In January, I praised changes to the National Park Service regulations that allowed law-abiding Americans the same right to carry concealed weapons inside our national parks as they have outside of the national parks. Reversing a clear violation of the Second Amendment, the Department of the Interior changed their regulations whereby National Park Service (NPS) lands would be governed by state concealed firearms laws.
For all the reasons I articulated in my earlier commentary, this decision was a welcome change. Coming on the heels of the District of Columbia v. Heller in which the Supreme Court struck down D.C.’s draconian gun laws, one would think this would be a fairly easy issue for those tasked with upholding and enforcing our nation’s laws. Sadly, it seems personal political beliefs are ruling the day.
On March 19, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly decided to grant an injunction against these new regulations going into place. Most interesting is Kollar-Kotelly’s reasoning and what she refused to consider when arriving at her decision. Astonishingly, in Kollar-Kotelly’s 44-page opinion, there is not a single mention of the Second Amendment. Not one. Not a single mention of whether or not the Heller decision is relevant. In a case involving the federal government essentially banning the right to bear arms, this wasn’t even an issue. Even though Kollar-Kotelly notes one of the main reasons why NPS gun regulations were changed concerns “self-defense,” she never addressed whether Second Amendment rights might be violated.
Instead, Kollar-Kotelly decided that an injunction should be placed on the new regulations because of environmental concerns. More specifically, she found the Department of the Interior had used an “astoundingly flawed process” in creating the Final Rule on the NPS gun regulations because it did not do full blown environmental analysis on allowing concealed weapons in national parks. The process Kollar-Kotelly is demanding before allowing concealed weapons in national parks is called NEPA review (NEPA stands for National Environmental Policy Act) and was originally intended to have federal review of large scale projects, such as bridges, timber sales and dams.
Unfortunately, activist judges and environmental groups have turned this very regulation that was intended to protect our Federal lands into something that stops any activity from occurring on them. NEPA was never intended to be used for decisions that change regulations of a purely civil liberties nature, like allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons. In one opinion, Kollar-Kotelly made our Second Amendment constitutional rights subservient to environmental regulations.
Without realizing it, Kollar-Kotelly revealed a great deal when she decided also that there is an “absence of significant harm” to anyone other than the Department of the Interior if a preliminary injunction was allowed. What about the dozens of unarmed people who were raped, robbed or murdered last year on our national park lands?
Every day in National Parks in the southwest Park Service, employees have to be accompanied by heavily armed escorts to perform wildlife research because we have ceded large portions to criminals and drug cartels. How about the harm from harassment of law abiding citizens who happen to have a legal concealed weapon and take a road managed by the Park Service?
The Obama administration is currently “reviewing” the overall rule change and has decided not to appeal Kollar-Kotelly’s injunction. This is a poor, illogical decision. The complete absurdity of not even weighing the effect that a gun ban in national parks would have on concealed weapon permit holders is astounding. And contrary to the law.
Every case in which injunctive relief is granted requires the judge to assess the balance of interests. In this case, when Kollar-Kotelly found the absence of harm to anyone — intentionally ignoring law abiding armed citizens — she made a serious legal error, which the Obama administration compounds by making Constitutional rights secondary to a bureaucratic review. That action illustrates how we have become so consumed with the minutia of government that we fail to see the real issue. We should not forget that the purpose of national parks is to be seen by all Americans. The purpose of the Constitution is to protect the liberty of all Americans. The Second Amendment is a right for all Americans.
Narrow minded judicial interpretation that puts bureaucratic busy-work ahead of the best interests of all Americans does not ennoble this country nor does it improve our lives. It is time to refocus on the true purpose of government. The national park service correctly reversed a bad policy, and it should not be subject to judicial whim.