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Update On Right-To-Carry In National Parks And Wildlife Refuges

Friday, February 15, 2008

The current regulations on possession of firearms in national parks--which generally prohibit possession, carry or transportation of loaded or uncased firearms--were proposed in 1982 and finalized in 1983.  Similar restrictions apply in national wildlife refuges.  It is now time to amend those regulations to reflect the changed legal situation with respect to state laws on carrying firearms. 

The effect of these now-outdated regulations on people who carry firearms for self-protection was far from the forefront at the time these regulations were adopted.  As of the end of 1982, only six states routinely allowed average citizens to carry handguns for self-defense.  Now, 48 states have a process for issuance of licenses or permits to carry firearms, and 40 of those states provide the opportunity for average citizens to legally carry firearms for self-defense. 

Starting in 2003, NRA staff began meeting with officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior to change this regulation and allow state law to govern the carrying and transportation of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges -- as it does in national forests and on BLM lands.  There was little resistance to such a policy change but also little action to make this change.  Bureaucrats involved in this issue would move on and others would replace them, needing to be educated from scratch about the need and importance for this change. 

As the second term of the Bush administration began in 2005, there was more of a sense of urgency to get this regulation changed given the uncertainty of the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.  NRA asked several key Members of Congress, by virtue of their leadership roles as committee or subcommittee chairmen, to write letters to then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton in support of this policy change.  All of those letters went unanswered. 

After the 2006 elections, NRA asked House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Ranking Member Don Young (R-AK) to write another letter in March of 2007 requesting revision to the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) to apply state law regarding concealed weapons statutes in National Park Service (NPS) areas and National Wildlife Refuges.  Eight months later, they finally received a “thanks but no thanks” response from National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall. 

In January of 2007, NPS Visitor and Resource Protection Associate Director Karen Taylor-Goodrich wrote in a letter that “(1) Parks are safe places,” “(2) 'Right to carry’ laws do not reduce crime,” and “(3) ‘Right to carry’ laws do not protect visitors from wildlife.” 

On December 14, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and 46 of his Senate colleagues (including eight Democrats) sent a letter to former Idaho Governor and now Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne asking for the restoration of the right of law-abiding citizens to carry a firearm for self-defense in national parks and wildlife refuges.  (NRA-ILA initiated and worked closely with Senator Crapo on this letter.)  

Two months later, there had been no response from Kempthorne.  So on February 11, four more Senators sent another letter to Kempthorne requesting this same policy change.  Now 51 Senators -- a majority of the upper chamber of the United States Congress -- have publicly sought this regulatory change. 

Finally, Kempthorne appeared on February 13 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and on February 14 before the House Natural Resources Committee, for the annual department oversight hearings.  Members of both committees asked Kempthorne about the delay in responding to the letters from 51 Senators, and the Department’s position on allowing those with valid state licenses or permits, to carry firearms in national parks.  Following his admission that some parks are unsafe due to drug trafficking, Kempthorne was pressed on the need to allow law-abiding citizens the opportunity to legally carry firearms in national parks for personal protection and whether he believed that Right-to-Carry doesn’t reduce crime. 

Congress has rightly become frustrated over the years of inaction at Interior.  Members of both houses have introduced legislation -- H.R. 5434 by Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and S. 2619 by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- within the past week to change the policy relating to carrying and transportation of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. 

The U.S. Congress and NRA are anxiously awaiting a response from the Interior Department.

For more information about this issue please see these articles:

Pursuing Safety in National Parks

Pursuing Safety: Half of Senate Backs Firearms in Parks

Our View: Federal Lands Should Have Consistent Gun Rules

Crapo Leads Charge to Allow Guns in Parks

Discussing Rights: Reason, Not Emotion, Should Rule The Day

Easing Gun Ban Could Reduce Crime In National Parks

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne Testifies Before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and Responds to Questions from Congress Regarding National Park Service Rules that Prohibit Law-Abiding Citizens from Carrying/Possessing Firearms for Self-Defense in National Parks

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.