Since February 2010 National Park visitors have been permitted to carry firearms in parks based on the state and local laws where the park is located. This change in regulatory control of firearms which has been in place since the 1880s has sparked a debate about crime in our parks. I have several thoughts to throw in on this conversation.
Crime does exist in our National Parks. Criminals and those who can be provoked into criminal acts visit parks just like anyone else. Even gang members have been known to take vacations and have meetings in National Parks. The crime rate in National Parks is not any higher or more violent than the areas that surround them. Some parks are near or within easy driving distances of heavy crime urban areas. One such area is Lake Mead which is near Las Vegas, Nevada. What happens in Vegas does not always stay there as their ads claim. At times it starts there and ends up at Lake Mead.
When a violent crime occurs in one of our parks, we take it personally. Some liken it to having a crime committed in their own back yard. Visitors often have an inflated sense of protection and safety while traveling in National Parks. There are not enough park rangers out there to ensure complete protection for each of the more than 275 million people who flock to our parks each year.
Many visitors who travel to National Parks come with a naive sense of safety thinking they have left crime and other dangers completely behind. The result is that they do not take the precautions that they may take at home to protect their families and themselves. They forget simple practices such as keeping the family together, locking vehicle doors, not leaving valuables visible, and listening to their own inner conscience when a situation does not look right to them. Cues that may spell danger to a person at home are ignored and disregarded while visiting a National Park.
In his book "The Gift Of Fear," Gavin DeBecker eloquently describes how to perfect and listen to your inner voice in recognizing threats that can be applied at home and while traveling. I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to improve their ability to protect themselves and their families.
Other visitors do not take into account that they are entering a natural and uncontrolled environment. They come with a mindset that no matter what they do; how lost they get, how over their head they get climbing a mountain, a park ranger will come and rescue them. Caution is thrown to the wind to get that adrenalin or testosterone thrill and bragging rights.
A point was made recently by one of the pro-firearms bloggers that I have to agree with in concept. Ultimately each individual is responsible for their own safety. There will never be enough National Park Rangers and other staff to be there for you every minute of your visit. Personal awareness, good decision making, listening to your conscience, avoiding possibly dangerous situations, and common sense may prove to be a much better way to protect yourself than relying on a firearm to get you out of a situation.
All that said, National Parks are no more dangerous than any other vacation spot in this country. Being fully prepared for your visit can ensure a fun, educational, and safe memory.