Saturday, April 18, 2009

Still no guns in NP

The Obama administration is reviewing the rules allowing guns in National Parks, a change implemented last year by the Bush administration under pressure fron the NRA and some Senators in Congress. A judge set aside the rule pending a full environment review, restoring the previous 26-year rule of no guns allowed in NP's except unloaded and stored in a locked place in the vehicle.

This is good news, as I wrote about last summer, see essay. I'm still against guns in NP's for the safety of visitors and the NPS employees and seasonal rangers. No one wants to hike well off the road in fear of encountering someone who has and may decide to use a gun. Yeah, that's a rarity, but the rule prevents the potential. And there are some NP's where gun owners would love to go into the backcountry to use their weapons.

That's the last thing our NP needs, people shooting at the wilderness, wildlife and even maybe people in the backcountry. And no backcountry ranger wants to consider the reality of a confrontation with any of these folks or a hiker who has a gun. Freedom and safety in NP's reside in a no-gun policy, especially for large number of foreign visitors. They need a place to experience America's wilderness in safety.

The NRA cites the wrong reasons the Bush rule was fair and proper. It's not about safety for people to have guns. NP's have the lowest rates of assaults and murders of any place in the US. And NP's has a near-zero rate of backountry hikers being injured or killed by wildlife. Injuries from weather and accidents have a far higher rate. So guns won't make hikers safer, common sense always is the better choice.

And it's not about the right to bear arms. There are already too many places people can take and use weapons, including the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. And there are more than enough federal and state lands for hunters. Adding NP's to the lands isn't necessary.

I suspect the announcement to review the rule is a political decision to write a decision where it's not feasible to change the longstanding rule of no-guns. Last summer a teen killed two hikers on a trail in the foothills east of Seattle. We don't need the possibility of this situation in NP's. I hope the Presidents stands up to the gun-rights advocates for the rights of all Americans and foreigners visiting the NP's. That's the right decision.

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