Here's the latest . . . looks like the bill will get shot down, pardon the pun. . .
Park ranger group opposes gun proposal
By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian
- Thousands of national park rangers, police and retirees are speaking out against a plan to allow loaded guns in national parks - a proposal first put forward by Congress and now made possible by the White House.
“It's a terrible idea,” said Doug Morris, who has 40 years' experience with the National Park Service, from law-enforcement ranger all the way up to park superintendent. He's also a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a widely respected group whose 640 members have a combined 19,000 years working in the nation's parks.
At a Monday news conference, Morris joined the Association of National Park Rangers and the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as the National Parks Conservation Association, in opposing any plan that would put weapons on the hips of national park visitors.
Previously, an Oklahoma senator tried to place an amendment on a public lands bill allowing loaded guns in parks. When that measure drew political opposition, a stand-alone bill was crafted that would change Park Service rules to allow guns in parks.
At the same time those congressional wheels were turning, pressure was coming to bear on the Department of the Interior to take up the cause from inside. Some 50 senators - including Montana Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester - penned a letter to Interior, asking that the rules be changed.
And according to NPCA legislative representative Bryan Faehner, “There has been pressure, top down, from the White House.”
On Friday, Interior announced it would open the current rules to scrutiny, taking public comment on a possible “update” to park gun regulations.
Proponents argue guns are necessary for personal protection. They also say rules for gun use should be consistent across federal lands - on Forest Service lands, for instance, hunting is allowed.
Proponents also have said it is a fundamental Second Amendment issue, and rules prohibiting guns in parks infringe on those citizen rights.
Under current rules, guns are allowed in parks, but must be unloaded and properly stored. The National Rifle Association - which helped write the letter sent by senators to Interior - has argued existing regulations are overly burdensome.
Those rules date back to the mid-1930s, and were most recently reauthorized during the Reagan administration.
Faehner and other critics say allowing loaded guns in parks would put wildlife at risk, as well as endangering both people's safety and the “family friendly” reputation of national parks.
Morris said “parks are special places,” and predicted any public comment period will result in an overwhelming rejection of guns in parks. In his 40 years with the National Park Service, Morris said he'd seen animals shot on “impulse” when urban visitors - who were breaking the gun rules - felt threatened by surprise encounters with wildlife.
Putting guns in parks, he said, illustrates a “total disregard for how society values our national parks.”
Scott McElveen, president of the Association of National Park Rangers, agreed, and added his organization's 11,000 members to the growing list of those opposed to any rule changes.
He worries about wildlife being killed or injured, and about park employees and visitors, too.
George Durkee, director of the Ranger Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police, said there is “absolutely no practical reason” for changing current rules, noting “how panicked some visitors get when they see a wild animal.”
He imagines scared campers, hearing noises in the night, firing rounds from tents in crowded campgrounds.
And guns provide only a false sense of security in the woods, Durkee said, because “getting shot is just going to piss off a 500-pound grizzly bear.”
In fact, parks are some of the safest places in the country, he said, and are refuges not only for wildlife but also for visitors.
Hunters, the rangers said, already can pass easily through parks with their guns, so long as they're unloaded and packed away.
“It's just not a problem,” Durkee said. Adding loaded firearms to campgrounds, however, “changes the whole tenor of how a family area feels.”
In Morris' estimation, allowing guns in parks “truly opens a Pandora's box of possibilities.”
Nevertheless, the Bush administration has said it will publish a draft of its revised regulations by April 30, opening the issue to public comment.
In announcing that move to the Senate, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said the draft would take into account recent changes to laws governing guns in federal buildings, as well as gun laws in individual states.
It will, he said, preserve the “values of our public lands, including the safety and enjoyment of all visitors, while enhancing local control and respecting an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms.”
Tom Keirnan, however, agreed with Morris' prediction that the public ultimately will reject any move by Interior to allow loaded guns in parks.
The president of NPCA said his group is “convinced when the review process is complete, it will show the existing regulations are not unduly burdensome, but are limited, reasonable and necessary to enable park rangers to carry out their duties of protecting the millions of families who visit our parks every year, and the wildlife that inhabits them.”
Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at email@example.com.