New gun rules do not affect ONP
By Rob Ollikainen
PORT ANGELES -- A new federal rule that allows visitors to carry loaded firearms into Olympic National Park has not changed the way the park operates.
The Interior Department rule, which was approved by the Bush administration on Dec. 5, took effect Jan. 1.
"We haven't noticed any difference operationally as a result of that," Olympic National Park superintendent Karen Gustin said on Jan. 8.
"We have not seen a copy of the regulation, and we have not seen any additional guidelines come through our regional office."
The federal rule allows an individual to carry a loaded weapon into a national park or wildlife refuge if the person has a concealed-weapons permit and if the state allows loaded firearms in its parks.
Washington state does, which means that people with the proper permits can legally carry loaded guns into Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks.
The rule overturns a Reagan-era regulation that restricted loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
The old regulation allowed guns in national parks, but only if they were unloaded and inaccessible.
Gustin declined to offer a personal opinion on the new rule.
She said it isn't likely to have much of an impact in the 922,650-acre Olympic National Park.
"We are not a high-crime park," Gustin said.
But Bill Wade, chairman of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said park law enforcement officers will likely use extra caution when approaching park visitors.
"Law enforcement rangers are going to have to be much more careful and much more suspicious," Wade said.
"It just takes away a little bit from that specialness that national parks have been accorded for years and years and years."
Gun permit policy
The new rule gives gun owners permission to carry concealed loaded weapons as long as their concealed-weapons permits are recognized by the state in which the park is located.
Washington state recognizes concealed-weapons permits from only eight states, each of which has requirements as stringent as its own.
The closest of those is Utah, so many visitors from outside the state will not be able to carry loaded guns into the parks.
The other states that issue concealed-weapons permits that carry over to Washington are Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Since the rule is so new, many people are not aware of it.
"It passed right before the holidays," Gustin said.
Lifting the loaded-gun ban was opposed by the Association of National Park Rangers, the National Park Service Retirees coalition and the National Parks Conservation Association.
The conservation association and the retirees coalition filed a lawsuit against the measure in Washington, D.C., District Court last week.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence filed a similar lawsuit Dec. 30.
"The Bush administration's last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law," Paul Helmke, Brady Campaign president, told The Associated Press.
"We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks."
Overturning the rule could take years if the Obama administration wanted to, since it would require a lengthy rule-making process.
Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty has said the new rule respects a tradition of states and the federal government working together on natural-resource issues.
Bush Administration officials touted the new gun rule as a way to make things simple and consistent for park employees and visitors, according to Wade of the retirees coalition.
But so far, he said, the rule has only resulted in chaos.
A number of parks straddle state lines, including Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho), Death Valley National Park (California and Nevada), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina) and Lake Meade National Recreation Area (Nevada and Arizona).
"It's now become very, very confusing for people who might be transporting firearms from one state to another," he said.
"And if they have a legal permit from one state, they're going to have to do a lot of research," to find out if that permit is valid in the park they are visiting.
George Durkee, vice president of the national Fraternal Order of Police's Ranger Lodge, called the new gun rule "pretty close to a nightmare."
"At the moment it is a confusing mess, and I don't think that is going to change," he said, explaining that rangers will have to sort through too much information to determine whether a park visitor is carrying his or her concealed weapon legally.
"There's just no way, you just can't remember that stuff."
Rachel Parsons, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said gun owners are aware of the differences in laws among states.
"Currently, gun owners are responsible for researching the gun laws within the states they are traveling, and that would be no different under this rule," she said.
"We're talking about law-abiding folks. They're very aware of the differing state laws."
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