JEFFREY P. MAYOR; email@example.com
Published: November 6th, 2008 12:30 AM
The Department of the Interior is expected to announce this month its decision regarding changes in rules governing guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
When he visited Mount Rainier National Park for the Oct. 10 opening of the new Jackson Visitor Center, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the announcement would be made soon.
“We’re going through the process. We anticipated we’d get a lot of responses, and we did,” Kempthorne told The News Tribune.
At the end of April, the department proposed a change that would allow people to carry a concealed firearm in a national park or wildlife refuge if the individual is permitted to carry a concealed weapon and is authorized to do so on similar state lands in the state in which the national park or refuge is located.
The department received 130,000 to 140,000 comments on the proposal, said Chris Paolino, deputy director of communications for the department.
“That’s on the higher end for comments but not extreme. By contrast, we received nearly 300,000 comments on proposal relating to a narrow change in Endangered Species Act regulations,” Paolino said.
“The majority (of the comments) support leaving the current rules in place,” said Sean Smith, Northwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, which opposes the changes. “In other words, the public comments support the current firearm restrictions, not the NRA’s proposed changes.”
The debate began last December, when 47 U.S. senators wrote Kempthorne asking that him to review the existing laws and allow citizens to transport and carry firearms consistent with state law where the National Park Service’s sites are located.
Current regulations require weapons to be temporarily inoperable or stowed so they are not easily accessible.
The NRA, which pushed for the change, argues park visitors have the right to protect themselves against wild animals and people. It also argues the existing law is confusing because it differs from regulations allowing loaded weapons on other federal recreation lands.
Groups such as the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the NPCA oppose any change. They say allowing guns in parks and refuges will only put people and wildlife in danger.