Guns, Parkies and Plastic

By Beacon Staff

This week I planned to write about Henry Waxman’s crazy “energy bill.” But then the news hit that the U.S. Senate passed credit card “reform” legislation by a vote of 90-5. Turns out conservative Senator Tom “Earmark Killer” Coburn of Oklahoma (R), with help from Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia), managed to weld an amendment applying state gun rights to National Park Service (NPS) and Wildlife Refuge units into the credit card bill. In short, “Guns In Parks.”

Coburn’s amendment passed 67-29 on May 12. I suppose some senators truly believe citizens have a right to self-defense, no matter where. But I know for sure that others are, yep, scared of the National Rifle Association and other gunny voters. Now, we can’t know for sure why Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester voted right, but they did, by jiminy!

So, I was enjoying a good cackle over the spam I got from Sarah Brady’s bunch, howling about guns “including AK-47’s” taking over the parks. Go ahead, roll your eyes.

But then, NewWest.Net writer Joan McCarter blasted Coburn with both barrels in her commentary “The Cynical Gun Debate.” In a nutshell, McCarter hammered Coburn’s amendment as “extreme,” “doing the bidding” of the banks and the NRA. Then she blew off any discussion of crime in national parks as “specious.”

Well, agency data for 2006 (only on cases handled by agency law enforcement, not other cops) listed 16 murders, one manslaughter, 41 rapes and two attempted rapes, 92 robberies, 16 kidnaps, and 333 aggravated assaults. Wow. I thought grizzlies were all I had to worry about, and carry for.

To bolster her “specious” argument, McCarter linked to a Daily Oklahoman article featuring remarks by one Scot McElveen, a retired ranger and president of the Association of National Park Rangers. McElveen didn’t debate the statistics cited above, but reporter Jim Myers passed on his counterclaim “the rate of violent crime in the parks comes to 1.65 per 100,000 park visitors. The national crime rate comes to 469.2 per 100,000 people, McElveen said.”

But there’s a problem with McElveen’s assertion. According to Park Service visitor data (http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewReport.cfm), 274 million Americans visited NPS units in 2008, spending a total of 1.213 billion visitor hours, or 4.4 hours per visit.

Surprisingly few (61 million) visits were to national parks. Further, 92 million visits to the “urban area” facility category outnumber the 83 million “rural area” visits.

It seems a visit to urban park units, say Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where you visit the Liberty Bell, buy a trinket, and leave, is as much or more a part of the NPS experience as dances with Yellowstone wolves.

The trouble here is that Mr. McElveen based his crime rate claim on a 4.4-hour visit, rather than the full calendar year upon which the national crime rate is based. To fix that, we have to take a year’s 8,760 hours and divide in our 4.4 hour visits. It takes 1,990 visits to equal a year in the real world, and our adjusted annual crime rate is 3,283 per 100,000, SIX TIMES more dangerous than the national crime rate!

Wow! Even if park crimes only happen when the gates are open eight hours a day, we’re still looking at a crime rate DOUBLE the national average.

Surprised? I was, but after looking at the facts there’s no surprise. Many NPS units are urban in nature, not pristine wilderness. Parks in and of themselves are not crime-free … New York’s Central Park comes to mind. And now, so does Yellowstone.

We’ve heard about “guns in parks” for months now. Yet it turns out the first discussion of actual crime data I recall seeing in “mainstream” print was nearly made worthless by spin from a “player” seeking to minimize a clearly-valid, not “specious,” question about park crime. Even worse, our player is a former public servant supposedly representing “good guy” rangers. Worst, no reporter has called the bluff.

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