simply no good reason why this administration would change a rule that has helped make our national parks among the most popular and safest places in the country."
The regulation, which will be published in the Federal Register Wednesday and go into effect 30 days later, was timed so it would be in the books by the time President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20. Changing it would require a long bureaucratic rule-changing process possibly lasting years. Several groups, including the conservation association, are considering a lawsuit.