National park advocates laud gun ban ruling

Posted March 25, 2009, at 9:13 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:45 a.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — National park advocacy groups voiced support for a federal court ruling last week that suspends a Bush administration regulation allowing loaded firearms in national parks.

The rule, which went into effect in January, relaxed restrictions on how firearms must be kept when carried into national parks or wildlife refuges.

Previously, weapons had to be kept unloaded and not within easy access. The new regulation allowed visitors to carry loaded weapons onto such federal lands as long as they were licensed to do so in the state where the federal property is located.

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Marla O’Byrne, president of Friends of Acadia, said Wednesday the group is glad the new firearms restrictions have, for now at least, been suspended.

She said the Friends organization joined with Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence earlier this year to file a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the new rules. The brief was admitted in a lawsuit that the National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition of National Park Service Employees filed in January in U.S. Dis-trict Court against the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service.

O’Byrne said Friends, like other groups opposed to the new rule, believed the department had not done enough to assess its potential impact before the rule went into effect. Allowing loaded and concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges could hurt the environment and safety of other people in the park, she said.

Plus, she said, the prior restrictions had worked well for 25 years.

“We’re very pleased that the judge heard our arguments,” O’Byrne said.

How the issue might be addressed next is not clear, according to O’Byrne. The Interior Department may get a chance to offer a rebuttal or it may have to conduct an environmental impact study of the new rule.

“It doesn’t overturn [the rule] for good,” O’Byrne said of the injunction.

Other groups also have expressed support for the ruling.

“This decision will help ensure [a national park remains] one of the safest places for American families and wildlife,” Bryan Faehner, associate director for NPCA, said last week in a statement.

Not everyone has praised the decision, however. The National Rifle Association, seeking to put the new rule back into place, has objected to the injunction and filed an appeal.

“We didn’t give up the fight to change the old, outdated rule, and we are going to pursue every legal and legislative avenue to defend the American people’s right to self-defense,” NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said.

In the ruling, issued March 19 in U.S. District Court in Washington, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly called the Interior Department rulemaking “astoundingly flawed.” She said Interior officials failed to evaluate the possible environmental effects of the rule change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

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