To the surprise of some of its friends, the Obama administration is supporting – for now – a midnight regulation by the Bush folks allowing concealed weapons in national parks, including Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.
Gun control advocates and parks groups each sued to block arming visitors, which I wrote about here when the proposal was floated. As I reported, a national park gun ban was originally established during the Great Depression to limit poaching. All firearms had been prohibited at Voyageurs since it opened in 1975.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and two other organizations last month asked the court for a preliminary injunction to block the concealed weapon rule, which went into effect on Jan. 9.
‘Does not alter the environmental status quo’
The Obama Justice Department lawyers argued against the injunction. They wrote that allowing concealed weapons “does not alter the environmental status quo” and would not affect public safety.
The superintendent of Voyageurs, Mike Ward, on the job since last August, is a thoughtful administrator who told me he “wouldn’t pretend to understand or have knowledge of why either administration made or makes decisions at their level related to national issues such as gun control.” He has at least two points to make.
First, he noted that citizens who comply with state law to get a conceal-and-carry permit and think that they “deserve to feel safe” have a valid concern. But he also worries about his officers who have to occasionally deal with park visitors in tense situations that sometimes turn ugly.
“Our rangers are sons, fathers, husbands and brothers,” he said. “Just like law enforcement officers throughout the U.S.A., at the beginning of each day we wish them safety, during their tour we hope for their safety, and at the end of each day we celebrate their returning safely. Anything, no matter how unimportant it seems to others, that could serve as a deterrent to them coming home on a daily basis requires us to have empathy for their worries.”
National Park groups joined Brady action
The National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees joined the Brady group in the court action.
“We are of course disappointed that the Justice Department defended the Bush rule,” Bryan Faehner, a spokesperson for the NPCA, told me. “At the same time, we are optimistic that they’ll take a closer look at environmental considerations.”
Those considerations are being debated while the court considers the issue. Ken Salazar, the new secretary of the interior, asked his staff to examine the rule change to make sure it met legal muster, a spokesperson said on Monday. Salazar gave them a 90-day deadline to complete the review.
Faehner noted that all living former directors of the National Park Service opposed the rule change. The National Rifle Association is among the groups supporting the guns-allowed position.
The court has set deadlines of the end of the month for the various parties to be heard. The case is in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Brady case is file no. 108CV02243 and the parks’ case is file no. 109CV00013.