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Advocates Take Legal Aim at Guns in National Parks

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January 8, 2009

Seattle, WA – Loaded, concealed weapons will be allowed in National Parks and wildlife refuges starting on Friday, the result of one of the Bush administration's most controversial, last-minute federal rule changes. However, a lawsuit has been filed this week to keep it from taking effect.

The National Parks Conservation Association and retired park employees are challenging the new rule. Bill Wade is a former park ranger and superintendent who spent part of his career at Mount Rainier National Park. In his opinion, changing the gun rule prompts concern for the safety of park visitors.

"It's a real element. I've had to respond personally to disputes in campgrounds in parks - not that these kinds of things happen all the time - but it certainly changes the equation when there's a possibility of guns being present in the situation."

Since the 1980s, the rule has been that guns must be unloaded and stowed on National Park property, and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees sees no need to change it. Wade, who chairs the group's executive committee, says the lawsuit alleges the U.S. Interior Department didn't follow the proper procedures to analyze the environmental impacts of the rule change, and ignored the majority of public comments that opposed it.

"It ignored the National Environmental Policy Act; it ignores the Organic Act. It ignores the impacts that could occur from more guns. If there is a need for a new rulemaking process, then do it correctly."

The National Rifle Association lobbied for the change, arguing that it would eliminate confusion for those who hold valid concealed-carry permits for their home states. In addition, the Interior Department says other rules already prohibit poaching and target practice. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asks for a preliminary injunction to keep the new rule from going into effect.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA