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New Rule: A Safety Compromise for WA National Parks?

December 8, 2008

Seattle, WA – More than seven million people visit the three National Parks and other Park Service-run sites in Washington every year – but how many of them carry loaded guns?

Late Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is lifting the longtime ban on loaded, concealed weapons on National Park property. It's one of a flurry of last-minute rule changes by the outgoing Bush administration. Park rangers say it will just create more trouble for them, and fear for those who come to the parks expecting peace and quiet. Sean Smith, northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, calls the decision disappointing.

"We're definitely concerned about the threats to wildlife. As the regulations are written now, firearms are not prohibited in National Parks – they just have to be broken down and unloaded - and one of the primary reasons this rule was put in place is to eliminate opportunity poaching."

The Interior Department says there are still rules on poaching and target practice, and that guns can only be carried by those who have permits in the state in which the park is located. Smith says the unloaded gun policy has also curbed vandalism, as well as giving the parks a good reputation as safe family vacation spots.

"It's a place where we come in peace, and I think those unique places need to be maintained. There have to be spots where people can feel safe - and know they're not likely to be shot."

Many see the change as a victory for the National Rifle Association, which pushed hard for it. Smith predicts the NPCA will challenge the decision in court. For now, it is set to go into effect in January.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA