A bill now before the Legislature would restore the decades-old policies regulating guns in Acadia National Park, the St. Croix International Historic Site and the state’s portion of the Appalachian Trail. Specifically, it would require gun owners to keep their weapons unloaded, broken down and stowed away in vehicle trunks, glove boxes or other such compartments. LD 1737 should be passed, and legislators should not allow it to turn into a Second Amendment showdown.
The bill would restore the gun policy in place since the Reagan administration; last year, Congress and President Barack Obama enacted a credit card reform bill that included an amendment repealing the old law that prohibited people from carrying loaded guns in national parks.
Those favoring the change argue that people should be able to carry weapons to protect themselves from dangerous wild animals, or from other people who might rob or attack hikers in remote backcountry areas. Another part of the argument favoring the change is that those with concealed weap-ons permits should not be denied access to their guns while in parks.
But the old law worked.
Since the federal law allows states to adopt their own regulations, Maine should do just that, and adopt LD 1737. Acadia National Park is not the same as Glacier or Denali national parks, where an attack by a grizzly bear or other predator is a real threat. Acadia, Maine Speaker of the House Han-nah Pingree notes, is a place where families recreate. Though it is stunningly beautiful and offers those willing to stretch their legs opportunities to get away from the roads and crowds, it would not be described as “backcountry.”
Park officials and the Friends of Acadia group have supported the old rule of banning loaded weapons in the park. The ban makes the job of park rangers and other law enforcement officers easier as they patrol for poachers; if someone is carrying a weapon, officers have probable cause to investi-gate.
George Smith of the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine, an opponent of LD 1737, argued that someone with a permit allowing them to carry a concealed weapon should not have that privilege end at the park’s gate. John Hohenwarter, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, asserted that having a weapon keeps visitors safe, especially those hiking the Appalachian Trail.
But at the public hearing on LD 1737, the Friends of Acadia group cited FBI crime statistics showing that there were 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 visitors to national parks in 2006 compared to a nationwide average of 473.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people that year.
As Speaker Pingree noted, LD 1737 would keep consistent the rules for Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park. She also noted that public policy identifies places where carrying a gun is not appropriate, such as in schools, courts and the State House.
Acadia, the St. Croix Historic Site and the Appalachian Trail also should be gun-free zones.