Visitors to Yellowstone and other parks may soon be able to pack more firepower than just bear spray. That's because 50 senators recently petitioned Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to alter current federal rules–which now require firearms to be unloaded and locked in a vehicle within park boundaries–to reflect the gun laws of each state. Supporters claim that guns will offer protection against both animal and human predators. Opponents believe that relaxing gun laws will increase wildlife poaching and violent interactions between park visitors. A rule change could go into effect as early as next year, but first, the Interior Department is accepting public comments (starting April 30). To register your opinion online, go to regulations.gov.
Banning firearms in national parks makes as much sense as prohibiting compasses: They are both necessary safety tools. Ambushes by aggressive animals like mountain lions or bears can happen without any warning. And then there are human predators, especially in more urban and trafficked park properties like the Appalachian Trail. Because the response time for rangers or police can be hours or days, people must be allowed to protect themselves. Law-abiding people who undergo background checks to carry a firearm for self-defense are not potential poachers, but reasonable and safety-conscious individuals.
Gary Marbut President, Montana Shooting Sports Association
In my six years as chief ranger at Sequoia National Park, I never heard a single complaint from a visitor who wanted to carry a loaded gun. This issue is a ploy by the National Rifle Association to add a notch to its gun belt. Dangerous animal encounters are rare occurrences in parks, and mixing guns with inexperienced, scared visitors will likely increase the opportunistic killing of wildlife. Plus, plinking a grizzly with the bullets from most handguns would just make it madder. Our national parks are among the safest places in America. Revising the gun rule would change the atmosphere of our parks for the worse.
Doug Morris, The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees; Former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park