The New York Times on Guns in Parks

By Beacon Staff

The New York Times editorial board weighed in today on the new rule taking effect in about a month that allows people to carry concealed weapons in national parks where the state’s laws allow it. Surprise! The New York Times board vehemently opposes this move, calling the relaxation of the rule “bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association, and it reflects its obsession with overturning even the most sensible restrictions on gun use.” The essay also calls on President-elect Barack Obama to overturn the change upon taking office.

This rule change has been making its way through various levels of government for several months now, and whether you consider it an election year wedge issue ploy by the NRA or another triumph of Second Amendment rights on public lands, it’s an issue that seems to spur reactions from people based more on principle than practice. It’s just flat out unclear, at this point, what the effect on national parks this rule change will have. That’s likely why Beacon columnist Bill Schneider has advised giving this particular issue up as a victory for gun rights advocates and focusing on other, more important matters.

But today’s editorial also sets off the small, internal irritation I occasionally feel when the Times’ editorial board weighs in on Western issues. First off, let me make clear I’m referring to commentary, not Times reporting, which is typically excellent, however much the Old Grey Lady is maligned by critics. As an example, check out Kirk Johnson’s analysis of the timber industry in Tuesday’s edition, datelined in Seeley Lake. The editorials, however, sometimes evoke an unfamiliarity with the issue on the ground, instead reflecting the position of someone in New York City who might want to travel to Montana for vacation once every few years, and doesn’t want to deal with noisy snowmobiles in Yellowstone, or rednecks with guns standing on the shores of Lake McDonald. There’s also a degree of inconsistency when a Times editorial weighs in on issues specific to a single national park but neglects others. Why, for instance, castigate public officials for their management of Yellowstone’s winter use plan, but remain mum on the long-running controversy, which seems to have subsided as of late, regarding BNSF railway’s push to blast in Glacier National Park for avalanche mitigation?

You can say you don’t care what the New York Times editors think, that, as a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate John McCain put it during the campaign, the Times is no longer a legitimate news organization. But one ignores the opinion-making essays of the Times at their peril. You may disagree with stances of various Times editorials when it comes to Western issues, but be assured there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country for whom this paper is their main source of information on such topics.