Gun Regulations in National Parks: Open For Public Comment (and Confusion)

Date:   April 30, 2008
Contact:   Bill Wade, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, 520.615.9417
Scot McElveen, Association of National Park Rangers, 423.286.8644
Bryan Faehner, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.419.3700
John Waterman, Rangers Lodge of the FOP, 800.407.8295

Gun Regulations in National Parks: Open For Public Comment (and Confusion)

Changing existing regulations would only create a visitor and law enforcement bureaucratic nightmare, says coalition

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several National Park Service employee advocacy groups and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) are warning that the National Rifle Association-driven changes to the firearms safety and uniformity regulations in our national parks proposed today by the Department of the Interior will lead to confusion for visitors, rangers, and other law enforcement agencies.

Under intense political pressure orchestrated by the NRA, the Bush Administration has proposed that the regulations, which were last updated during the Reagan Administration allow unloaded and safely stowed firearms in national parks, should be changed to allow for the concealed carry of firearms, subject to the laws of the state where the national park is located.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Parks Conservation Association are concerned that changing the existing firearms regulations to allow concealed guns in the parks, and making park-by-park regulations contingent upon state laws, will create a host of problems where none existed before. The coalition believes that the NRA has not proven the need to change the existing regulation and that our national parks are safe. Statistics show that the probability of becoming a victim of a violent crime in a national park is 1 in 708,333, which is less likely than being struck by lightening during one’s lifetime.

“This is purely and simply a politically-driven effort to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. There are no existing data that suggest any public interest to be gained by allowing visitors to parks to possess concealed handguns,” said Bill Wade, chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. “This proposed regulation increases the risk to visitors, employees and wildlife rather than reducing it. Moreover, it raises a host of other problems: do visitors want other visitors with concealed handguns sitting next to them in park concession restaurants, or in park visitor center auditoriums during interpretive programs, or walking with them during ranger-guided walks? Will parks and concessionaires now have to install metal detectors at the entrances to lodges and visitor centers and other administrative facilities? The current regulation has served parks and visitors admirably for decades. There is no value gained from changing it. Parks were established to be special and different. Making gun laws in parks the same as for the states devalues that special character.”

In a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne on April 3, seven former directors of the National Park Service stated that there is no need to change the regulations. “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.”

Additionally, in a November 2007 letter to Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, current National Park Service Director Mary Bomar expressed support for the current regulations stating that they “provide necessary and consistent enforcement parameters throughout the National Park System.”

“Our national parks are national treasures, not state entities, created by Congress to protect wildlife and inspire future generations through a unique national purpose and mission,” said Bryan Faehner, NPCA legislative representative. “The existing regulations are reasonable and necessary to protect and preserve these places and allow for the safe enjoyment of all visitors.”

“If the proposed change is adopted, rangers and visitors alike could be faced with a number of confusing issues,” said John Waterman, president of the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. “What do you do when visiting a park that has boundary lines in multiple states—like Death Valley National Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone National Park?”

In addition, the coalition is concerned that if someone with a concealed carry permit from Nevada, which has liberal gun laws, were visiting Death Valley National Park and hiked or drove into the part of the park inside California state boundaries, a state with stringent gun laws, there would be confusion as to what state’s laws would apply. Moreover, there are some states where concealed carry permits are recognized as valid even though they were issued elsewhere. This confusion could have a profound impact on the parks and rangers’ law enforcement abilities.

“The question we are asking is do the American people perceive a need to change a long-standing regulation or are they happy with the results of managing parks with regard to loaded guns,” said Scot McElveen, president of the Association of National Park Rangers. “The members of the Association of National Park Rangers have a combined tens-of-thousands years of experience in operating national parks. Part of our dedication to the national park idea is the superlative and unique resources and conditions that these areas were established for. We believe that allowing loaded firearms in parks not associated with hunting authorized by public law, reduces the unique and superlative aura that millions of visitors travel from all over this country and the world to experience.”

The coalition is urging concerned citizens to submit their comments on the proposed regulation change to the Department of the Interior by clicking here.


Considered the “voices of experience,” the nearly 650 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees have over 19,000 years of accumulated experience managing the nation’s national parks and related programs. The Coalition strives to support the mission and purposes of the National Park Service and contributes to the protection of the resources and education of the visitors to the National Park System.

Association of National Park Rangers is the responsible and credible voice of National Park Service workers. We defend and promote the stewardship of the vital natural, cultural and caretaker resources of the national parks through education, training, advocacy and public information. 

The U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police was organized to protect and advance the professional needs of commissioned law enforcement rangers while providing the camaraderie and social support system for which the FOP has been famous for since 1917.  The lodge is run by rangers to benefit rangers and has been in the forefront fighting to improve the professional lives of commissioned rangers since 1988.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association 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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