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Yellowstone National Park: Poster Child For Goofy Gun Laws


For all, including Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who thought the rules change concerning carrying concealed weapons in national parks would simplify life, Yellowstone National Park is proving the case of some of what's wrong with that rule change.

The problem, you ask? One park, three states, three different sets of gun regulations. Indeed, apparently Idaho has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country when it comes to honoring another state's concealed weapons permit, while Wyoming has reciprocal agreements on concealed carry with 23 other states, Montana with 40.

Cory Hatch of the Jackson Hole News & Guide points out that while a gun owner from West Virginia could legally enter Yellowstone in the Bechler region in the park's southwestern corner, which spills over into Idaho, once that individual crosses into Wyoming they'd be breaking the law since Wyoming doesn't honor West Virginia's gun permits. But if that same individual made it quietly up to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is in Montana, they'd be legal once again.

Beyond the state laws, Yellowstone officials still are trying to sort out exactly what is a "federal building," which are off-limits to guns. While it's obvious a visitor center is a federal facility, how are lodges -- which in most cases technically are owned by the federal government but run by concessionaires -- categorized?

And what about trailhead restrooms? If the later is off-limits to guns, what will an armed hiker, who just came off the trail, do with their weapon if they want to use that restroom?

While Secretary Kempthorne applauded this rule change as a step towards simplifying gun laws in the parks, Yellowstone's situation would seem to run contrary to that interpretation. And, of course, there are other parks that span multiple states: Death Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, Natchez Trail Parkway. Blue Ridge Parkway just to name four.


And, here is another thing - judicial jurisdiction in Yellowstone is in the federal court. I guess they are supposed to apply to state law to the federal regulation, but it seems to me there would have to be all kinds of complications involved with that. How do they figure out punishment, etc.? Yellowstone is a unique judicial circumstance. Does anyone know how that's supposed to work?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I thought Yellowstone National Park did not recognize state border lines within its boundaries since it was established as a National Park a decade and more before Wyoming, Montana and Idaho became states :-)

Actually, Jim, Yellowstone is not a unique circumstance. Some other parks have what is colloquially called "exclusive" Federal jurisdiction (though to be technically correct each actually has partial legislative jurisdiction but let's not get hung up over terms.) A famous example being the original portions of what is now Denali National Park.

Under the Assimilated Crimes Act, in these areas (and in many others with concurrent Federal jurisdiction also) state laws that do not conflict with existing Federal statutes can be cited as Federal law for the purpose of criminal prosecution. But that issue is not in play here.

Don't get wrapped around state law. The way the change in the regulation was written (quoted below) was that the carrying of concealed firearms is allowed by Federal regulation in accordance with the laws of the state. Accordance being defined as "in conformity."

State law isn't being applied in the parks by this change. Our regulation is simply conforming our practice to what the state practices. Sort of. Allegedly.

(h) Notwithstanding any other provision in this Chapter, a person may possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded, and operable firearms within a national park area in accordance with the laws of the state in which the national park area, or that portion thereof, is located, except as otherwise prohibited by applicable Federal law.

And Yellowstone has always recognized state boundaries within the park for a multitude of purposes. Applying Wyoming sales tax, for one. Deciding which state traffic codes should be adopted in any given area. Deciding which Department of Environmental Quality to consult with over water and sewage issues.

And, of course, there are other parks that span multiple states: Death Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, Natchez Trail Parkway. Blue Ridge Parkway just to name four.

Lake Meade National Recreation Area, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Gulf Islands National Seashore, St Croix National Scenic Riverway, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Harper's Ferry National Park, Delaware Water Gap NRA, Gateway National Recreation the patchwork quilt surrounding DC, Virginia, and Maryland...

That this message didn't get out is either a failure on someone's part, or a resounding success on the NRA's part.

Surely it is not asking too much that our LE rangers know the most relevant laws for the states they are likely to operate in, and know what state they are in when in a border area? I would have thought this was standard practice. Else, how can they call for assistance in case of need? How can they assist other local LE agencies when asked?

Actually, anonymous, the point is whether park visitors will be familiar with what state they're in and what laws apply. Is there a sign along the West Boundary Trail delineating the Wyoming-Idaho border, or one along the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail to denote the Wyoming-Montana border?

More so, under the old rule things were much simpler. Visitors could not carry guns, concealed or otherwise, in the parks, period. Visitors knew it. Rangers knew it. If a ranger saw someone with a gun, they knew that individual was up to something illegal. Under the revised regs, it's not exactly that simple any more.

As for the laws of the state the LE is operating in, in Yellowstone's case then the rangers would have to know which other 23 states Wyoming has reciprocal agreements with on concealed carry and which 40 Montana has agreements with.

Regardless of whether you support the change in regs, how anyone can describe the new rule as simpler than the old one is baffling.

CENTERVILLE, Utah - The man escaped with a few cuts to his arm, but the toilet made out much worse.

Police say a man's gun fell out of its holster while he pulled up his pants after using the bathroom at a Carl's Jr. restaurant Tuesday. The gun fired when it hit the floor and shattered the commode.

A few shards of porcelain cut the man's arm, and a woman in an adjacent restroom who was frightened by the noise reported she was having chest pain. Both people were checked at the scene and released.

Police say they confiscated the 26-year-old man's firearm while they review the incident. The man had a concealed weapons permit. No charges are being filed.


Rick Smith

Sounds to me like the "training" for CCL holders touted by some proponents of concealed carry failed to address good techniques for securing his "piece".

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good - or competent.

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