Gunning for our National Treasures

Our National Parks could become dangerous places if a group of 47 pro-gun senators have their way. In a December 2007  letter  to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Max Baucus (D-MT) and their colleagues requested the repeal of a Reagan-era regulation that prohibits guns from being transported through National Park lands unless they are unloaded and safety stored. Their proposed changes would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry their handguns on most National Park lands. Long guns, including assault weapons, could in many cases be openly carried.

Not content to wait for a response from the administration, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) will soon seek to attach an amendment to a related bill, S. 2483, to codify these changes in law and override the need for any executive action on the matter.

A broad coalition of conservation and environmental groups have stepped forward to oppose the Coburn amendment, including the National Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal order of Police, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, and The Wilderness Society.

As stewards of our parks, these organizations understand that gun proliferation can only exacerbate the already pervasive effects of poaching and park destruction that threaten to permanently alter our national heritage. Without sensible gun regulations, individuals who would do harm to visitors, wildlife and park property will be able to more easily evade prosecution. Add to this the post-9/11 threat of terrorism, and it becomes even more difficult to understand how Senator Coburn and his colleagues believe that loosening gun regulations will make our national parks safer.

This reminds us of a terrible story that appeared in the national news last year when an  Illinois family was terrorized in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (land maintained by the National Forest Service) by a group of handgun and assault-rifle toting young men. In one night of alcohol-soaked and motorboat-aided revelry, these men harassed upwards of 80 people throughout the park, eventually forcing a man, his daughter, and his grandson to hide in the woods for fear of death. The men now face 79 criminal charges for their actions.

The last thing the people who maintain and protect our national parks need is politically-motivated legislative tinkering to make their jobs more difficult and complex. Badlands National Park Superintendent Paige Baker expresses this sentiment succinctly:   €œThe system is working as it is. When people come out here, it’s to look at the wildlife and the natural beauty, not to shoot.”

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