A two-decade-old ban on loaded guns in national parks ends today. Loaded guns will be allowed in Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and other national parks. Guns will still be prohibited in some areas in the parks, federal facilities that are regularly staffed by National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, but everywhere else they will be allowed.
“You're raising the level of risk in the parks, and the chance that people will use the parks less than they have in the past,” Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign gun control group warned during February 2009. As evidence for his claim, Helmke pointed to a New York school teacher who said that she would cancel school trips to national parks if guns were allowed. Helmke and others opponents have largely focused on permitted concealed handguns again being allowed in the parks.
Yet, despite the opposition of the Obama administration, the new federal law is hardly radical, as it simply defers to state law. It passed the Congress with about 2-to-1 majorities in both the House and Senate. If a state allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, permit holders can carry their guns in the national parks in that state.
Opponents worry about the possibility that permit holders will accidentally shoot others or use their guns to commit crimes such as poaching. But this isn’t the first time people have been able to carry guns in national parks. They were allowed to do so for over two months last year, from January through March, and absolutely no problems were reported. Nor are the proponents of the ban pointing to any problems when guns were previously allowed in national parks during the 1980s and earlier.
When concealed-handgun laws were originally passed, gun control advocates then also warned that permit holders would lose their tempers and there would be blood in the streets.
Obviously that never happened. We now have a lot of experience with concealed-handgun permit holders. In 2007, about 5 million Americans were permitted to carry concealed handguns.
Take Florida, for example. Between Oct. 1, 1987, and January 31, 2010, Florida issued permits to 1,704,624 people, many of whom renewed their permits multiple times. Only 167 had their permits revoked for a firearms-related violation — about 0.01 percent. Over the last 14 months just one more permit has been revoked for firearms violations, a rate among active permit holders of 0.00014 percent. The pattern is similar in other states. Given the very low rate that permit holders commit any type of crime, it seems very doubtful that permit holders would engage in other crimes such as poaching.
Even though the adoption of right-to-carry laws was highly controversial in some states, the laws were so successful that no state has ever rescinded one. Indeed, no state has even held a legislative hearing to consider rescinding concealed-carry.
Everyone wants to keep guns away from criminals. The problem is that law-abiding citizens are the ones most likely to obey the gun control laws, leaving them disarmed and vulnerable and making it easier for criminals to commit crime.
Police are extremely important in deterring crime — according to my research, the most important factor. But the police almost always arrive after the crime has been committed. In national parks, with vast land areas and few roads, this problem is exacerbated. Even if one can quickly reach park rangers by using a cell phone, it can be hours before they can arrive at the crime scene.
Wild animals also sometimes do attack humans, and guns can come in handy. According to a study by Professor Gary Mauser at Simon Fraser University, guns were used about 36,000 times a year to stop animal attacks in Canada.
Here is a prediction. Just like the ruckus over passing concealed handgun laws, the fears about guns in national parks will soon be forgotten.