Feds Defend Guns in Nat’l Parks

Gun control advocates want change, but the Justice Department defends Bush-era ruling
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Gun control advocates want change, but the Justice Department defends Bush-era ruling

Better make room in that pack of yours for a gun, a box of shells, and maybe even a cool-looking leather holster: After much concern, President Obama will support a midnight regulation change from ol’ Dubya that allows concealed firearms in national parks.

The Justice Department chose to defend the last-minute firearm rule in the face of a lawsuit filed by environmental and gun-control groups trying to overturn it.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees consider the ruling a huge mistake by the executive branch. They fear it could discourage certain groups from visiting the parks and contribute to a generally unsafe environment.

Since the Reagan era, guns had to be dismantled and unloaded before they could be taken inside parks. But as of Jan. 9, visitors can now carry concealed and loaded guns into any of reserve or national parks managed by the National Park Service (as long as it doesn’t violate any standing statelaws).

The Brady Campaign, one of the nation’s largest grassroots gun-control groups, felt the rule passed too quickly and without a full review of potential consequences. In a press release from last week, the group called the ruling “unlawful” because it involved no “analysis on the rule’s impacts on environment and park visitors’ safety.”

The Brady Campaign’s president, Paul Helmke, told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the law is rooted in “bad policy and procedure.”

But the Justice Department doesn’t want to budge: Friday, the department attempted to block a preliminary injunction of the rule, commenting that the ruling will “not alter the environmental status quo, and will now not have any significant impacts on public health and safety.”

The Justice Department’s decision is far from the last word. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked for an internal review and assessment of the ruling, and whether concealed weapons in parks will create any environmental and safety impact.

Monday, Salazar said he wants the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a 90-day review of any environmental considerations associated with the passing of this new rule.

Regardless of your position on the rule change, the fact remains that most national park and reserves have a relatively low rate of violence and animal attacks. National Park Service Director Mary Bomar reports that since 2002, there have been only two reported fatalities and 16 ‘serious injuries’ as a result of wild-animal encounters.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reportfound the same when it comes to human-on-human violence in national parks. According to the report, there were only 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 visitors in 2006—which means national parks are statistically some of the safest places in the country. It’s better than Detroit, at least.



UPDATE-

Journalist Randi Minetor points out that the comments made about allowing guns in national parks were actually made by Bush-era Interior officials, but were released in 2009, after Obama took office. President Obama seems to have been misquoted. His Interior Department still plans to conduct a review of the matter. We will report here as soon as those updates happen.

--Matt Draper

Justice dept. defends Bush rule on guns (Washington Post)