Washington, DC — A campaign by the National Rifle Association to repeal National Park Service rules relating to firearms is based upon misconceptions, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If the NRA is successful, it would mark the first time Congress would have enacted a statute to repeal a regulation governing the national park system – in this case, rules that date back to the origin of national parks.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has prepared legislation forbidding the Interior Secretary from enforcing “any regulation that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm in any unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System…” On December 14, 2007, a group of 47 senators wrote to Interior Secretary Kempthorne urging repeal of these regulations because they are “confusing, burdensome and unnecessary”. The NRA claims credit for both the letter and the Coburn amendment. A Senate vote on the Coburn amendment may occur as early as this week.
A central assertion is that the current regulation offends the Second Amendment by prohibiting the possession of a firearm in parks. That is not the case, however. The regulation (36 CFR 2.4) says that –
“…unloaded weapons may be possessed within a temporary lodging or mechanical mode of conveyance when such implements are rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased or stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use.”
In fact, these rules, re-written in 1983 under the Reagan administration, were intended to relax earlier strict prohibitions. As the National Park Service (NPS) then explained: “[T]he Service has determined that it is not feasible to prohibit the possession of weapons in all situations, and a total prohibition would be unenforceable” (48 FR 30256).
“The Second Amendment right ‘to keep and bear Arms’ does not specify that the weapons must always be loaded and holstered,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, the former deputy superintendent of Mojave National Preserve, noting the fundamental reason for this regulation is to prevent opportunistic poaching, as most park units forbid hunting. “It is amazing that for more than seven decades the vigilant guardians of the Second Amendment never before discovered this hidden violation of the Constitution by the National Park Service.”
The other rationale for removing firearm regulations is “consistency in firearms policy” on federal lands, according to the senators’ letter. Senator Coburn’s legislation would have federal firearm policy conform to state laws, but because firearms laws vary from state to state, there would then be at least 50 sets of rules for federal lands. In some instances, where a park straddles a state line, there would be two different firearms policies in different sections of the same park.
“This uniformity argument is absurd,” Buono added, pointing out that the White House is also part of the national park system. “We don’t allow guns on airplanes, in penitentiaries or in the halls of Congress, either. In this case, to paraphrase Emerson, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of shallow politics.”