February 22 will be a day of change for our National Parks. As of that date rules prohibiting the possession of loaded and accessible firearms that date back to 1897 will be overturned. Due to a rider attached to the Credit Card Holders Rights Bill (Public Law 111-24, Section 512) the National Park Service and Department of the Interior will no longer have the authority to regulate the possession of firearms in National Parks. The carrying of firearms will now follow those of states and local governments. This brings about several possible points of confusion for park visitors and administrators.
No longer will there be one set of regulations pertaining to the possession of firearms in National Park Service Areas. Visitors will need to be aware of the regulations of the state where the park they are visiting is located. It becomes even more complex when parks are in more than one state or regulations and ordinances are not uniform throughout a state.
An example is the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia has what are considered liberal firearms laws. By state law you can carry a firearm as long as it is in the open and visible. To carry one concealed you do need a permit. Virginia law does allow counties to adopt more restrictive ordinances within their jurisdictions. Consequently, on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia visitors could be permitted to carry loaded rifles and shotguns in their cars except while traveling through sections of the park located in Roanoke County where loaded long guns in vehicles are prohibited.
There are those in the state of Maine that are concerned about firearms in National Parks such as Acadia. There is a movement to pass a state law that prohibits or limits firearms in parks. If passed this law would affect enforcement in both state and Federal parks since state law is now the basis for regulating guns in National Parks.
Public Law 111-24, Section 512 also conflicts with existing Federal laws such as those that prohibit the possession of firearms in or on Federal facilities. This is commonly used to provide protection for Post Offices, Court Houses, military bases, and Federal buildings. Are not National Park Visitor Centers, Offices, and Concessions buildings federal facilities? Perhaps even the parks themselves could be considered under this law.
The new law prevents the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior from enforcing any regulations that prohibit the possession of firearms. Regulations will still be in place that prohibit the carrying and use of firearms.
If you are confused by all this, you are not the only ones. It will take some time and education to smooth out the rough spots to interpret and enforce this new myriad of laws and regulations.