Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Congress Caves to the NRA

Our national parks are our national treasures.  Our system of national parks was the first of its kind in the world and was set up to preserve, protect, and share our natural wonders and cultural heritage.  Every year millions of people seek out the tranquility and beauty of national parks to retreat from the bustle of the world.   There they find places of spectacular scenery and abundant recreational opportunities.  They also find safe places with few serious crimes.  Given the safety and tranquility of our national park system one has to ask why Congress would vote to allow deadly loaded hidden guns into our national parks.  

In a chest thumbing, “gotcha amendment” pushed by the National Rifle Association to prove their power, Senator Coburn of Oklahoma took advantage of the credit card reform bill that was designed to protect Americans from spurious credit card fees and cynically attached an amendment that allows for loaded guns in national parks.  It overturns a policy put in place under President Regan that banned concealed weapons in the parks in order to “ensure public safety and maximum protection of natural resources.”   Current regulation allows park visitors to have guns as long as they are unloaded and stowed away.  

The amendment that Congress blessed will allow loaded guns to be carried both concealed and openly.  This means it will be perfectly legal for visitors to Acadia to ride the park buses, attend ranger-led hikes and sit around campfires with a semi-automatic AK-47 strapped to their backs.  And because Maine law does not require a concealed weapons permit for guns carried openly, it also means that anyone can pick up an Uncle Henry’s, pick out the handgun or assault rifle of their choosing, buy the gun through a private sale where there will be no background check run and no questions asked, strap the gun on and head for a stroll up Cadillac mountain.  

Allowing loaded guns in our parks will raise the risk of opportunistic poaching and expose park visitors to the risk of accidental, negligent and illegal firearm discharges.  A concealed weapons permit does not guarantee safety.  Consider these two incidents in just the past two weeks.  In Michigan, a concealed weapons teacher accidentally shot a student in the face during a demonstration.   And in Texas, a concealed handgun instructor shot and killed his wife and then exchanged gunfire with police during a two hour standoff.  

The gun lobby claimed that the prohibition on concealed weapons in national parks violated their rights.  But last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment made it absolutely clear that the right to own a gun exists side by side with the right to regulate the purchase, possession, and carrying of guns.  

Senator Coburn stated that “Visitors to national parks should have the right to defend themselves.” But our national parks are some of the safest places in the country. In 2007, over 270 million people visited our national parks and there were only nine criminal deaths across the park system.  Compare this to what happens outside of our parks.   In 2007, in our country of 300 million people there were over 18,000 homicides, of which almost 13,000 were committed with guns.  

The NRA is in the business of selling guns and one of their best marketing tools is fear.  They tell their members to be afraid of the government coming to take their guns, they tell them to be afraid of everything and to arm themselves against this fear, and they tell legislators to be afraid of being targeted if they don’t vote the right way. 

Is Congress afraid to say no to the NRA?   Do they believe that their reelection depends on continuing to kowtow to their extreme agenda?    

The Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Humane Society, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge are just some of the organizations opposing this change in regulations.  Voters, especially those heading off to a national park this summer with their families, should be outraged that Congress didn’t listen to them instead.  


See how your representative voted.  A "yea" vote is a vote to appease the NRA and allow hidden, loaded guns in our national parks.

Senate vote: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=s2009-188

House vote: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2009-277