WASHINGTON — In a victory for gun rights advocates, the federal government is preparing to relax a ban on bringing loaded firearms into national parks.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Friday that his department would suggest new regulations by the end of April that could bring federal rules into line with state laws concerning guns in parks and public lands. A near majority of the Senate, including Democrats and Republicans from Western states, has backed a drive to repeal the ban.
The proposed rule change might let visitors carry loaded weapons into national parks in states with few gun restrictions, such as Montana.
Gun rights advocates, notably the National Rifle Association, have said the ban infringes on their Second Amendment rights to bear arms and their ability to defend themselves from predators, human and animal.
“If you’re hiking in the backcountry and there is a problem with a criminal or an aggressive animal, there’s no 911 box where you can call police and have a 60-second response time,” said Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
Kempthorne’s decision to review the ban was hailed by the NRA. “This is an important step in the right direction,” said the organization’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox.
On the other hand, the National Parks Conservation Association called Kempthorne’s action “alarming.” Tom Kiernan, the group’s president, said a loosening of the ban would be “a blow to the national parks and the 300 million visitors who enjoy them every year.”
Supporters of the repeal effort note that state gun laws currently apply to federal land managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and they see no reason why that should not be the case in national parks and wildlife refuges.
So far, half the Senate seems to agree. Nine Democrats and 41 Republicans have signed letters to Kempthorne calling on him to lift the ban. “We do not believe that allowing law-abiding citizens to transport and carry firearms — rather than forcing them to disassemble or store them in their trunks — will increase the chances that they will be tempted to violate prohibitions on discharge,” one group of senators wrote.