On February 22, a new law took effect that applied state firearms laws to national parks and wildlife refuges across America.
The implementation of the new law, which the National Park Service (NPS) has planned for since passage of H.R. 627 last May, has so far been without major problems. NPS management reports that it has worked with the 493 individual parks, promoting a consistent message on several key points:
- Under the new law, every park is subject to all the firearms laws of the state (or states) where the park is located.
- Park visitors must know and obey state laws, including knowing which state laws apply in parks (such as Yellowstone) that cross state boundaries. (For information on state laws, go to www.nraila.org/gunlaws.)
- The new law affects firearms possession, not use. Laws regarding hunting, poaching, target shooting or any unlawful discharge remain unchanged.
- It will remain unlawful to carry in certain locations, under a separate law that prohibits possession of any firearm in a "federal facility."
This last point—and especially the definition of "federal facility"—may be the one most likely to cause confusion for visitors. The National Park Service has indicated that, according to its apparently broad interpretation of the law, the law prohibits firearms not only in buildings (such as visitor centers, ranger stations, and administrative offices) but also in other areas that are regularly staffed by federal employees (such as developed caves and gated outdoor performance areas). However, NPS officials stress that all prohibited locations will be marked with signs.
The ban on carry in "federal facilities" does not apply to buildings that are located in parks, but not staffed by the federal government—such as many restaurants, lodges and gift shops. However, private operators of those places are free to make their own rules subject to state law.
Needless to say, anti-gun activists and the media have redlined their hysteria meters, with one newspaper claiming that "there assuredly will be more gun violence" in parks, and another suggesting that park visitors "might want to toss a Kevlar vest into the SUV." And the Brady Campaign is still looking for ways to use the courts to reverse the new law.
Needless to say, media fears are unlikely to be realized, and NRA-ILA will fight any effort to reverse this hard-won victory. As always, be sure to watch this alert and www.nraila.org for any new developments.