Updated January 7. See addition at end of article.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, America’s largest anti-gun organization, sued the Department of the Interior today to prevent the implementation of the controversial administrative rule allowing loaded and concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.
“The Bush Administration’s last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law,” said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke, in a press release. “We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks.”
In a phone interview with NewWest.Net, Daniel Vice, Senior Attorney for the Brady’s Legal Action Project, said his group “is looking at all options,” but thought it was vital to file the lawsuit as soon as possible instead of waiting to let the rule go into effect and work through the long political process of trying to get the Obama administration to overturn it.
Many other groups also oppose the rule, he noted, but at this point the Brady Campaign is going it alone with this lawsuit with no co-plaintiffs.
“The rule would allow concealed guns on the National Mall,” Vice pointed out,” and it takes effect only 11 days before the inauguration.”
The Washington Post had estimated that as many as five million people will be in Washington D.C. to celebrate the Obama inauguration, predicting that the celebration might be “the single biggest gathering of people America has ever seen.”
“This rule affects both rural and urban parks like the Liberty Bell,” Vice said. “Some of our members are now afraid to take their kids to Ellis Island.”
This is why the lawsuit asks for a temporary injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect on January 9, he added. “But we’re concerned about all the parks, not just the urban parks.”
The fundamental legal issue, Vice explained, is that the rule violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“They (Interior Department) did no environmental analysis or review at all,” he explained. “When you have so many people with strong opinions on both sides of an issue, it’s important to follow the law and do a review process.”
Asked if defendants might consider this rule “non-environmental” and not covered by NEPA, Vice answered, “Even Reagan did this.”
He refers to the NEPA analysis and review President Ronald Reagan’s administration conducted when the current rule, which requires guns to be unloaded and inaccessible when taken into national parks, was implemented in early 1980s. “This rule should at least require the same review,” Vice insisted.
According to the Brady Campaign press release, the new rule also violates the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe enjoyment of all visitors.
You can read the entire legal complaint here.
Update: Following the lead set December 30 by a lawsuit by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, two park advocacy groups, the National Parks and Conservation and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, announced that they have filed a similar lawsuit to stop the Bush administration rule to allow loaded, concealed guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. Like the Brady Campaign, the two groups base their legal objection on failure of the Department of the Interior to prepare a environmental analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Here is the total text of the press release sent out by the two groups:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 7, 2009) – The nation’s leading voice for America’s national parks, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees late yesterday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that seeks an injunction against enforcement of the Bush Administration’s new regulation allowing loaded, concealed firearms in national parks, which increases the risk to visitors, park staff, and wildlife, and to have the new rule declared unlawful. The rule is scheduled to take effect this Friday, January 9.
“In a rush to judgment, as a result of political pressure, the outgoing Administration failed to comply with the law, and did not offer adequate reasons for doing so,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan.
The Bush Administration last month finalized a National Rifle Association-driven rule change to allow loaded, concealed firearms in all national parks except those located in two states: Wisconsin and Illinois, which do not permit concealed weapons. The former rule, put in place by the Reagan Administration, required that firearms transported through national parks be safely stowed and unloaded.
“Our members, with over 20,000 years accumulated experience managing national parks can see absolutely no good coming from the implementation of this rule. More guns equal more risk,” said Bill Wade, Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. “Apparently, the Bush Administration chose to ignore the outpouring of concern voiced during the public comment period,” added Wade.
According to the lawsuit, the Department of the Interior “adopted the Gun Rule with unwarranted haste, without following procedures required by law and without the consideration of its consequences that they are required to observe under law… The new regulation is an affront to the National Parks’ missions and purposes and a threat to the National Parks’ resources and values, which must be held unlawful and set aside.”
The groups are arguing that the rule is unlawful because the Department of the Interior did not conduct an analysis of the rule’s environmental effects, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, including the effects of the rule on threatened and endangered species. The suit also argues that the Department of the Interior ignored the National Park Service Organic Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Any reasonable person would have to conclude that changing these rules to allow more firearms in the national parks could have an environmental impact on park wildlife and resources,” Kiernan added.
In a letter sent to Interior Secretary Kempthorne on April 3, seven former directors of the National Park Service stated that there is no need to change the regulations. “In all our years with the National Park Service, we experienced very few instances in which this limited regulation created confusion or resistance,” the letter stated. “There is no evidence that any potential problems that one can imagine arising from the existing regulations might overwhelm the good they are known to do.”
The rule also was opposed by the current career leadership of the National Park Service and other park management professionals, including the Association of National Park Rangers and the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.
The public agrees: of the 140,000 people who voiced their opinion on this issue during the public comment period, 73 percent opposed allowing loaded, concealed firearms in the national parks.