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Wednesday, 10 December 2008 14:39

National parks to lift ban on gun-packing visitors

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Visitors could soon be toting loaded, concealed guns in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A long-standing ban on loaded guns in national parks has been lifted by the Bush Administration.

Of 140,000 public comments that came in on the issue, the vast majority opposed the proposal — including every former director of the National Park Service who is still living and several park ranger associations.

Park rangers have come out strongly against the move, fearing it will increase danger in remote areas without back-up law enforcement nearby. National parks are currently some of the safest places in the United States for crime, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

“This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the National Park System at risk,” said Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. “We will do everything possible to overturn it and return to a common-sense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades.”

Wade said the Bush Administration buckled to the interests of the National Rifle Association over the concerns of every day Americans.

The new regulation would not only risk the safety of visitors and rangers but could increase shootings of wildlife, according to opponents.

Hunting is not allowed in national parks. Right now, it is easy to tell if someone is in the park trying to hunt illegally. But if guns were allowed, poachers could simply say they are out for a stroll with their guns in hand but not hunting. The Association of National Park Rangers believes that wildlife poaching will increase as a result.

The National Parks Conservation Association contends the government should have conducted a formal environmental review of the policy change since it has the potential to affect resources, namely wildlife. That argument could provided the basis for a court appeal.

Previously, visitors with guns in their vehicles that passed through national parks had to make sure the gun wasn’t loaded and was safely stowed. Hunters chasing their dogs or wounded game across the national park boundary had to hide their guns under rocks or bushes before crossing into the park.

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