05 December 2008

Right to carry guns in U.S. parks expanded

Washington Times

The Bush administration Friday announced a new policy allowing people to carry concealed firearms in nearly every national park and wildlife refuge.

The move changes a nearly 25-year-old policy that only permitted firearms to be carried in areas of parks that are specifically designated for hunting and target practice.

According to the Department of Interior, the new rules apply to national parks and refuges located in states that allow people to carry concealed weapons, and a person carrying a concealed weapon must have proper authorization from the state where the park or refuge is located.

Forty-eight states allow people to carry concealed firearms; only Illinois and Wisconsin do not.

Chris Paolino, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said concealed firearms likely would be allowed in 388 national parks and not allowed in only three.

But Mr. Paolino also said the new rules don't extend to federal buildings on national parks, meaning, for example, that a licensed person can carry a concealed firearm on the grounds of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, but cannot bring the gun inside Independence Hall.

The change was met with approval from the National Rifle Association, which, along with 51 senators from both parties and Reps. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, and Don Young, Alaska Republican, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Natural Resources Committee.

"We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families while enjoying America's National Parks and wildlife refuges," said the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox. "These changes respect the Second Amendment rights of honest citizens as they enjoy our public lands."

The decision puts the incoming Barack Obama administration in a potentially awkward position — whether to reverse the rule and risk an early political fight over the contentious issue of gun rights or let stand the rule, which is disliked by Mr. Obama's liberal base.

Guns were not a major issue in the presidential election, with neither Mr. Obama nor Republican John McCain choosing to emphasize it and Mr. Obama making guarded steps away from some gun control votes he made early in his career and assuring gun owners that he backs the Second Amendment.

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for the transition team, said only that "President-elect Obama will review all eleventh-hour regulations and will address them once he is president."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence blasted the decision, saying it will make national parks more dangerous.

"The Bush administration's parting gift for the gun lobby to allow hidden weapons in our parks threatens the safety of these national treasures and those who visit them," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign. "We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry firearms in our parks. We urge proper authorities to use common sense and stop this senseless rule."

The policy change also was opposed by all seven living former National Park Service directors and groups including the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the national park system at risk," said Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. "We will do everything possible to overturn it and return to a common-sense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades."

Mr. Young, the top Republican on the panel that has jurisdiction over national parks and wildlife refuges, worried about efforts to change the new policy.

"While this is a positive step forward, we have to remain vigilant because there are many people in Congress and the incoming administration who strongly oppose our Second Amendment rights," he said.

The push to change the rules began with a letter sent last December to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne from a group of 39 Republican and eight Democratic senators.

Since the early 1980s, firearms in national parks had to be kept unloaded and packed away, except in those areas where hunting and target practice were specifically allowed.

Proponents of the change said allowing people to have guns in national parks will let them protect themselves from animals and other dangers.

Robocop's Comment:

Holy Shit! Bush did something right? The sky is falling!

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