Right now, visitors can carry a gun in a National Park as long as it is unloaded and stored. These are the rules that many Americans have been following for decades. So, if you hunt in a National Forest and cross into a park, that is how you have proceeded.
This year, the Bush Administration announced its intent to change these rules. It should not surprise anyone to know that the administration is altering the rules without any analysis of how this might affect visitors and wildlife.
At a minimum, the public deserves some explanation about the need and affects of this change.
The proposed rule would allow loaded, concealed firearms in most National Parks. It does not consider potential impacts on wildlife, cultural resources, public safety or enforcement complexities. Because the Department of the Interior did not do its homework in promulgating this rule, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees published a report raising the issues that the Interior Department should have analyzed prior to proposing the rule.
In a survey of about 475 present and former National Park and Wildlife Refuge personnel, a resounding majority agreed that the proposed rule would be detrimental to these wild places. Over 73 percent anticipated that proposal will adversely affect their park or refuge’s ability to accomplish the unit’s purpose; over 80 percent anticipated an adverse effect on visitor safety or enjoyment; over 75 percent anticipated an increase in opportunistic or impulse killing of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; and over 83 percent anticipated the proposal will increase the overall level of complexity for management of Parks and Refuges.
Because the federal rule would be contingent on state law regarding concealed weapons, Park and Refuge administrators would have to deal with a patchwork of rules, whereas the current, long-standing rule represents uniform federal policy.
What would happen in Parks or Refuges that straddle state boundaries with conflicting rules? Also, would the Department of the Interior get into the business of issuing concealed weapons permits? These are crucial management questions that should have been analyzed prior to drafting this policy change.
The Interior Department has not yet issued a final rule on this issue, and hopefully they will take the clearly anticipated challenges presented to them into consideration prior to doing so.