Former National Park Directors: Loaded Guns Are a Bad Idea

Date:   April 3, 2008
Contact:   Bryan Faehner, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.419.3700

Former National Park Directors: Loaded Guns Are a Bad Idea

Former National Park Service Directors Send Letter of Concern to Interior Secretary Kempthorne

Washington, D.C. – The battle to prevent loaded guns in national parks has gained seven more allies—all former Directors of the National Park Service. In a letter sent today to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the directors argued that the current Reagan-era regulations, which allow for guns in parks as long as they are unloaded and properly stowed, are reasonable and provide for a safe environment for families and wildlife.

This underscores arguments made by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees that existing regulations should remain in place.

Under intense political pressure orchestrated by the National Rifle Association, the Bush Administration has decided to re-open regulations, which were last updated during the Reagan Administration, that govern firearms in the national parks for public comment on April 30. Changes may include allowing visitors to carry loaded weapons within park boundaries. A much earlier version of the regulation was established in 1936 to prevent the poaching of wildlife, and was included in the National Park Service’s first general regulations adopted after the creation of the agency in 1916.

“In all our years with the National Park Service, we experienced very few instances in which this limited regulation created confusion or resistance,” the letter stated. “There is no evidence that any potential problems that one can imagine arising from the existing regulations might overwhelm the good they are known to do.”

The current regulations were designed to be the least restrictive possible while still allowing park personnel to prevent the unlawful killing of wildlife.

Fran Mainella, the 16th director and who served during the early years of the Bush Administration stated "it is critical to leave the current regulations in place if we want the best protection for our resources, visitors, employees and volunteers."

Just this past November in a letter to Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) who chairs the Committee on Natural Resources, current National Park Service Director Mary Bomar expressed her support for the current regulations stating that they “provide necessary and consistent enforcement parameters throughout the National Park System.”

In December of 2007 and then again in February of 2008, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne received two separate letters orchestrated by the NRA and signed by multiple U.S. Senators asking that he re-open the firearm regulations for national parks and national refuges and allow for state firearms laws to be applied instead. The letters misstate current law, erroneously stating that firearms are prohibited in national parks. As a follow-up to the senators’ letter to Sec. Kempthorne, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) filed an amendment and later introduced a freestanding bill that would prevent the Secretary from enforcing current firearm regulations for the parks.

“Our national parks are some of the safest places in the world—in fact, the probability of becoming a victim of a violent crime in a national park is less than being struck by lightening during one’s lifetime,” said Bryan Faehner, former park ranger and legislative representative for the National Parks Conservation Association. “NRA politicking must not be allowed to trump the limited and reasonable regulations that have proven effective against combating poaching and keeping our parks safe for families.”

To view a copy of the letter click here.


Since 1919, the nonpartisan NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its 340,000 members, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come. 



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