By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Park rangers warned that a move to drop a ban on carrying loaded guns into national parks -- backed by Oklahoma's two U.S. senators -- could degrade experiences for visitors, pose a safety risk and hurt efforts to crack down on illegal activity such as poaching.
Although almost half of the U.S. Senate supports doing away with the current policy, critics are zeroing in on an expected amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
"There is simply no legitimate or substantive reason for a thoughtful sportsman or gun owner to carry a loaded gun in a national park unless that park permits huntSEE ing," stated a letter urging senators to vote against the Coburn amendment.
"The requirement that guns in parks are unloaded and put away is a reasonable and limited restriction to facilitate legitimate purposes -- the protection of precious park resources and safety of visitors."
Dated Feb. 1, the letter was sent by the Association of Na tional Park Rangers of Golden, Colo.; the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees of Tucson, Ariz.; and U.S. Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police of Twain Harte, Calif.
In a separate statement,
the park rangers' association also pointed out that guns are banned from other government sites, including the Senate offices.
Coburn declined to comment.
He and fellow Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe joined 45 other senators, including eight Democrats, in signing a Dec. 14 letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to have the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service drop their current policies.
"We appeal to you on this matter in the interest of Sec ond Amendment rights and consistency in firearms policy across federal public land management agencies," their letter stated.
"These regulations infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners, who wish to transport and carry firearms on or across these lands."
They also pointed out the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have different policies on transporting firearms across the federal lands they regulate.
"These inconsistencies in firearms regulations for public lands are confusing, burdensome, and unnecessary," they wrote.
Kempthorne, a former U.S. senator and governor from Idaho, has not responded.
"We are reviewing the letter," said Chris Paolino, an agency spokesman.
Paolino believes the National Park Service's policy, which allows guns in parks as long as they are not readily accessible and not ready to be fired, dates back to the Reagan administration.
Policies at the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management do vary, he said.
While not mentioning Coburn's amendment specifically, a second letter signed by The Wilderness Society, Campaign for America's Wilderness, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and U.S. Public Interest Research Group also urged senators to oppose any amendment that would weaken the legislation on public lands.