Two national park advocacy groups are going to court to challenge a recent change in federal rules that allows people to carry loaded weapons inside national parks.
National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition of National Park Service Retirees issued a press release Wednesday indicating that they have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking an injunction against the rule, which was adopted by the Bush Administration last month. The rule, scheduled to go into effect Friday, Jan. 9, increases risks to visitors, park staff and wildlife, and is unlawful because it did not go through the proper required review before it was adopted, the groups claim.
“In a rush to judgment, as a result of political pressure, the outgoing administration failed to comply with the law, and did not offer adequate reasons for doing so,” NPCA President Tom Kiernan indicated in the release.
Currently, firearms are allowed in national parks as long as they are not loaded and are not easily accessible, such as in a gun case in the trunk of a car. The new rule, which was supported by the National Rifle Association, does away with these restrictions.
According to the release, the U.S. Department of Interior violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to conduct a required analysis of the rule’s environmental effects. The rule was opposed by National Park Service officials and associated professional groups and by more than 100,000 of the 140,000 people who submitted public comments on the proposed change, the release indicated.
Brad MacDonald, a Bangor attorney who has publicly argued in favor of the new rule, said Wednesday he was unfamiliar with the lawsuit. But he said law-abiding citizens should not face any more restrictive measures against their constitutional right to bear arms in national parks than they do in other places.
“There’s no reason to deny that right in a federal park,” MacDonald said. “[People] ought to be able to carry them where they want to, for the most part.”
MacDonald said that the new rule allows permitted visitors to carry loaded firearms into any national park as long as concealed weapons are allowed in the state where that national park is located. He said this is broader than the original proposal, which was to allow loaded weapons in national parks in states where loaded weapons are allowed in state parks.
“I think it’s actually better than what they proposed,” MacDonald said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Officials with Friends of Acadia disagree with MacDonald. The Bar Harbor nonprofit organization, which advocates on behalf of Acadia National Park, has opposed the new rule, saying that there is no benefit to changing park regulations about firearms.
“We feel the current law is adequate and that the new rule is unwarranted,” Stephanie Clement, FOA’s conservation director, said Wednesday. “We hope the new firearms law is blocked from implementation.”
With the new rule, Clement said, there is added risk of opportunistic poaching in Acadia or of accidents. She cited Plaxico Burress, the pro football player who in November accidentally shot himself in the leg when he took a concealed handgun to a New York City nightclub, as an example of what could happen.
“Was he safer because of his concealed weapon?” Clement asked, suggesting that Burress was not. “It’s scary to think of accidents that can happen while hiking.”