Telling the Second Amendment to Take a Hike

On January 9, 2009, the National Park Service was tasked to live by the same rules that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service and the rest of the nation use. On January 10, 2009, the earth rotated. The sun rose. The Constitution still worked. Law-abiding citizens were still, well, law-abiding. Apparently, we all survived.

Starting in the 1980s, a significant number of states passed laws which allowed law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms. Most federal land agencies acknowledged these rights and respected the 2nd Amendment. But the National Park Service (NPS) failed to keep pace with these developments and for years banned firearms on NPS land — in clear violation of the 2nd Amendment. This occurred despite an executive order by President Clinton that reinforced the long-held understanding that federal regulations should be implemented in a manner that respects “state prerogatives and authority.” The Interior Department has finally responded with new regulations that, as of last week, now allow law-abiding Americans the same rights inside our national parks as they have outside the national parks.

The old Park Service restrictions resulted in harassment of good people on roads or trails that may wind in and out of park service jurisdiction. A recent case on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia illustrates the problem.

Damon Gettier, a businessman, Army veteran and concealed weapons permit holder under Virginia law, was convicted of violating Park Service gun restrictions. The Blue Ridge Parkway, widely used as a highway in Virginia, also serves as a scenic overlook in the Shenandoah National Park. Some of the most heavily traveled roads in Virginia are managed by the Park Service. In fact, it would take a lot of careful planning to drive through the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. without crossing a Park Service road. No signs warn drivers, and given the volume of traffic on these roads, the regulations were essentially unenforceable except for an unlucky few. Mr. Gettier was one of the unlucky few. Oh, and he was a former law enforcement officer, too.

I applaud the Department of Interior for updating the mindless, out-dated restrictions that resulted in the above travesty. Those who administer park lands must fully implement this new rule. This should not be onerous. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administer hundreds of millions of acres in which carrying a gun is essentially ruled by state law, and this causes no problem. Any recalcitrance and Congress must insist this change be established by law rather than mere rule.

As the Ranking Republican member on the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the first member in Congress to begin offering amendments to lift the ban on firearms, I agree that the Interior Department change is good, logical and needed. A few have who object to this rule have inaccurately analyzed data so I also feel duty-bound to refute a few silly criticisms of the new regulations.

First, some erroneously contend that “allowing guns will bring violence and upset the tranquility” of the parks. Good grief! The Park Service claims that according to their data “only” 9 people were murdered and 49 people were raped on Park Service lands in 2007; however, NPS numbers may vastly under-represent the number of crimes on Park Service lands. The NPS excludes from their reports crimes handled by other agencies such as the FBI, DEA and state law enforcement. The Park Service has no clue how many crimes actually occur on their lands. Even if the Park Service claims about the numbers of crimes committed in national parks is correct, it is of little comfort to the 9 people murdered and 49 people raped.

To borrow a phrase from the other side, our National Parks are “under assault,” but not from law-abiding concealed permit holders, but rather from criminals. Drug cartels have turned some parks and other federal lands in California into cannabis fields guarded by thugs with AK-47 rifles. Wildlife biologists must be escorted by armed Park Service rangers on some federal lands in Arizona. Criminals have targeted hikers along Park Service trails fully aware they were unarmed and far from help. Instead of acknowledging the crime problem we have in our National Parks, those who would again install a gun ban argue that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns will create a crime wave. One editorial writer assumed those packing heat will be ready to use it at “the first sign of unfriendliness, such as an argument over a camping space.” Sorry, but such a dark view of Americans doesn’t fit the research or reality. Thanks to brilliant research work by the likes of Dr. John Lott and Dr. Gary Kleck, we do know that states with right to carry laws have reduced crime rates and do not become the O-K Corral. Many of the safest parts of Forest Service and BLM lands are areas where guns are present because of hunting. Allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns will help us take back our National Parks.

Second, there is no evidence to assume allowing guns will increase poaching. It hasn’t occurred on other similar federal lands.

Third, some have claimed “lifting the ban will only cause confusion.” Before the new regulation was implemented, Americans legally carrying firearms committed a federal crime simply by turning onto a road managed by the National Park Service. Major roadways traveled, such as the George Washington Parkway in Virginia (a state that allows concealed weapons), made conflict unavoidable and restriction unenforceable. Courts ruled that warning signs need not be posted. None knew where the National Park Service took precedence over state law, and where the state law was again respected. Allowing state and local firearm laws to be the controlling factor is not only practical but easily understood by all.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently blasted (no pun intended) this new respect of legal concealed weapons by saying it will create a “dangerous environment.” I happen to believe that law abiding Americans with concealed weapons permits aren’t too different from Sen. Feinstein when she received her concealed weapons permit in the 1970s and carried a .38 for her safety.

At least now she won’t be arrested for inadvertently walking on land administered by one branch of the federal government rather than land administered by a different branch of the federal government.