Interior Won’t Challenge Rule Prohibiting Guns in Parks

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Friday it will not appeal a federal court ruling that prohibits carrying loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Instead, the Interior Department said it will conduct a full environmental review of an earlier policy that allowed concealed, loaded guns in parks and refuges.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly struck down the gun policy last month. She called the rule, issued in the waning days of the Bush administration, severely flawed and said officials failed to evaluate its possible environmental impacts, as required by law. The judge set an April 20 deadline for the Interior Department to indicate its likely response.

The Bush rule, which took effect in January, allowed visitors to carry a loaded gun into a park or wildlife refuge as long as the person had a permit for a concealed weapon and the state where the park or refuge was located allowed concealed firearms. Previously, guns in parks had been severely restricted.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said Friday that the department is not completely discarding the Bush rule. Instead, she said that officials intend to complete a comprehensive environmental impact statement that analyzes the possible effects of the Bush rule, as well as a range of alternatives.

The review is expected to take several months at least. In the meantime, 26-year-old restrictions that had been in place before the rule change remain in effect.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which filed a lawsuit to block the Bush rule, said he was pleased at the Obama administration’s decision.

“Semiautomatic weapons have no place in the valleys of Yellowstone, on the cliffs of Yosemite or under the torch of the Statue of Liberty,” he said.

Helmke said the government should not spend any more resources analyzing the old Bush rule, but added: “We hope and expect that the Obama administration will conclude that the rule can only make our parks more dangerous and should not be implemented.”

In her 44-page ruling last month, Kollar-Kotelly called the rule-making process used by the Bush Interior Department “astoundingly flawed.” She noted that officials failed to perform an environmental assessment, which calls for the government to take into account such factors as public safety and the “human environment.”

Even without an appeal by the Obama administration, the court case is likely to continue. The National Rifle Association has filed a separate appeal of the ruling. A spokesman has said the group will pursue all legal and legislative avenues “to defend the American people’s right to self-defense.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers who support gun-owners’ rights have introduced legislation to reinstate the Bush rule. Bills introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would allow citizens to carry concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. Crapo’s bill is co-sponsored by Montana Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Democratic Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln as well as Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah. Two dozen House members — all but one Republican — have co-sponsored the House bill. Rep. Glenn Nye of Virginia is the sole Democrat to back the bill.

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