Armed visitors help make national parks safer

Posted Dec. 30, 2008, at 7:11 p.m.

The Dec. 18 OpEd by Stephanie Clement, “New firearms rule will make national parks less safe,” misses on several important points.

The argument that allowing concealed carrying of firearms for self-defense will render parks unsafe is the same smoke blown by anti-gun organizations to deter the passage of “right to carry” laws in various states. Presently, 40 out of 50 states have laws that allow “concealed carry” of firearms for self-defense, up from a mere six states in 1982. Passage of these laws was not accompanied by increases in gun violence, as projected by anti-gun organizations. In fact, we have enjoyed continued decreases in violent crime, especially where concealed carry is allowed.

Recently, the National Park Service took the step of arming rangers because of increases in violence and drug activity in national parks. One can imagine criminals reasoning that they had little to fear as both the rangers and visitors did not have the means of self-defense afforded by firearms.

If our elected lawmakers see the need for rangers to carry firearms for their own security as they enforce park regulations, does it not seem reasonable to let law-abiding citizens enjoy the same level of security? After all, if government restricts the rights of some because they might abuse those rights, we really don’t live in a free society. Ms. Clement and others of her persuasion can choose to not carry a firearm if they wish. That does not, however, give them the right to impose their views on those who feel the need to protect themselves.

Why Ms. Clement brings up hunting in her writing is a bit of a mystery. The Second Amendment to the Constitution and the inalienable right to protect oneself from harm are not about hunting. They never have been. Hunting is a privilege regulated by the federal, state and municipal governments. Self-defense is the right of every living creature to stop something that is trying to take away the ultimate right, the right to live.

Firearms that are “rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased, or stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use” are ineffective for self-defense. There is no “misunderstanding” here. The federal regulations in 36 CFR 2.4(3) are meant to prevent people from using firearms for any purpose whatsoever.

The question, “Will anyone feel safer if people are allowed to carry concealed weapons?” is asked. If the rise in laws allowing this in state after state is any measure, I’d say yes. In fact, poll after poll across the United States reveals that personal security is of great concern to citizens. More and more people each day are meeting this concern by taking on the responsibility of purchasing firearms and securing a permit to carry it concealed. Because of this, the number of firearms possessed by the citizenry continues to climb while the rate of violent crime continues to fall.

I question the assertion that the Department of the Interior under the Bush administration disregarded the “vast majority of public comments.” On the contrary, they finally listened to the majority that demands that their right to self-defense be recognized. I belong to several gun organizations and not one sent me a form letter, postcard, e-mail or any other prewritten material for me to attach my name to and send off during the comment period. I did receive notification of the comment period and was urged to send my thoughts to the address provided. I’m sure that organizations that held views opposite to mine did so as well. There is nothing wrong with that unless Ms. Clement would have us remove the First Amendment as well.

It is unfortunate that visitors from other states cannot easily gain access to concealed weapons permits in Maine. This is because some of our so-called representatives in Augusta refuse to recognize permits from other states merely because their laws do not read exactly as ours do, regardless of the intent. They have been asked repeatedly to rectify this but to date have ignored these requests.

It is also unfortunate that permit holders cannot carry in park buildings merely because they are federal facilities. Clearly, this needs to be rectified. While it may make sense to limit concealed carry in buildings like courthouses where there is a small army of armed officers, it makes little sense in park buildings unless they plan to post a similar number of officers.

Like Ms. Clement, I urge those who are concerned that a tiny faction will try to take away our rights to contact their senators and representatives to keep these new rules in place.

Leslie M. Ohmart II of Brewer is president of the Pine Tree State Rifle and Pistol Association.

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