It’s official – you can now pack heat in Yellowstone NP

A law taking effect Feb. 22 allows citizens to carry weapons in National Parks if they're allowed by state law.

Carrying firearms now OK in most National Parks across the country

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Thanks to the infinite wisdom of Congress and some persuasive lobbying by the NRA, people are free to carry guns in many national parks beginning today (Feb. 22).

Up to now, guns have been banned in national parks, other than in some Alaska parks were grizzlies roam and in parks where hunting is allowed.

The NRA, which lobbied for the law, said it will help park visitors protect themselves.

Many park rangers and other critics said it will make the parks more dangerous, lead to increased poaching and damage to cultural resources like petroglyphs. Read their concerns here.

According to the National Park Service, state and local firearms laws vary. Visitors who would like to bring a firearm with them to a national park need to understand and comply with the applicable laws. More than 30 national parks are located in more than one state, so visitors need to know where they are in those parks and which state’s law applies.

Get a bit more information on how the new rules apply from this story in the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

“For nearly 100 years, the mission of the National Park Service has been to protect and preserve the parks and to help all visitors enjoy them,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said. “We will administer this law as we do all others – fairly and consistently.

National Park Service rangers are concerned the change will lead to increased poaching.

“We that work and live in national parks across the country know first-hand the difficulty of gathering enough evidence to successfully prosecute a poacher … We think it naïve to believe that purposeful poachers will not take every advantage of this change in the law and make every attempt to camouflage themselves to avoid detection,” said Scott McElveen, president of the Association of National Park Rangers. “The new law also makes the decision for opportunistic poachers to act easier.  And, the result of less deterrence means more wildlife are killed and injured, and less viewable for park visitors to enjoy,” he said.

Read the rest of McElveen’s statement here.

Federal law still prohibits guns in federal facilities, so people need to leave their six-shooters in the car before entering visitor centers, offices and maintenance buildings, which be posted with “no firearms” signs. The new law also does not change prohibitions on the use of firearms in parks and doesn’t change hunting regulations. Individual park web sites have been updated with links to state gun laws.

The new rules also apply to national wildlife refuges run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ignoring the concerns of those who live and work in the parks and know them best, the NRA is on record as saying the new rules will enhances the self-defense right of citizens.

According to National Park Service statistics, there were 3,760 reported major crimes, including five homicides and 37 rapes, in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available.

Handgun critics said the new rules would make national parks less safe.

A former National Park Service ranger who heads up a coalition of retired employees said the new rule will change the social dynamic in the parks and make it tougher for rangers, who will have to deal with armed visitors.

“This law is a very bad idea,” said Bill Wade, who chairs the executive council of  the coalition of park service retirees. “It is not in the best interests of the visitors to national parks, the resources to be protected in national parks, nor the employees in national parks. Opportunistic shooting at wildlife and historic resources, such as petroglyphs, will increase. Employees, especially law enforcement rangers, will be more at risk.”

As usual, the New York Times covered the issue thoroughly. Here’s a link to the NYT Opinion section, featuring an interesting variety of op-ed columns from both sides of the issue.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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5 thoughts on “It’s official – you can now pack heat in Yellowstone NP

  1. The NRA has been a strong coalition forever. As always, follow the money.

    Guns won’t make us safer when we’re out enjoying the woods. Hate to say it, but there will be a trial for someone who shoots at an animal “attacker” in a National Park, misses, but hits one of us. Our taxpayer dollars will be used for months on end to defend that shooter’s accident.

  2. Here’s a comment on this story that came in on Facebook from Cody Greenwaldt:

    “Opportunistic shooting at petroglyphs will increase?”

    Really? Carrying weapons has been allowed in wilderness areas and national forests I don’t see why a national park should be any different than the rest of a state. This is not a regression, if anything it’s an affirmation of our constitutional right to bear arms.

  3. I’m a gun owner and advocate for second amendment rights but I stop short of thinking that guns in National Parks is necessary.

    Will I now need to carry in National Parks just to protect myself from gun-toting yahoos with less-than-admirable intentions?

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

  4. Thanks for the comments. Matt, I think the rangers have a good point when they say they’re worried about random shooting of landmarks, signs and petroglyphs, too. Just look around Summit County – nearly every Forest Service sign has bullet holes in it.

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