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Don’t Waste Energy on Rule Allowing Concealed Guns in National Parks

A lot of people are hot and bothered about the Bush administration’s proposed rule to allow concealed weapons in national parks, but practically, is this really worth our time and effort?

Yes, it’s maddening to tolerate such low-end, election-year politics spurred by the National Rifle Association (NRA), but I say give the gun lobby this hollow victory, so we can spend our time and energy on issues that could really help our national parks instead of worrying about something that’s already happening and hasn’t caused any problems.

Last year, after efforts to attach the loosening of the 25-year-old regulation that restricts but does not ban taking firearms into national parks as a rider on a must-pass bill failed, the new strategy became the administrative rule-making process, which is currently underway. The comment period ended August 8, and the Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, received more than 100,000 comments. Obviously, these comments, even if 99 percent opposed to the new rule, won’t matter, which is the case with most “public involvement” exercises. The Bush administration is obligated to do make “this important step in the right direction” for the NRA. Even with widespread opposition, you can bet your last bullet that our lame duck will approve the rule before he leaves office with his tail between its legs.

As I’ve said in a past column on the subject, people who believe so strongly that they always need a gun to protect themselves from bears and perverts are unlikely to leave it home when they go to a national park. Instead, they illegally take concealed weapons into national parks. Rangers know this happens, but do nothing to stop it. What could they do? Search every car? Have rangers ever searched a car for firearms at any national park entrance station? For many years, this has gone on, and has it been a problem? No. The national parks have traditionally had very low crime rates, and that’s unlikely to change when the new rule goes into effect.

Will backpackers start taking big handguns and stub-nosed shotguns with them? Not likely. Backpackers are the type of people who count out their vitamin pills and drill holes in toothbrushes to save weight. You think they’ll throw a three-pound revolver in the pack when they know the chances of needing it are as close to zero as you can get.

(Interestingly, ten years ago, I went on a nine-day backpacking adventure in Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, and the NPS actually recommended we take a shotgun with us, which we declined to do, primarily because nobody wanted to carry it. And alas, we returned safely.)

The proposed rule has been totted as “lifting the handgun ban” in national parks, but this exaggerates what the rule does. Park visitors can already take handguns and all other legal firearms into national parks, but they must be dissembled, unloaded and inaccessible (such as cased in the truck of the car). This regulation was put in place in 1983 by none other than a NRA darling, Republican Ronald Reagan, and under the reign of terror of Secretary of the Interior James Watt.

As currently proposed, the rule would be extremely confusing, so let’s fix that problem before it becomes NPS policy. Right now, it only applies to national parks in states that allow concealed guns in state parks. Among western states, that includes Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, not California, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas or Utah. (But you gotta think laws in those states will be changing fast after this new rule hits the books.) Gun-toting tourists will have to be on their toes as they travel from park to park–or, get this, parts of parks! National parks like Yellowstone and Death Valley cross state lines. In Yellowstone, for example, you could only carry your gun in the Montana and Wyoming parts, not the Idaho part. Ditto for Death Valley, which crosses the California/Nevada border.

So, let’s forget the state park requirement, and just let people have their guns in all national parks. In the meantime, the greens can concentrate on more important issues like getting adequate funding for national parks, making parks more affordable and accessible, trail and road maintenance, and improved interpretation. These and other issues related to the long-term health of our national parks need all our time, money and energy.

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  1. I agree with your views on this. There is no reason to spend money and time on something you can’ t control. As for Alaska, they operate under different rules. I took a flyfishing trip for Kings just south of Denali. Bears became targets the second time they set foot in camp and all food waste was washed down the river.

  2. Dear Bill:

    I agree. It’s absurd that time and effort be wasted in bringing law federal law into compliance with the federal constitution. Do it already. To me it makes little sense to criminalize possession of arms. It’s the USE of such arms that must be (and are) criminalized.

    I backpack, too … and I have a shortened toothbrush that I carry (ounces DO matter). It’s legal for me to carry a toothbrush … but illegal for me to stab my fellow backpacker in the neck.

    Thanks for your column. Again, I agree.

  3. Definitely stop wasting energy opposing common sense and legal simplification. It’s much ado about very little, considering most folks are even more ignorant about firearms, firearms owners, laws and regulations than Bill.

  4. This article makes gun owners sound like criminal whackos running around looking for something to kill.
    Nice attack on President Bush and his cohorts in that Godless gun lobby.
    I cling to my bible and guns because I have a constutional right to do so. GOD bless President Bush for giving us back just a little bit of our American freedom.

  5. I don’t see how the author is allowed to write such an inflamatory article concerning guns, President Bush etc. I personally have been charged by a bear while in the woods. My first shot was placed into a tree next to the bear. It stopped. Then charged again. My second shot was into the ground in front of the bear. It stopped again. I turned around and ran like hell. It also decided to hightail it the opposite direction. However, without a weapon, i am sure i would have been in deep doo. Bill, you fall into the same catagory as an atheist who never acknowledges God until the hour of your death. You run into a pissed Grizzly in the woods, you will be praying for a gun. Liberal. M.

  6. Dear Bill,
    This will be a moot issue after the November elections. A bigger Democratic majority in Congress will certainly revisit many Bushco actions and reverse them, regardless of who is in the White House. Obama would simply speed up those reversals, while McBush can only exercise his veto stamp — hardly a sign of “change.”

  7. Couldn’t agree with you more, except with less sarcasm. Funding for the National Parks should be increased. Guns should be allowed to people who have valid concealed carry licenses. Crime will not increase. Crime will not decrease either. It’s to make people feel good and rubber stamp a right. But what’s wrong with that?

  8. Gee whiz, Bill, can the gymnastics. The “Idaho part” of YNP is the western strip, one, or is it two, miles wide? I certainly don’t worry about driving across the Idaho Panhandle into the Evergreen People’s Republic of Statist Washington.
    The idea of a prohibition on guns, which will only be complied with by the lawful, not the “poachers” and the admittedly-few criminals, is no more valid in Glacier than it is in, you betcha, Washington, D of C.
    And I got a huge laugh out of your Gates of the Arctic trip. My old housemate from Colorado went on a climbing trip, supposedly to Anaktuvuk Pass, that was a complete weather and logistics disaster, topped off when a bear raided camp, was shotgunned, and wounded. And there weren’t any more shells. And the plane with the supplies hadn’t made the second trip with the climbing gear and never did, etc etc.

  9. National Forests, at least all the ones I’ve been in, have no restrictions for firearms carry– legally concealed or in the open. Why should the National Parks be any different? Why is it that I can take a rifle or handgun into Yellowstone in the vehicle if it is “broken down, cased, unloaded” but I cannot carry the same firearm in the same manner through the backcountry to the National Forest adjacent, where I can legally carry it loaded and in plain sight–no permit required? Why can I hunt in Grand Teton or Rockefeller Parkway, and firearms are just fine there? Why is it that there is one backcountry place, a remote pass, in Yellowstone where the NPS allows National Forest wilderness access thru Yellowstone during hunting season and allows broken, cased, etc. firearms to travel there, yet I can’t do the same thing on a summer trip via Yellowstone lake to the Thorofare on National Forest lands? What if my horse breaks a leg and I have to put him down–what then–use a pocket knife? Wouldn’t it be better to have firearms in the open, rather than hidden? Most backcountry rangers I know think so. There is no consistency with NPS regulations, they make their own rules, and they are an island. No more harm would come from people openly carrying weapons in the backcountry than does from all those that carry openly right across the imaginary line in the USFS wilderness areas. Why do I need a coggins test on my equines to haul from Wyoming, thru Yellowstone to Jackson Hole (without even stopping or unloading) but I don’t need one in Grand Teton National Park? (Because YNP got caught two years ago hauling infected horses into Montana across state lines is the short answer. They sure didn’t follow the rules.) The lunatics have taken over the asylum in Yellowstone. Concealed carry rights is just the first step. Open carry comes next.

  10. Hmmm, lets see. National Parks are to protect wildlife. Guns kills wildlife. Seems perfectly sensible to manage the use of guns as part of managing the National Park.

    Ever asked a national park ranger what the best way to manage guns in national parks has been? Remember they are primary law enforcement in National Parks (unlike forests, state parks, BLM lands, etc)

  11. Binky,
    You must have missed the part about hunting being legal in Grand Teton NATIONAL PARK, and it’s cousin to the north John D. Rockefeller memorial parkway (National Park), and others across the country.
    Guns only kill wildlife if you choose to pull the trigger. I will be over in the John D. in a couple weeks Ruffed grouse hunting. However, the hunting of or killing of wildlife is not the issue here at all, it’s just fodder for more liberal subterfuge. We are talking about the American RIGHT to be armed. It is not a privilege, it is a right. Check the Constitution sometime.

  12. If each of you clicks on the “about us” section of this publication, you will be able to read their statement supporting the Rocky Mountain West “and its culture”. I don’t know where this Bill fool is from but i bet it is not the Rocky Mountain West. My guns are part of my culture. I AM from the Rocky Mountain West. I no longer believe New West speaks for me and if the editors are willing to print such liberal trash they need to move on. Unsubscribe me. M.

  13. Don’t go away GM,
    These folks need challenged. It’s a stew that needs stirred so the scum doesn’t rise to the top like it appears to be doing in this publication. Unfortunately this IS the coming culture of the west, and those of us who have grown up here and lived it and breathed it and cherished it and worked at low wage jobs just to live here (I was a Wilderness Ranger for several years) need not to faint away from imported liberal gunsels.

  14. You mean it’s illegal?

    Uh oh…

  15. I’ve been reading Bill’s column for a few months and this is about as far left as I’ve seen him go in that time.
    I think the personal attacks are unfair. He writes a good column and does seem to stir up a lot of controversy on both sides.

  16. Come to think of it, his last article on the NRA was pretty far to the left too.
    So that’s two liberal whacko articles in a row.
    Gotta think this over.

  17. To address a couple of comments about my personal background, and not addressed in the column, yes, I have lots of guns, including a handgun, am a strong supporter of gun rights (but not the NRA), have been a hunter since age 12 (a long time ago), and see nothing wrong with people taking guns into national parks, concealed or open, none of which seems very “left.” This column is mainly pointed at the greens and the NPS–they have bigger fish to fry and should forget about opposing this rule…..Bill

  18. Bill said: “…people who believe so strongly that they always need a gun to protect themselves from bears and perverts are unlikely to leave it home when they go to a national park. Instead, they illegally take concealed weapons into national parks.”

    Bill, I take exception to this “rule” of yours, and also the tone in which it’s communicated. I believe strongly in my right and obligation to defense. Yet I do NOT carry concealed in national parks, because it is currently illegal. It’s wrong for it to be illegal, and the law must be changed. But while it remains illegal, I comply. Exception one. Exception two is the tone of your article … such as “hollow victory”… and your use of the word “perverts.” The right to defense is no hollow victory, and I am not worried about “perverts” … I am only wary, and understand that I share this world with a few very bad people, who respect no one, and who commit criminal violence without remorse. It is simply my responsibility, my moral duty and societal obligation, to in no uncertain terms prevent these people from doing harm to innocents, whether they be my self, my wife, my daughters, or those around me.

  19. I went back and reread the article with Bill’s comments in mind and found that it doesn’t attack guns or gun owners, only our President and the NRA, which I still find offensive, but he always seems to offend someone on one side or the other.
    He still writes a good column and I’ll continue to read it.

  20. I agree Bill. No more time and effort should be wasted on this issue. The provisions of the Second Amendment and every person’s god-given right to self-defense should be honored equally across this land — not just National Parks but everywhere (with the exception of Court Houses and significant government buildings, etc. where everyone is scanned going in and the Government actually takes responsibility for their safety. Yet even these restrictions should be minimal.) Everyone with a concealed carry permit should be able to carry concealed everywhere in this country. Those without a concealed carry permit should be able to carry openly everywhere in this country. When I say carry, I mean assembled, loaded and ready for it’s intended purpose. The rules/laws should be the same across the land. Personally, I believe the 2nd Amendment IS a concealed carry permit. What is it that folks, especially the corrupt judiciary who have bastardized virtually everything, don’t understand about “shall not be infringed.” I could go on and on but it would take us out of the main subject of this article. May God bless America and may HE save us from the wave of socialism which has raised it’s ugly head in our once Free Republic.

  21. What if we run into gangbangers growing pot in the National Forests/Parks or other criminals looking for someone to rob/mug? They usually have guns or other weapons. Oh yea, I know, stand and look as tall and big as you can, make loud noises and if that fails, spray them with bear spray.

    I don’t mind trying bear spray first if I encounter a bear but I’d prefer to have a 44 mag on my hip as backup.

    However, the unconstitutional infringement of fundamental rights, on federal land especially, is the issue here.

  22. Treehuggin' Cowgirl


    As I’m sure you’re aware, the National Parks and the National Forests have very different backgrounds and therefore very different restrictions. The National Parks have always had a “thou shalt not touch nature” mentality, and the Forest Reserve System, now the National Forests, were established to be used. Grand Teton National Park is the only National Park in the lower 48 that Congress has allowed hunting in because of elk overpopulation issues. Now I’m of the opinion that the National Park experiment of unmanaged ungulate populations near developed tourist or agricultural centers has failed and hunting should be allowed in National Parks, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    As someone who has good reason to carry a firearm through National Parks, I support the results of this new rule. I won’t have to obtain special permission to carry my .357 when I go packing in Glacier with my mules. Glacier, at least, understands the realities of backcountry travel with stock and allows packers to carry firearms.

    Unfortunately, the rationale behind this new rule change is ludicrous. You’d have to be crazy or a damn good shot to shoot at a grizzly with anything other than a high powered rifle. With mountain lions, either they kill you too rapidly for you to do anything about it, or you struggle until they decide it’s not worth it (remember the old couple who beat one off with a cane?). Wolves have as of yet not been a danger to humans in the lower 48. Black bears are the only potentially dangerous wild predator that a hand gun might have an impact on, but bear spray’s lighter anyways and as Matt pointed out, generally more effective.


  23. Erin and others:

    I am pleased to see such interest in this proposed rule change, that would bring National Park and National Wildlife Refuge rules in line with state law. Generally, what this means is that state carry laws would apply to these federal lands.

    But Erin’s argument above centers on a false rationale, one that centers on defense against dangerous wildlife. But the real rationale is to empower state carry law on federal land. State carry laws are not predicated primarily on defense against wildlife, but defense against criminal attack by other humans. As such, this rule change is not one that would empower people to shoot wildlife in defense as much as it would empower people to defend themselves against other people.

    See this rule change:

    I’d also like to point out that the types of guns carried persuent to state carry laws are typically handguns, and those typically in the calibers .380, .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W;, and .45acp. To a lesser extent, I suppose, are carried handguns in the calibers .357 mag and .44 special. However, none of these calibers is suitable for defense against the deadliest wildlife, such as grizzly and polar bear, or moose. This new rule in no way authorizes the wanton shooting of wildlife, nor does it, I suppose, expressly encourage the defense against very dangerous wildlife using common carry calibers. That puts us into the realm of education, and back into Erin’s point. In other words, a person would be a fool to attempt stopping a griz attack with a 9mm Glock or some such handgun.

    I support carry for defense – wherever – including national parks, schools, churches, and the like. But with that right to bear arms for lawful purposes comes responsibility, and it would be roundly irresponsible for someone to pop away at a griz or a moose with the commonly-carried ordinance.

  24. I support carry for carry virtue itself. For pleasure, for protection, for something that tugs on your belt, but most of all to declare that the Constitution is still in effect. It is my personal pleasure that in most places in America we still can do so.

    The two times I have had a grizzly in extremely close proximity, both a scary situation for me, I drew the bear spray. Amazing to me that I pulled the spray first. I was carrying a hot loaded 45 Colt with hard cast bullets that literally could have shot through the bear at close range, if I was skilled enough under stress to make the shot. The spray worked, once. The other time the bear decided I was very ugly and left me standing there feeling like Gumby. I commonly carry a 45/70 with open sights during hunting season and bear spray. I live in and work in grizzly bear country. The great bears are amazing wonderful creatures.

    Anyway, this discourse is not about firearms for bear protection, people protection or any other item one can list, it’s about the right of all Americans who are legally allowed to carry firearms, to do so. Especially on Federal lands, National Parks included.

    Erin, hope our wilderness trails cross sometime. I’ll be riding a mule. Move up to a .41 mag. when the opportunity arises.

  25. Having had a concealed weapon permit in Oregon, almost since it became an option, I naturally favor allowing the carrying of guns in places like Yellowstone. It’s not to protect against a grizzly. That’s the pepper spray but just in the vehicle and as a woman knowing it’s there. I also am one of those dreaded ‘liberals’ but believe in our right to arm ourselves and see no reason why a national park should be exempt. Anyone who uses it carelessly will end up with legal problems anyway and the outlaw types carry them loaded and ready to use, law or no law. As the author of this piece said, there are other issues that matter a lot more to the preservation and protection of these national treasures.

  26. Thanks, Bill, for setting some priorities. We need more sensible strategies like this.

  27. I was a back country ranger for over 30 years in Yellowstone. I caught more poachers than all the rest of the Yellowstone rangers combined….for this time period as well as all the rangers the 40 years before my time. I say this not to brag but to let others know what it means to carry a gun in Yellowstone back country …. by rangers or the public. I believe very few of the public wanting to, or rangers via their law enforcement position, understand the emotional seriousness of what it means to carry a firearm.

    Every firearm I took away from a poacher represented a lot more than that piece of steel. I felt for them as a fellow human being and I felt for the animal they poached. Most poachers cried on handing it over and they cried even more when I asked for the extra ammo for that gun. That gun represented all of what they thought of life.

    The backpackers who were afraid of their surroundings without the false sense of hope their now confiscated firearm had given them gave me reason to explain what spirital advantages indigenous peoples must have enjoyed with at most a spear for “protection” …when they were a part of nature instead of dominating it as those with guns feel today with a gun in their hands.

    As the years passed I realized the guns in my hands meant little to the greater humility of life.

    Most people who tout their right to bear arms I think of as Banty roosters. Read into as you like.

    For too many folks guns became an addiction. We had a ranger who would count and organize his dresser full of ammo every night. Others hoarded case after case of ammo. A wood box full was better than the same amount in a cardboard box. Every night was gun cleaning night, whether they were carried that day or not, for too many of them.

    In the outfitter camps outside the Park it was all talk of guns. It is a sickness, I tell you, when a “hunter” thinks more of how his magnum round explodes than what it means to take the life of an elk. It can not even be excused as “childish”.

    We had a ranger that shot an road injured bison 12 times with a M14. In the end it “got” away to the woods and he was too scared to go in after it. A bigger caliber gun was available but this guy wanted to see what a military gun would do.

    The road patrol rangers in the Park are given no instruction on where to shoot an animal and with what. After many rounds with a 357 MAGNUM …wow such a powerful word for such a small round…and several 12 gauge slugs in the frontal skull … a bull bison had to be “finished off” by a maintanance man with the bucket edge of a front end loader. All this was right behind the Lake hotel during summer time high visitor use. Another ranger shot an elk calf next to the Mammoth Motor Inn… then went up and kicked it to see if it was dead. Fortunately he got turned in by horrified diners looking out the windows.

    On the late Montana elk hunt in the Gallatin I have watched a group of 20 or so “hunters” lob all their rifles rounds ….and all their reloaded rounds into a group of 7 bulls on a ridge almost a mile away. Finally a bull was wounded and they all ran away.

    It goes on and on. No, I do not believe the reverance of our national parks needs to be sullied by those who do not understand what it means to have guns. This includes horse users who feel they have to carry one for the horse who breaks its leg. I shot a pack horse once who fell off a cliff while I was tracking a poacher. He did a 100 foot free fall and broke his back. I’d had him for 10 years in the most remote location of all… a place where I had to depend on the horses I used. It was wrong for me to end his life so violently when nature and life …and death…were in such harmony. I knew afterwords I should have held him, talked with him, put my knife in his neck artery and talked some more.

    By having guns in our National Parks backcountry the citizens of our country edge a bit further from our roots….And the worst thing is those for and against don’t even understand WHY.