Supreme Court Decision Scrambles National Park Firearm Plan
Many State Laws Will Be Subject to Legal Challenge and Uncertainty
Washington, DC — A plan by the Bush administration to tie firearms regulations in national parks and refuges to state law will compound the legal chaos created by last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the District of Columbia’s gun law, according to comments filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today is the final day of public comment on the plan which would drop park rules dating back a century in favor of changing and uncertain state firearms laws.
On April 30, 2008, the U.S. Interior Department proposed to repeal nearly century-old national park rules requiring that firearms be unloaded and unavailable for ready use. In its place, the Bush administration would substitute the various laws governing “any state park, or any similar unit of state land, in which state the federal park, or that portion thereof, is located…”
Under the plan, national parks within the District of Columbia, such as the National Mall and even the White House, may have no enforceable firearms restrictions if the D.C. government is unable to fashion a new, legally defensible set of firearm restrictions once the ruling takes full effect in July.
“Why on earth would we put the security of our national icons and safety of park visitors at the mercy of an NRA-sponsored political mud wrestling match?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the National Rifle Association has served notice that it intends to initiate waves of litigation against state gun restrictions. “Until the legal dust clears, it makes no sense to throw out one single, clear, time-tested rule for fifty-one moving targets.”
The current National Park Service (NPS) regulation was re-written in 1983 under the Reagan administration and was intended to relax earlier strict prohibitions. As the 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 current regulation (36 CFR 2.4) reads –
“…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.”
It is precisely these sort of rules that the majority opinion in the Supreme Court ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller case appears to uphold when it denied that the decision would affect “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” (at 54).
Since its origin, the national park system has forbidden or severely restricted hunting, making carrying restrictions a key anti-poaching strategy. In comments filed last week, PEER argued that the Bush plan could lead to an increased illegal hunting of valuable park wildlife. In supplementary comments filed today, PEER cites the Supreme Court decision as a new basis for dropping the planned repeal of firearms rules. “We are calling on the Bush administration to put this plan for parks and refuges aside in light of a dramatically changed legal environment,” concluded Ruch.