Talk in political circles often centers on bipartisanship. If politicians want to portray a bill or program as something few would quibble with, they reach across the aisle and find at least a handful of supporters in the other party.
Then they can say their proposal is bipartisan and the rest of us are supposed to go along.
If bipartisanship effectively gets everyone on board, a proposal to change some rules in national parks shouldn’t have any trouble.
Last week, 47 senators from both parties sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne asking him to change rules that restrict firearms in national parks and lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The letter asks that Kempthorne rescind regulations put in place by Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt that require park visitors to make firearms inaccessible during their visit.
Some parks have even more restrictive rules and require firearms be inoperable and cased.
The senators’ letter asks the rules be relaxed to allow visitors who are legally allowed to own firearms to be able to take them into parks and wildlife refuges and keep them accessible during their visits. The senators believe it’s a matter of consistency in federal firearms regulations.
Most other federal lands, such as national forests, allow visitors to carry firearms. “These inconsistencies in firearms regulations are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary,” according to the letter.
The request, signed by Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard and 38 other GOP senators along with eight Democrats, is spot on. Government regulations should be consistent from agency to agency and should be no more intrusive or limiting than absolutely necessary.
Jerry Case, head of regulations and special park uses for the National Park Service, says the rules were adopted to address problems with park visitors shooting wildlife, either for sport or because they felt threatened. Banning accessible firearms to address that problem is typical of government’s clumsy regulating.
A better approach would have been to make it clear to visitors that shooting wildlife is illegal in all but the most extreme situations.
On a more basic level, current regulations ignore the reason many people carry firearms: personal protection. Requiring firearms to be inaccessible makes it impossible for a park visitor to defend his or her life and property on federal property. Is that a common problem in our national parks? Probably not. But there’s a saying among gun rights activists that when you need a gun, you really need a gun. Having it in a case in the trunk of your car helps only if you’re in the trunk with it.
“There’s no reason to need a gun in a national park, and it would possibly lead to unfortunate accidents and other problems, so we’d rather not see them in the parks,” said Laura Loomis, spokesperson for The National Parks Conservation Association, in an Associated Press story.
Loomis, and other supporters of the current regulations, likely worry that changing the rules will lead to more violence. That’s the same argument anti-gunners have used for years since cities, counties and states have liberalized concealedcarry laws. Those concerns have proven to be unfounded. Armed law-abiding citizens aren’t the source of violence, criminals are.
She’s right that firearms can lead to unfortunate accidents. So can myriad other things. Should we expect the government to restrict those things as well, or just the ones unpopular with a certain segment of society? And what “other problems?” Maybe that the mere sight of a firearm gets some people all atwitter? That’s no reason for the government’s ham-fisted regulations.
In a free society, people should have the liberty to do what they wish without infringing on the legitimate rights of others. If they restrict others’ rights, the state should step in to adjudicate justice. That’s the way textbooks teach freedom. The senators simply want the Interior Department to hew a little closer to that ideal.