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Updated: Effort In Maine To Restrict Guns From National Park Units Falls Short of Goal


The governor of Maine has legislation before him that would ban open carry, but allow concealed carry, of firearms in Acadia National Park. NPS photo of view of Jordon Pond from North Bubble by Sheridan Steele.

A concerted effort in Maine to draw the line on national park visitors arming themselves has fallen short of the original goal. But the measure Governor John Baldacci signed this week will at least outlaw open carry in Acadia National Park.

Among the groups seeking a complete ban on visitors carrying weapons in all national park units in Maine was the Friends of Acadia, a non-profit park advocacy group that never saw the wisdom in the weapons legislation that U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, deftly wielded through Congress by attaching the rule change to a popular credit card bill.

While the initial intent behind the senator's amendment was to allow the carrying of concealed weapons in national parks -- if the surrounding state's laws provided for concealed carry by permitted gun owners -- the measure wound up allowing open carry as well. For years the Park Service had allowed legally licensed weapons owners to bring their firearms through parks, as long as they were broken down and out of reach. Many Second Amendment supporters railed against that provision, and the National Rifle Association helped Sen. Coburn rewrite the rules.

At Friends of Acadia, officials never saw a need for a rules change.

“The previous rules were working perfectly fine here in Acadia, and I think that for, especially for the rangers, the new firearms laws present a challenge," Stephanie Clement, conservation director for the friends group, told the Traveler back in February. The old rule, she went on, made it easier for rangers to spot possible poachers; anyone carrying a firearm could be stopped. Under the rule change, it would no longer be that simple, she said.

“Really, it was a very effective anti-poaching tool. It was an opportunity for a point of contact, so that point of contact will be gone," said Ms. Clement.

The effort to stop the rule change from impacting the units of the National Park System in Maine resulted in legislation that, as initially drafted, would have banned visitors from carrying firearms in Acadia, along the Appalachian Trail, and at St. Croix Island International Historic Site. However, by the time the measure reached Gov. Baldacci's desk, it had been rewritten to apply only to Acadia, and in that park concealed carry, but not open carry, would be allowed if a firearm owner was properly licensed.

Still, Ms. Clement said Wednesday that the final version was better than opening the park to open carry of firearms.

"While it's not ideal that concealed weapons will be allowed in the park under the new legislation, we're pleased with the outcome for several reasons: One, the bill maintains the park rangers' ability to deter opportunistic poaching because they can contact visitors who are openly carrying firearms. The bill also still allows hunters to travel through the park as long as their firearms are unloaded, broken down and stored or not easily accessible," said Ms. Clement.

"Two, The bill is intended to protect public safety by preventing people who have not had firearms safety training from legally carrying weapons in the park. Those with concealed weapons permits in Maine have to demonstrate that they have received firearms safety training within five years, but other gun owners have not been required to go through such training," she continued. "Three, for those visitors to Acadia who may be concerned about their safety in the proximity of loaded firearms in the park, this bill regulates the possession of firearms in a way that should help reassure them.

"Ultimately, passage of this legislation is important because Acadia National Park is a safe, family-oriented destination without need for loaded firearms. The Maine Legislature confirmed this, using the provisions of the federal legislation to specify what firearms regulations they believed should apply to Acadia National Park."

At the National Parks Conservation Association, officials saw the finalized legislation as a step in the right direction and better than no change to the federal rule change.

"We applaud Maine state Senators Dennis Damon and Stan Gerzovsky for seeking stronger legislation that would have prohibited firearms in Acadia National Park," said Alexander Brash, NPCA's Northeast regional director. "Though Maine's proposed legislation falls short of providing the same level of safeguards that were in effect for wildlife and visitors at all national parks before February of this year when Congress made effective a new law that NPCA adamantly opposed, Maine's legislation is an important step back in the right direction.

"NPCA hopes that regulations similar to those created in the Reagan era, which simply required gun owners to keep their firearms unloaded and stored, will be re-enacted by Congress once again for the entire National Park System in the near future."

The measure will take effect three months after the Maine Legislature adjourns it's current session, so it should be effect in mid-July.


There have been times when someone with a gun could have made a positive difference in a bad situation so a licensed carrier in the parks does not, in my mind, constitute a threat. Only time will tell if concealed carry is good or bad and there certainly has been more than enough said on both sides of the issue.

"Friends of Acadia ... seeking a complete ban on visitors carrying weapons in all national park units in Maine ..."

A good thing they are seeking that ban, given the widespread mayhem that's ensued in National Parks across the country, since the prohibition on bearing arms there has been repealed. (/sarcasm)

Given the data that has emerged from decades of provisions for lawful defensive carry across the country (including state and now national parks), what has become perfectly clear to me is that those who oppose such carry do so only on personal philosophical grounds, not on evidence-based argument or even rational basis.

Friends of Acadia does many good things, and I too support the conservation and appreciation of wild, natural places. But they oppose this new repeal not because they have rational argument, but simply because they don't like the idea of someone lawfully carrying a firearm there (or, possibly, anywhere else). I am sorry for their frustration, but in this country, we don't lobby to remove others' fundamental rights simply because we don't like those rights. We value freedom and individual choice, and that is precisely what the repeal of these prohibitions represent.

Carl said: "But they oppose this new repeal not because they have rational argument, but simply because they don't like the idea of someone lawfully carrying a firearm there (or, possibly, anywhere else). I am sorry for their frustration, but in this country, we don't lobby to remove others' fundamental rights simply because we don't like those rights."

The question is WHY don't they like it. For me, seeing someone walking around with a gun instantly changes the atmosphere of that place. (Personal watercraft and ORVs are other ones.) For rangers, as the article notes, it's a management issue.

Obviously, this is not about removing someone's fundamental rights--there are plenty of places where weapons (probably reasonably) aren't allowed. As is the case, for other constitutional rights.

No Crime in Nat Parks? Get your head out the the sand (/sarcasm) and read the numerous reports here:

I carry a gun because I can't carry a cop!

Who's suggesting there is no crime in national parks?

It's funny how as soon as the federal government gets control of land, it becomes a no-no for anyone BUT government types to carry weapons there. Last I knew, we had gotten rid of Kings here so why was 'the King's Land' off limits to Citizens carrying guns in the first place? We, The People are the Rulers of this country and as such, We The People should ALWAYS have more rights than our Employees. That includes the right to carry a gun wherever we are able.

On crime in national parks, I would like to cite one example. A volunteer backcountry ranger stationed on the wilderness Queets River in Olympic National Park heard volleys of gunfire upriver. He hiked up close enough to get binoculars on the scene. Three campers were target-shooting the migrating salmon leaping the rapids in the river. The ranger retreated and radioed for a law enforcement officer to be sent in from Park HQ.

Gunfire continued throughout the night. The ranger again checked, to find our campers had used kerosene to set a large logjam in the middle of the river on fire, so they could continue their sport of shooting leaping salmon.

The law enforcement ranger must have left home well before dawn, driven 3 hours to the trailhead, forded the waist-deep river, and hiked 2 hours in, to arrive on scene in mid-morning when all was quiet. They found the campers asleep in their tents, the area strewn with empty beer cans and shells. The logjam had burned out.

The only charge the LEO could cite them on was on what he witnessed with his own eyes when he arrived, and could testify to in court: possession of firearms in a National Park. Turns out these visitors had done the same thing 3 years in a row, and a local judge let them off with a nominal fine which was obviously no deterrent.

And now they can come back every year and do it again, with no charges. By God, ain't it wunnerful that we live in a Free Country built on Second Amendment Rights!

Maybe not so wonderful for the elk, the salmon, the eagles, or for other Park visitors...

It's the rangers who have to deal with loud domestic disputes in campgrounds that I don't envy. We had a Forest Service Ranger shot dead here last year, with no warning the very moment she stepped out of her vehicle. No reason Park Rangers should be immune, after all, it's a matter of "Fundamental Rights", isn't it?

I suggest a compromise: allow only women to carry firearms in National Parks. That would avoid well over 90% of the problems with firearms, which aren't guns themselves, but those who... And to those boys who feel they need a firearm to feel safe in a National Park: let them bring an armed women along to protect them!

For the life of me I can't imagine why anyone would want to restrict my ability to protect myself and more importantly, my family.

I carry a firearm for one purpose and that is to use a life saving tool in the event that all else fails. I have a responsibility, and obligation, as a father and husband to protect. Just because you are derelict in your duties is no reason to infringe upon my God-given right to defend life.

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