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You might not be aware of it, but something odd has been afoot in America's national parks. Until three days ago, it was legal to carry concealed, loaded weapons in our wilderness refuges. Thankfully, a US District Judge has just halted the rule--for the time being. The initial decision to allow concealed guns in national parks and wildlife refuges was one of Bush's infamous midnight rulings, made in the last month he was in office. The law took effect last January, and for two strange months, people have been carrying concealed weapons in national parks. Meanwhile, House Republicans have been vying to add a permanent amendment to cement the concealed weapons law into the language of the Omnibus Land Bill--one of the main reasons the conservation bill failed to pass in the House, but sailed through the Senate twice.
So what's the deal? Why would anyone be so hell bent on carrying a concealed weapon into a national park? According to the LA Times,
"The National Rifle Assn. had pushed for the change, saying law-abiding citizens had the right to protect themselves and their families in national parks and wildlife refuges."
From whom? Roving bands of armed woodland militants? But seriously, it's true that crime rates have risen a little in national parks over the last few years, but how legalizing concealed weapons would do anything but exacerbate the situation is beyond me. Mind you, the issue here is not to ban the carrying of weapons in national parks—just concealed ones. That's the key word here--concealed. No one is infringing on hunting rights here. Blocking the rule just means you can't keep a 9 millimeter in your backpack when you hit the hiking trails.
Big loss, right? Again, I can empathize with those who believe in the right to carry concealed weapons in other areas—they feel it's part of the right to protect yourself, without alarming the general public. In some areas, like in Florida and Michigan, concealed weapon permits are thought to have lowered crime rates. But much of the decrease has come from averting robberies and property crimes—crimes much less likely to occur in national parks.
And this drive seems to me to be symbolic posturing by the NRA: how many people are truly afraid to enter national parks without concealed weapons?
National parks are tranquil, places where people seek solitude. If people have to start wondering whether the camper next to them is packing, that valued tranquility is apt to vanish. If anyone can come up with a good reason that non-Forest Service or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to carry concealed guns in national parks, I'd love to hear it.