December 05, 2008

Interior Permits Guns in the National Parks

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable Friends:

In its waning days, the Bush administration has at last given us something to celebrate. And no, I am not simply referring to its imminent departure. Today, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Lyle Laverty, announced new regulations recognizing an individual’s right to bear arms in the national parks and wildlife refuges.

According to the announcement, the new rule, “would allow an individual to carry a concealed weapon in national parks and wildlife refuges if, and only if, the individual is authorized to carry a concealed weapon under state law in the state in which the national park or refuge is located.” Congratulations Coloradans; all you need to do to carry a concealed handgun in the national parks here is to obtain a concealed carry permit recognized in Colorado. Just don’t try it in states which refuse to recognize our permits—such as the entire Left Coast.

This is a rather major development. Previously, possession of a loaded firearm in a national park or wildlife refuge was strictly forbidden by law since 1983. The former regulations demanded that any firearm be kept unloaded, in a locked case, in some inaccessible part of your vehicle, such as the trunk, in order to enter a national park with it at all.

The new changes came about as Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne responded to letters from 51 Senators (Letter 1 / Letter 2) of both parties who pointed out that 48 states now have concealed carry laws and our federal regulations should be updated to reflect that change. Occasionally, even Senators do manage to say something sensible, and it seems Secretary Kempthone agreed.

Naturally, this change in the rules did not come without substantial opposition and, in the published rule, the Department of Interior took the opportunity to respond to many of the concerns raised during the lengthy 90 day comment period. For instance, environmentalists will be pleased to know that most studies conclude that the vast majority of concealed weapons permit holders are not, in fact, poachers. Rather, they tend to carry their weapons for purposes of self defense, and are well aware that any improper use of a firearm is still a punishable offense. The Interior goes on to admit that violent crime is on the rise in national parks, especially near the border and in remote areas, with 8 murders, 43 rapes, 57 robberies, and 274 instances of aggravated assault in 2007. The Department also warns that the mere 3000 officers it has patrolling the millions of remote acres in our national parks cannot possibly guarantee safety. Thus, having a weapon of self defense may not be such a bad idea.

The year 2008 has been good for gun rights and the Second Amendment. First, Justice Scalia gave us the highly entertaining opinion in the District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court affirmed an individual right to keep and bear arms, overturning the D.C. handgun ban. Now we have the Interior opening the national parks to concealed carry permit holders. If you are still looking for stocking stuffers, I cannot think of any better way to commemorate this remarkable year than purchasing handgun training courses for you and your loved ones in preparation for the concealed carry permit application. What better way to ensure a ‘safe’ and happy holiday season?

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