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Interior Officials Release Rule Change to Allow National Park Visitors to Arm Themselves


Interior Department officials finally did what was expected Friday when they published a rule change that will allow national park visitors to arm themselves.

In a decision that surely will delight some and surely disgust others, the Bush administration ignored all past living directors of the National Park Service, the Park Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the National Parks Conservation Association in deciding it would be OK for park visitors to carry weapons if they hold concealed weapons permits and the park they are in is located within a state that allows concealed carry.

“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 common-sense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades,” said Bill Wade, president of the retirees group.

The administration received almost 140,000 comments, the vast majority of which opposed the proposal to allow loaded guns in national parks.

The groups opposed to the rule change say the "final regulation is even more extreme than the administration’s original proposal, and permits concealed and loaded guns to be carried in national parks located in any states with concealed carry laws, not just those that allow guns in their state parks as originally proposed. Only the three national park units in Wisconsin and Illinois, which do not issue concealed carry permits, are excluded."

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there were 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 national park visitors in 2006—making national parks some of the safest places in the United States. Those opposed to the rule change say the new regulation could increase the risk for impulse shootings of wildlife, and risk the safety of visitors and rangers.

Despite the potential affect on national park wildlife and resources, the administration did not conduct an environmental review as required by law, and some believe that opens the door for a lawsuit to halt the rule change.

“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.

"Furthermore, while national parks are amongst the safest areas to be in, the toll on the U.S. Park Ranger is high: 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.”

In a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Dirk 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.”

At the Association of National Park Rangers, President Scot McElveen said “American citizens have traditionally valued the professional opinions of park rangers when it comes to managing national parks. In the professional opinion of ANPR, this regulation change will have negative impacts on park wildlife. Our experience in operating parks creates disbelief that wildlife poaching rates will not increase under the new regulation. We oppose this rash regulatory change.”

Echoing these concerns, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees last month released a report revealing that more than three out of four of 1,400 current and former employees of the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predict that this controversial regulation will have an adverse affect on the ability of agency employees to accomplish their mission. Furthermore, it found that 75 percent of respondents feel that there will be an increase in opportunistic or impulse wildlife killings in parks and refuges.

“With this decision, many state parks across the country will now provide a more protective environment for wildlife and visitors than national parks—once the safest place for families. Furthermore, this decision undermines the ability of national park professionals to manage the parks and runs counter to the overwhelming majority of Americans who wrote in opposition to allowing loaded firearms in our national parks,” said NPCA Associate Director for Park Uses Bryan Faehner.


Editor's note: Today's developments are certainly not surprising. The reaction from those in support of the regulation change and those against it is not surprising, either. However, please respect the opinions that are espoused, even if you do not agree with them, and do not resort to gratuitous attacks. As long as those two simple rules can be adhered to, the Traveler is interested in hearing what you have to say.

I have been a hunter and gun advocate all my life but could not disagree with this more. I see no need to carry a gun in a Nat Park. This can only lead to needless human and animal suffering. What can you expect from a lamme duck president like Bush.

Kurt, I thank you for the privilege of commenting on this site and am glad to see you taking a stand on ad hominem attacks. (I again apologize for falling prey to this trap in my earlier comments here.)

However, I don't believe that we should necessarily respect opinions. I've quoted Jonathan Rauch before, and here's a paragraph from Kindly Inquisitors that I have repeated for the last dozen years:

. . . only after an idea has survived checking is it deserving of respect. Not long ago, I heard an activist say at a public meeting that her opinion deserved at least respect. The audience gave her a big round of applause. But she and they had it backwards. Respect was the most, not the least, that she could have demanded for her opinion. Except insofar as an opinion earns its stripes in the science game, it is entitled to no respect whatever. The point matters, because respectability is the coin in which liberal science rewards ideas that are duly put up for checking and pass the test. You may not get rich being show to be right, you may not even become famous, and you almost certainly will not be loved, but you will be paid in the specie of respectability. That is why it is so important that creationists and alien-watchers and radical Afrocrentrists and white supremacists be granted every entitlement to speak but no entitlement to have their opinions respected. They should expect, if for any reason (including minority status) they refuse to submit their ideas for checking by public criticism, that their opinions will be ignored or ridiculed—and rightly so. Respect is no opinion’s birthright. People, yes, are entitled to a certain degree of basic respect by dint of being human. But to grant any such claim to ideas is to raid the treasury of science and throw its capital to the winds.

The U.S. is distinguished from the rest of the world in that its citizens have a lawful right to be armed in most places. We should value this privalege and freedom which so many under communism or oppressive governments and dictators do not have.

However, criminal acts are never condoned and should always be punished. And, criminals will be armed whether the law forbids it or not. So I see absolutely no deterent to crime by denying law-abiding citizens the right to be armed and protect themselves if the need arises. Should someone attempt to rob or hurt you in a national park, do you think the park rangers are going to prevent it?

Many citizens carry a firearm now when traveling, or camping. It only makes sense to take precautions when going out into sparsely populated and often desolate areas. Similar reasoning applies in not picking up hitchhikers, and locking your doors at night when at home. Why should one be defenseless when traveling? And, many who are vacationing stop in national parks along the way. Citizens certainly carry concealed weapons in their vehicles now, why not recognize their rights under the Constitution to do so in full light of the law?

I applaud the right and recognition of a citizen to carry a firearm in national and state parks.


Frustrating. But honestly, we saw it coming. The track record of this administration shows that it consistently pushes expert's views and the view of the public aside and yields to loud/powerful minorities.

Where is this going to take the parks? First, I agree that this rule change will eventually be reversed (perhaps it will follow a path similar to that of the Yellowstone Snowmobile debacle). However, before that happens people will be confused, wildlife will be unnecessarily killed, and rangers/employees in parks will face questionable and dangerous situations.

I have been a gun owner and licensed carrier since I was 18, when I turned 21 I became a police officer. I have visited many parks across our country over the years with my wife and kids. One comment I have shared with my wife was that I would like to have my gun with me when we are out on walks and just driving around the parks. I am away of the different issues that officals will face, but if I had my choice I would prefer to have my own protection with me at all times. If people are going to do illegal acts, a law will not prevent this action from happening wether it's one way or the other. As I have visited many parks, I have never seen a ranger on any of the trails and very few, probably no more than 3 the entire time I have been in the diffrent parks I have visited. I believe everyone should be able to protect themselves if the are responsible to due so. As with any firearm, I believe you shold be responsible in order to carry and follow all laws and regulations for the area you are in. If people want to poach they will, and if people want to carry in the parks, they will which I'm sure they have been already. We just need to be very responsible and punish the illegal actions of the criminals that shouldn't be carrying in the first place.

YES!!! It's about time that our citizenry's right to protect themselves doesn't end at the park gate!

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