Sunday, October 25, 2009

Firearms in National Parks

Scenes like the one above will be seen by National Park Rangers more frequently starting in February of 2010. A rider on the Credit Cardholder's Rights Bill removed past regulations prohibiting the possession of loaded firearms in National Parks. Starting in February park visitors will be able to carry firearms per locals and state laws where such carry is permitted.

Arguments have been made for the positive impact this regulatory change will have on the ability of people to protect themselves with firearms while visiting National Parks. Several articles have referred to the present firearms regulations as dating to the Reagan era making it sound like a recent firearms regulatory change imposed by the National Park Service.

I have several points of view that may clarify some of this partial information.

The present regulation found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 2.4 prohibits the possession of loaded or accessible firearms. This is not quite the total ban on possession that has been portrayed by many media reports.

Stating that this is a regulation only dating back to the 1980s is a misleading interpretation. When I first started with the National Park Service in 1975, firearms were prohibited in parks. In the 1980s the Code of Federal Regulations was rewritten to introduce several new regulations and clarify others such as section 2.4. The ban of firearms in National Parks in actuality goes back to before the National Park Service was established in 1916.

When Yellowstone National Park was first established in 1872 there were no regulations or persons to protect wildlife within the new park. The decimation of buffalo and elk became so threatening that the Army was moved in and maintained two to three full Troops of Calvary (more than 200 men) in the park for 3o years. In 1894 Congress passed the Yellowstone Game Protection Act to provide some teeth in the wildlife protection actions of the Army.

In 1903 then President Theodore Roosevelt planned a cross country trip that included a ten day stop over in Yellowstone National Park. At the time there was an active program to destroy predators such as cougars and wolves. T.R. thought that perhaps he could join in and hunt cougar in the park during his stay. Public and political opinion was against the President hunting in a National Park. In newspapers of the day Major Pitcher, Yellowstone's Superintendent, was quoted as saying, "The President's gun would be sealed by the U.S. Army when he entered the park, just as with every other citizen."* So thirteen years before the establishment of the National Park Service firearms were banned in National Parks.

A valuable preemptive tool used by park rangers to protect wildlife will be lost with the revocation of the firearms regulations. Today rangers who meet people in backcountry areas armed with hunting rifles can prevent them from using that firearm in the park. With the new change in this regulation rangers will not be able to take any action until a person actually shoots at and or kills wildlife. Once the animal in question is dead it can no longer be protected. Park ranger staffs are so limited in number that they can not keep an individual with a firearm under surveillance during their entire time in a park.

Arguments can be made on both sides of the issue of firearms possession by visitors in parks. The fact is that one of the most affective and oldest tools used by park rangers to protect wildlife has been taken away to meet the political demands of special interest groups. Evidence of this fact is that Congress had to hide this new law in a document with a positive title like the Credit Cardholders Rights Bill.

*Brinkley, Douglas, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America; p 507, 2009, Harper Collins Publishing, NY


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. It sounds like our National Parks are being forced to reverse their policy until there is little protection of the nation's wildlife left.

  3. Many state parks allow the carrying of firearms. There have been no great problems of poaching or violent behavior in them. I think you will see the same in national parks. The vast majority of legal gun owners and concealed carry permit holders are regular law abiding citizens.

  4. I hope that your experience in state parks holds true for national parks. I have a tendency to be pessimistic based on my experience.

  5. Sorry, but my right to protect myself trumps the (non-existant) right of (maybe) needing to protect some deer or elk. Here in PA, firearms are allowed in State Parks, National Forest Lands, and State Forests. Our deer herd has been decimated by PaGC policy, not poachers.

  6. National Parks should have no firearms regulations at all. State law should prevail. Never forget that the USNPS and the USFWS are anti-gun, anti-hunting Washington, DC liberal bureaucracies.

  7. Smokie the bear has more of a chance of getting hit by a car or caught in a forest fire than being shot. The people just want the right to protect theirselves without breaking the law. I believe thats a right or forefathers fought and died to protect.

  8. I'm originally from AZ, where we have had occassional but rare attacks in campgrounds by bears, mtn. lions, bobcats, etc., particular in drought conditions, lots of snake bites and, over the last three decades the most dangerous animals in the remote areas of the parks and national forests are those of the two-legged variety. I saved my dog's life 20 years ago because I could draw a handgun and fire quickly. DCV Sugar Land, TX

  9. Is there really a problem with poaching in national parks?I dont think so.If there was the anti responsibility people would be all over it.
    I am not comfortable leaving the safety of my family to 911.
    Have a nice day:)

  10. If someone is going to poach (illegaly harvest game) what makes you think they won't illegally carry a firearm to do so if they were still banned? You carried a firearm right. How come? For YOUR protection. Against what? Criminals, animal attack. It's about self relience for your own safety. What am I suppose to do? Call 911 while in the back country. So you can take a report and photos of my remains. No thank you.
    Why do those that enforce the rules feel that they are exempt from them. It's ok for me, because I AM the law, but not for you common folk. Thank GOD there are still some lawmakers that believe in self reliance and responsibility. Tell ya what. I'll be glad to pay for a sign for you to post in your front yard that says "gun free home". Good luck with that.