New Rules Readied For Guns In National Parks

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 11:48pm.

U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says it's time to take a "fresh look" at the long-held ban against bringing loaded weapons into national parks and wildlife areas.

Kempthorne will soon issue new rules, subject to public comment, that could loosen those restrictions to more closely resemble the gun laws of the states where the federal sites are located.

Gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, and 51 U.S. senators urged the review, including Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. The current rules "infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners," the senators said in a letter to Kempthorne in December.

Seven former directors of the National Park Service, the Association of National Park Rangers and park advocacy organizations such as the National Parks Conservation Association oppose a change. They say the current rules are essential to protecting park resources and wildlife and ensuring visitor safety.

Kempthorne defended the review without revealing his position Monday before addressing a "sustainable tourism" conference in Knoxville keyed to communities around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"We are taking a fresh look at that (rule) because since the 1980s, when it was put in place, there have been a variety of state law changes. We just want to bring this up so we are current," Kempthorne said.

"We want to be consistent in affirming what they are doing and see where we can be in concert with that," he said, noting there will be a 60-day comment period "so we can see what the public's thoughts are" as well.

The former Utah governor said he would make his personal position "very clear" when he releases the rules, possibly this week.

Any change could be a challenge for federal preserves that take in more than one state, such as the 520,000-acre Smokies, which straddle the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Tennessee's gun laws are identical to the national park's, Smokies spokesman Bob Miller said.

Gun owners can bring guns into the park but the "gun has to be broken down or otherwise inaccessible in the trunk or the weapon unloaded and in a case so that it is not available for ready use," he said.

By comparison, North Carolina's law "basically bans weapons from the parks altogether," he said.

Don Barger, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, worries that easing gun restrictions will increase poaching. He also said the low crime rate in parks can't justify the need for greater access to guns for personal safety.

"The current regulation is reasonable and necessary," he said.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who maintains a home near the Smokies, agrees.

"President Reagan adopted rules about guns in parks in the early 1980s, which allow them under some circumstances," Alexander said. "I haven't seen any need to change those rules."

AP - April 30, 2008 - posted at

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 11:48pm.