The Bush administration has officially lifted a 25-year ban on licensed possession of loaded concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges – and the new rule is set to be published in the Federal Register Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a Dec. 5 statement announcing it has updated its regulations to allow individuals with concealed weapons permits to carry their loaded guns into parks if allowed to do so under their state law.
“America was founded on the idea that the federal and state governments work together to serve the public and preserve our natural resources,” said Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty. “The Department’s final regulation respects this tradition by allowing individuals to carry concealed firearms in federal park units and refuges to the extent that they could lawfully do so under state law.
The restrictive regulations were adopted in 1981 for national wildlife refuges and in 1983 for national parks. It required permit holders to keep their guns unloaded and stowed. However, since the regulation was adopted, 48 states have passed laws allowing legal possession of concealed weapons.
The National Rifle Association and almost half of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne calling the old rules “confusing, burdensome and unnecessary” and asking for a policy revision.
“The Department believes that in managing parks and refuges we should, as appropriate, make every effort to give the greatest respect to the democratic judgments of State legislatures with respect to concealed firearms,” Laverty said. “Federal agencies have a responsibility to recognize the expertise of the States in this area, and federal regulations should be developed and implemented in a manner that respects state prerogatives and authority.”
However, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence criticized the decision.
“The Bush administration’s parting gift for the gun lobby to allow hidden weapons in our parks threatens the safety of these national treasures and those who visit them,” spokesman Paul Helmke said in a statement, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “We urge the proper authorities to use common sense, and stop this senseless rule.”
Critics claim individuals who carry concealed weapons may be tempted to shoot at wildlife, and the policy may threaten safety of park visitors.
“This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the National Park System at risk. We will do everything possible to overturn it and return to a common-sense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades,” said Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
But the NRA applauded the decision in a statement. NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox said the Department of Interior announcement “brings clarity and uniformity” for law-abiding gun owners who visit parks.
“We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families while enjoying America’s National Parks and wildlife refuges,” he said.
The regulation will go into effect in January before Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some opposed groups are considering filing lawsuits. They fear changing the new guideline would prove to be a long and bureaucratic task after it takes effect.