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A “Loaded” Question for CA National Parks

February 26, 2008

Fresno, CA – Packing heat ready to fire in national parks has long been prohibited. Guns are allowed, but they have to be unloaded unless taken into a hunting unit. This rule, which dates from the Reagan era, is designed to protect park visitors and wildlife, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

However, a strong push to change the rule to allow loaded guns in national parks at all times is gaining momentum in California and elsewhere. George Durkee is a Kings Canyon National Park ranger who thinks that's a bad idea.

"My main concern is how panicked some visitors get when they see a wild animal and perceive a threat that just isn't there. People overreact and shoot near, or at, the animal, thinking they'll scare it away."

Those supporting the rule change say carrying a gun is a constitutional right. Durkee counters that there seems to be a misunderstanding, because the current rules already allow guns.

Another argument for allowing loaded guns is for protection against attacking bears. Durkee points out that studies have shown that a gun is the least effective protection in unexpected bear encounters, especially when dealing with grizzlies.

"Thinking that a gun will protect you is much more dangerous to both the visitors and the bears. The rangers themselves carry and recommend pepper spray."

Congress is considering legislation to make the rule change, and public comments are being taken.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - CA