As early as next week, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is expected to offer an amendment to S. 2483, the "National Forests, Parks, Public Land, and Reclamation Projects Authorization Act of 2007," that would stop the enforcement of park service regulations requiring gun owners to keep their guns unloaded and stored while visiting most areas of America's National Park System.
Under the Coburn Amendment, state law would supercede the current federal regulations. So, if you have a concealed carry license that's valid in the state(s) the national park you're visiting is located, go ahead, load up that handgun and carry it around your campsite, over to Old Faithful, back to the general store for a six-pack of beer, and then back to your tent. If state law allows you to hang an AK-47 off your truck's gun rack, and then march with the loaded assault rifle along a backwoods trail to say "hi" to the bird watchers and flower gazers, all the better.
Among the groups opposing the Coburn Amendment are: the National Parks Conservation Association; the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police; the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees; the Association of National Park Rangers; and, The Wilderness Society.
Eh, but what do they know?
They're only the individuals and organizations charged with maintaining our national parks and protecting those who visit them.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate last Friday, three of these groups--the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the Association of National Park Rangers--voiced their strong opposition to the Coburn Amendment and raised their concerns about the real-world effects of the bill. Among these:
o The Coburn Amendment "could dramatically degrade the experience of park visitors and put their safety at risk if units of the National Park System were compelled to follow state gun laws." The letter offers the following example:
"[S]ince Wyoming has limited gun restrictions, visitors could see persons with semi-automatic weapons attending campground programs, hiking down park trails or picnicking along park shorelines at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Moreover, many rangers can recite stories about incidents where the risk to other visitors--as well as to the ranger--would have been exacerbated if a gun had been readily-accessible. This amendment would compromise the safe atmosphere that is valued by Americans and expected by international tourists traveling to the United States."
o The Coburn Amendment "will make poaching in parks even more prevalent than it already is, thus reducing the opportunity for children, families, and Americans from all walks of life to easily view wildlife that so many parks provide." The letter explains:
"This amendment could hamper efforts by park rangers to halt poaching, a chronic problem in many national park units throughout the country that is growing because of an increase in the illegal international animal parts trade. According to the National Park Service, poaching `is suspected to be a factor in the decline of at least 29 species of wildlife and could cause the extirpation of 19 species from the parks.' The...[current federal regulations]...have proven essential to law enforcement officers who patrol the boundaries of national parks looking for poachers who illegally take wildlife enjoyed by all people within the parks....Senator Coburn's amendment will make it more difficult to apprehend these individuals because possession and display of a weapon would no longer be probable cause to initiate a search for evidence of wildlife or wildlife parts."
In a lesson in understatement, the letter adds, "Moreover, wildlife will not remain easily viewable when it is being shot at."
Other concerns raised by the Coburn Amendment but not addressed in the letter include:
o The effect the amendment would have on heavily-trafficked national parks, national shrines, and other national "icons" (oh, say, like the Statue of Liberty) that are located in urban areas that allow the carrying of concealed weapons.
o The increased opportunity for vandalism and other dangerous activities by "slob shooters" who would now have their loaded weapons ready.
o If it is no longer illegal to have loaded weapons in parks, the number of charges that can be brought against those involved in illegal drug operations will be reduced.
As the letter concludes:
"There is simply no legitimate or substantive reason for a thoughtful sportsman or gun owner to carry a loaded gun in a national park unless that park permits hunting. The requirement that guns in parks are unloaded and put away is a reasonable and limited restriction to facilitate legitimate purposes--the protection of precious park resources and safety of visitors."