Let National Park Gun Rule Stand

By Beacon Staff

In early December President George W. Bush kept his promise and came through for gun owners who supported him by loosening rules allowing loaded, concealed guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Now, President-elect Barrack Obama needs to keep his promise and come through for gun owners who supported him by allowing this rule to stand as currently written.

The new administrative rule went into effect on Jan. 9 and applies to all 48 states that issue concealed carry permits; only Illinois and Wisconsin don’t. It replaces a regulation brought in during the Reagan administration that allowed guns in national parks, but only if they were unloaded and inaccessible.

Back on Sept. 4, I devoted my column to trying to convince park advocacy groups that fighting this rule wasn’t worth their time and money when they had much bigger fish to fry such as securing adequate funding for the National Park Service (NPS), various park expansion plans, many serious wildlife issues, curbing rampant fee increases and addressing the dramatic decline in park visitation, to name a few.

But paranoia over the rule drowned out my little voice in the wilderness. The ink on the Federal Register publication of the rule had hardly dried before opponents, including the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) started making plans to encourage the incoming administration to reverse the rule. A few days later, The New York Times joined the chorus, urging Obama to overturn the rule.

On Dec. 30, the opposition got serious when the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s largest anti-gun groups, sued the Department of the Interior to reverse the rule and asked for an injunction to keep the rule from going into effect. The Brady Campaign obviously sees the national park rule as a key symbolic battle in its war against guns.

Then, a week later, the NPCA and CNPSR followed suit, so to speak, and filed their own lawsuit to reverse the rule. I didn’t compare the suits word for word, but the basis of both sound similar. Interestingly, though, that the anti-gun group would get to the courthouse door before the pro-park groups.

Regrettably, my little plea to concentrate on something important has definitely been drowned out by the voices of members of these groups who have been convinced the national parks are somehow less safe than they were last week.

I say “regrettably,” because the rule won’t change much. People who feel strongly about having their guns for personal safety have been taking them into national parks for decades. Every park ranger knows it, and it has caused minimal if any crime or gun-related accidents. Think about it. Rangers at entrance stations don’t even ask park visitors if they have guns –partly because they don’t care, but mostly because Reagan’s gun rule was impractical, if not impossible, to enforce.

So, the impact of the Bush rule will be invisible. All that changes is the status quo becoming the legal status quo, and as far as I’m concerned, it should be legal. Why should taking a loaded, concealed handgun into a national park be any different than taking it into a national forest or a state park?

So, since this rule is no big deal, I should write about something important, right?

Not quite. I have a dog in this fight.

I’m out there on the Internet with a big bet that our new President and the new, blue Congress won’t pass any gun laws because they face too many global crises to worry about gun issues – and of course, they also hope to stay in power more than four years. Parting ways with some of my gun-toting readers, I’d like to keep this pro-planet administration in power long enough to institute some positive changes, so I don’t want to let a shallow issue like this new rule distract our leaders away from solving global crises and then help defeat them in 2012.

To date, President-elect Obama has managed to send out several signs that he isn’t sincere about his promise to gun owners that they have nothing to fear from him. His transition team still asks applicants if they own guns and his Web site, Change.Gov, still has a strong, anti-gun policy statement on it, and his attorney general appointee, Eric Holder, has a worrisome track record on guns.

Perhaps those signs are nit picking, but they sure have the shorts of hardcore gun owners in a knot and have given firearms manufacturers a major economic stimulus at no expense to the taxpayers. Let’s balance these negatives out with a positive and give the gun guys some relief. An easy, quick way to do this would be refusing to reverse the new national park gun rule and putting up a good defense in the upcoming court battles. The new administration has a lot to do, but here’s something big that can be done without doing anything.