Apr 30, 6:33 PM EDT
Kempthorne proposal would ease ban on guns in national parks
By MATTHEW DALY
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed new regulations Wednesday that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon in some national parks and wildlife refuges.
The new rules would allow someone to carry a loaded weapon in a park or wildlife refuge only if the person has a permit for a concealed weapon and the state where the park or refuge is located allows guns in parks, Kempthorne said.
"The safety and protection of park and refuge visitors remains a top priority for the Department of the Interior," Kempthorne said in a statement.
Park rangers, retirees and conservation groups protested the plan, saying it will lead to confusion for visitors, rangers and other law enforcement agencies.
"This is purely and simply a politically driven effort to solve a problem that doesn't exist," said Bill Wade, chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
There is no data to suggest that the public would be served by allowing visitors to parks to possess concealed handguns, Wade and other critics said. They cited statistics showing that national parks are among the safest places in the country. The probability of becoming a victim of a violent crime in a national park is 1 in more than 708,000 - less likely than being struck by lightning, the groups said.
"This proposed regulation increases the risk to visitors, employees and wildlife rather than reducing it," Wade said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the rule change confusing.
"This change makes no sense. It would create an incoherent, ineffective and inconsistent patchwork of policies," she said, noting that in some cases, rules would be different within the same national park. For example, Death Valley National Park is in both California and Nevada. California prohibits loaded and accessible weapons in state parks, while Nevada does not, Feinstein said.
"So which state law would apply at Death Valley National Park?" she said. "This sort of inconsistency would be an open invitation to poachers, would be almost impossible to enforce and would seriously place public safety at risk."
The public has 60 days to comment on the new proposal, which was published Wednesday in the Federal Register.