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