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Firearms now allowed in most national parks and wildlife refuges

A Smith & Wesson .357 is shown with various caliber handgun ammunition.

A change in federal law goes into effect Monday that will allow firearms to be carried in many national parks and wildlife refuges.

The legislation, enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama in May, allows individuals with "carry" permits who can legally possess guns under federal, state and local laws to tote the weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges. Every state except Illinois and the District of Columbia have concealed and or open carry laws of some kind.

"For nearly 100 years, the mission of the National Park Service has been to protect and preserve the parks and to help all visitors enjoy them," National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said in a news release. "We will administer this law as we do all others -- fairly and consistently."

Firearms have been prohibited in most national parks and wildlife refuges, with the exception of some parks in Alaska and those that allow hunting.

The new law will not change hunting regulations, nor the use of firearms in these areas. Guns will also continue to be prohibited in designated federal facilities within national parks and wildlife refuges, such as visitor centers, ranger stations and offices.

Firearms will be allowed in 373 of the 392 national parks. Since more than 30 of these parks are located in more than one state, visitors need to know where they are when in these parks and which state's law applies, as state and local firearms laws vary.

To help visitors understand the laws and plan accordingly, park websites have been updated to include links to state firearms laws.

Many will probably decry this change, stating it could lead to more accidental shootings and/or crimes in our national parks and wildlife refuges. I'm curious as to what readers think -- is it a good idea, so that people can protect themselves if necessary, or will it lead to more problems than it might prevent?

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A Smith & Wesson .357 is shown with various caliber handgun ammunition. Credit: Judi Bottoni / Associated Press

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Comments (13)

It's a common sense idea. There are nut cases out there as well as big cats, bears, and hairy creatures that are determined to kill you. I've always carried a side arm, legal or not, to protect my family, companions, or myself from becoming a victim. I've seen many bears and nuts, but haven't had to shoot yet.
However, I would if it was a threat situation. Some scenarios would not allow you enough time to draw and fire, but most would. I choose to go with the odds in favor of survival.

Actually the paranoid ones are those who are deathly afraid that someone who has a CCW (which means no violent criminal record) is going to somehow wind up shooting them. Fearing legal gun owners and carriers is far more irrational than wanting to be armed against those criminals who every day make the news by overpowering and destroying those who can't defend themselves.

Lest we not forget there are numerous people growing illegal drugs in many national parks due to the remote location, and the fact that everyone they encounter will not be carrying a firearm. I think it a shame someone will not enjoy what has been set aside for our enjoyment because of those who choose not to obey laws anyway. For years there have been many people who are otherwise lawful, carrying firearms into parks for their own safety. Now they can do this under the law. This argument will rage on, but laws are only for those who obey them. As a Concealed Carry permit holder this law makes me happy. In my state I am aware that the SLED will come pull my permit for any infraction worse than speeding. I am also trained better than many law enforcement officials (this is not their fault by the way). I would consider those who carry, many of which are veterans, to be the best citizens I could hope to have as a friend if I were in need.

What the h*** is wrong with this country?

I'd like to know why anyone would even bother to wake up in the morning and start the day if you are already so filled with fear and paranoia toward the world around you that you need to carry a gun everywhere to protect yourself.

What is stupid about this entire situation is that even though you can carry a loaded weapon into a national park it is still illegal to fire the weapon or shoot an animal, which I am fine with but this question comes to my mind "what's the point?". If people are worried about safety then don't go out at night and don't go out alone, really don't do anything that you wouldn't do in a city. I think this will cause an increase in accidental deaths or injuries in the National Parks.

Dick, you sound paranoid and exactly like the kind of person I fear running into in the backcountry. And you're dead wrong about pepper spray vs. guns.

"The Park Service, along with state and federal wildlife agencies, highly recommends the use of pepper spray rather than guns when faced with a bear, noting several studies proving the spray to be far more effective than a bullet in diverting or stopping a charging bear.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “evidence of human-bear encounters even suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack.” The agency adds that a review of bear attacks shows injuries more frequent and more severe when a gun was used, than when spray was deployed."


@ Finn:

Depends on what state you live in chief. Get to know the law before you cry about the change it will make on those that do. In my state, you can conceal a firearm on your person in your vehicle, or anywhere in your vehicle. It's called the Castle Doctrine, and it allows me to carry a firearm for personal defense anywhere in my state, so long as it's in my vehicle.

Now, I also have a CHL. That means I can carry anywhere else allowed by law, because I feel like it, and not because a "SCARED" citizen believes I have to have a good reason. My reason is the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I also have a God given right, a human right, and a personal responsibility to preserve my own life. I cannot wait for a janitor with a badge to police my corpse in order for other citizens to not be offended by the smell.

If America still taught it's youth to handle firearms, and the repercussions for using one, gun "violence" would be an oxymoron.

You are almost correct about gun "violence" virtually never being performed by a CCW, however, sadly it has and will continue so long as the system remains slow, and the "banners" need statistics.

Your prediction about the law having no effect at all means you have not read the allowances the law makes for the holders of a concealed handgun permit.

@ James:

As opposed to the bear killing a few campers, that would be ok in your eyes. Maybe the bear will be a herbabear? Maybe you could be on hand to find out?

@ Peter:

I'm going to give you one example. You are smart enough (I can tell by your ability to type) to find more.

@ Rob:

Well done. You missed the fact that handguns had to be carried locked away, or even disassembled, regardless of carry permit. So the law does change something for those with a concealed.

@ Kate:

And a Park Ranger is always within 125 square miles of your campsite. Your bear spray is nothing more than meat rub, and it sounds like you know your way around and how to pack. This is not philosophical, bears are not the most dangerous animal in the woods. I hope you never get to personally know how awful man can be. Besides, people that don't care about the law, or your right not to be violated, are already carrying in the woods because they like to visit places where guns are banned. They find the easiest victims there. Enjoy your stay!!!

So for all you opinionated, who believe that this country is founded on a Democracy and majority rule, I will be able to enjoy my 2A Rights right along you in the park. Nothing you can do or say about it as long as I remain concealed. If you need help, I can exercise my other rights, or even choose not to get involved. That's my right, moral or not, it's legal. Bet you wouldn't complain about it if it saved your lives.

You are either for legal concealed carry or you aren't--Hardly anyone believes that concealed carry is OK in most places, but somehow a bigger problem in a national park. Rather, you'll find people who don't like concealed carry, and think it is even worse in a park, or a college campus, or a playground, or near alcohol, or in a car, or...

"... guns are allowed in National Parks if the state housing the Park allows for gun permits and concealed-carry permits. In other words, if you have a valid permit in your state and the state you are visiting recognizes the validity of that permit, you're in the clear to carry."

Note that this is not just about concealed carry permits. The new law is a confusing and unnecessary capitulation to the NRA by cowering or pandering politicians. Park and law enforcement personnel have stated time and again that parks are among the safest places in America; the previous uniform 'no guns in parks' rule was unambiguous and it worked. I live between Glacier and Yellowstone and not far from a Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, so this is a real issue for me. I spend time in the grizzly-dwelling backcountry armed with bear spray because that's what works. The thought of meeting some nervous nellie who doesn't belong in the backcountry (but is there now because he's emboldened by his gun) who might shoot first and check for bears or backpackers later doesn't exactly comfort me. This is not a philosophical discussion for me.

The whole thing is being misconstrued. People carry firearms in parks already. Yes, that may not have been in our National Parks, but the premise is the same - that people carry firearms while in public on public lands already.

There haven't been any massacres in these places. In fact, there haven't even been many "hunting accidents' in these areas. Why? Mostly (I think) because gun owners are responsible people who have practiced with their weapons to the point that they are SAFE with them. (compare gun related incidents to those of automobile deaths and/or medical related deaths from malpractice or medicine/overdoses - the results will startle you.)

The new laws don't change anything regarding having weapons in camping sites. That's always been OK. The new laws don't change anything regarding the carry of a firearm in your car while traveling through the park either. The only thing that will change is that now those who have concealed firearms permits can carry their firearms while out of their car or campsite.

Which is no different than what hunters, hikers and backpackers do in just about every other public area without any problems.

What a nation of idiots we are fast becoming! Who needs a weapon in national parks besides wardens and rangers? Why would anyone else visiting a park need to carry a weapon? It is my belief that we will see more shootings of animals and people in these sacred sites across the nation because of this law. I wonder what would prompt congress and the President to sign this kind of law permitting licensed weapons in national parkland? Another fact of the dumbing of America!

Probably very little will happen. Probably the biggest danger is guns being discharged in campgrounds when a bear visits. In a packed campground, a stray bullet could be lethal. It will be rare, but someone will probably get shot in the next few years because someone "feared for their life" when a bear raided their campground.

> I'm curious as to what readers think -- is it a good idea,
> so that people can protect themselves if necessary,
> or will it lead to more problems than it might prevent?

Well, I predict that you'll hear both sides, in highly emotional diatribes.

This law doesn't give the general public permission to pack a gun. It's for people with permits to Carry Concealed Weapons, which are granted only to those who have a really good reason to carry them, and know how to use them. Gun violence in the news is virtually never perpetrated by CCW holders.

My prediction is that outside the emotional blogosphere, this law will make no difference at all.


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.