Why the national park gun rule should stand

The rule doesn't change much, says this commentator, mostly just making the status quo the legal status quo. So let it be.
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The rule doesn't change much, says this commentator, mostly just making the status quo the legal status quo. So let it be.

In early December President Bush kept his promise and came through for gun owners who supported him by loosening rules allowing loaded, concealed guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Now, President-elect Obama needs to keep his promise and come through for gun owners who supported him by allowing this rule to stand as currently written.

The new administrative rule goes into effect in January and applies to all 48 states that issue concealed carry permits; only Illinois and Wisconsin don’t. It replaces a regulation brought in during the Reagan administration that allowed guns in national parks, but only if they were unloaded and inaccessible.

Back on September 4, I devoted my column in New West to trying to convince park advocacy groups that fighting this rule wasn’t worth their time and money when they had much bigger fish to fry, such as securing adequate funding for the National Park Service (NPS), various park expansion plans, many serious wildlife issues, curbing the rampant fee increases, and addressing the dramatic decline in park visitation, to name a few.

But paranoia over the rule drowned out my little voice in the wilderness. The ink on the Federal Register publication of the rule had hardly dried before opponents, including the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, started making plans to encourage the incoming administration to reverse the rule. A few days later, the New York Times joined the chorus.

The rule won’t change much, so what’s the big deal? People who feel strongly about having their guns for personal safety have been taking them into national parks for decades. Every park ranger knows it, and it has caused minimal if any crime or gun-related accidents. Think about it. Rangers at entrance stations don’t even ask park visitors if they have guns, partly because they don’t care, but mostly because Reagan’s gun rule was impractical, if not impossible, to enforce.

So, when the Bush rule hits the ground next year, the impact will be invisible. All that changes is the status quo becoming the legal status quo, and as far as I’m concerned, it should be legal. Why should taking a loaded, concealed handgun into a national park be any different than taking it into a national forest?

So, since this rule is a no big deal, I should write about something important, right?

Not quite. I have a dog in this fight.

I’m out there on the Internet with a big bet that our new president and the new, blue Congress won't pass any gun laws because they face too many global crises to worry about gun issues — and of course, they also hope to stay in power more than four years. Parting ways with some of my gun-toting readers, I’d like to keep this pro-planet administration in power long enough to institute some positive changes, so I don’t want to let a shallow issue like this new rule distract our leaders away from something important or help defeat them in 2012.

The NPS faces plenty of challenges, and I’m sure most park administrators would agree with me — off the record, of course. In fact, after that last New West column on this issue, I had a call from a park superintendent who agreed completely that the NPS has much bigger priorities. The NPS doesn’t want to deal with the gun issue and now officially (instead of realistically) doesn’t have to deal with it.

So let it be.

To date, Obama has managed to send out several signs that he isn’t sincere about his promise to gun owners that they have nothing to fear from him. His transition team still asks applicants if they own guns, his Web site, Change.gov, contains a strong, anti-gun policy statement, and his attorney general appointee, Eric Holder, has a worrisome track record on guns.

Perhaps those signs are nit picking, but they sure have the shorts of hardcore gun owners in a knot. Let’s balance it out with a positive sign and gives the gun guys some relief. An easy, quick way to do this would be refusing to reverse the new national park gun rule. The new administration has a lot to do, but here’s something big that can be done without doing anything.

And please don’t just quietly leave it alone. Have a press conference and announce that the new administration has decided to leave the rule in place.


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