11 January 2008

Disturbing developments

Posted by Jessica Ball

Well, I’ve just seen something in the news that reinforces my opinion of how far some of our government representatives have moved on from sanity (or at least from representing the interests of some of their constituents). I’m sure this is a rather polarized issue, but I’ll risk dissenting commentary, because I think it needs to be brought to peoples’ attention. (Gun owners: I personally do not own a gun and do not want to, but I am not saying that I don’t think you should, either. This isn’t about that; it’s my opinion on why we don’t need to have weapons accessible in National Parks.)

“Senators Push for Guns in National Parks” showed up in my morning paper, and I didn’t even have to go beyond the first sentence before I was sufficiently steamed to start drafting letters to my senators. Apparently, the gun lobby is making a big push to get their in-pocket senators to change National Park Service rules to allow gun owners to carry loaded, accessible firearms onto National Park lands.

The senators write that current policies “infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to transport and carry firearms on or across these lands.” Oh really? I just checked the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Parts 1 to 199, and came across Title 36, Chapter 1, Part 2, part of which states:

(3) Traps, nets and unloaded weapons may be possessed within a temporary lodging or mechanical mode of conveyance when such implements are rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased or stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use.

I don’t see anything in that sentence that says people aren’t allowed to have weapons in a National Park – only that they aren’t allowed to have loaded, readily accessible weapons.

Which is how it should be. There is absolutely no reason that the average citizen, visiting a National Park, should need access to a firearm. They are not there to hunt animals because National Parks and Preserves are some of the only places left where animals can live without the threat of being shot (other than in allowed hunting seasons and special situations). There is no need for weapons for defense – the National Park Police 2006 Annual Report listed, among other things, 3 homicides and 138 aggrivated assaults for the entire park system in 2006, from a pool of 272 million visitors. A few hundred crimes that might have prevented with a gun out of 272 million visits? What an absolute hotbed of criminal activity.

I don’t buy into the whole “I need a gun for self-defense” argument at the best of times, but I especially don’t want people carrying them around me when I’m in a National Park. All right, if you’re in a bear-infested area and you need a gun to fend them off, fine. The Park System grants permits and exceptions for that. But if you’re not allowed to hunt or target shoot in the park, and the crime rate is lower than a whole lot of other places in the country, why the hell do you need to have access to a weapon? And I don’t buy that crap about people needing the laws changed so they can drive through parks with their weapons on the way to hunting areas. They don’t need to change the laws. Keep the gun unloaded and locked up in your cabin or your car, or don’t drive through the park.

I am seriously disappointed in the whole mentality that’s driving this issue, particularly that it’s our national heritage to be armed to the teeth wherever we go. Maybe that was necessary two hundred years ago, when law enforcement was scarce or nonexistent, people needed to hunt for food and there actually were enough dangerous animals around to merit carrying a gun, but that certainly isn’t the case today. Having spent a great deal of time learning about geology in National Parks, I can definitely say that the thought of allowing people to have access to their firearms in Parks is appalling. I certainly won’t feel safer knowing that while I’m out mapping an outcrop, someone might decide to start firing a weapon near me (or at me, since it’s apparently pretty easy to get mistaken for a deer, if the amount of neon orange hunting gear for sale is any indicator). National Parks are the only place in this country where I know that weapons are not permitted unless they’re essentially useless. I’m perfectly happy that the Park Police have weapons to use if they need them, but the thought of my fellow average citizen having access to a weapon in a park – where, most likely, there would never be enough Park Police to enforce gun safety – scares me.

I’m going to be writing those letters this afternoon, and I hope I can inspire some other people out there to do the same.