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Political powder keg

Have you ever visited one of the majestic national parks in our country and thought, “This would be a much better experience if I could carry a loaded weapon”? Have you ever skipped a chance to hike at Mount Rainier, fish at Glacier or gape in awe at the geysers of Yellowstone because you just wouldn’t feel safe without packing heat?

Apparently, this is quite a problem. You’re forgiven if you haven’t heard about it, because it’s news to us, too.

It must be serious, however, because U.S. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne is reviewing a rule that requires weapons in national parks to be unloaded and inoperable. The restrictions date to the 1930s and were designed to stop the poaching of wildlife.

If public safety is to supersede that longstanding rationale, supporters ought to at least make the case that national parks are dangerous. They haven’t done that. Nor have they demonstrated that the current rules truly are “confusing, burdensome and unnecessary,” which is the contention of U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., and other members of Congress advocating the change.

In fact, national park rangers who count on the rule to help manage the parks say the restriction is necessary.

“It’s impossible for park rangers to know the difference between someone walking on a trail with a gun, and someone who is a poacher walking on a trail with a gun. This is a management nightmare for the park service,” said Bryan Faehner, a former park ranger with the National Parks Conservation Association, in a Washington Post article.

Doug Morris, a retired park superintendent and member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, told the Associated Press that changing the rules “could break what is not broken and change the nature of our national parks.”

So if park management doesn’t see the need, why do politicians? Politics, of course.

National Rifle Association lobbyists are pushing the change in their continuing efforts to expand gun rights, with their latest sights drawn on college campuses and national parks. At least there has been violence on campuses.

Western politicians see an election-year issue that forces a congressional vote that can be simplistically trumpted as “pro-gun” or “anti-gun.” U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he plans to add a repeal-the-ban amendment to a bill that addresses conservation on public lands, even though there are bills in the House and Senate that directly address the weapons issue.

Kempthorne says he will devise a revision to the ban for public comment by April 30. If he can’t make a substantive case for how this will improve the safety and management of national parks or enhance national park experience for visitors, he should hold his powder.


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