Dear Secretary Kempthorne:
We write to express our strong opposition to any modification or weakening of the Reagan regulations prohibiting the carrying or use of loaded firearms in our national parks and national wildlife refuges.
In 1983, under Secretary of the Interior James Watt, the Reagan Administration codified these practices into the current regulations, which were designed to ensure public safety and maximize protection for wildlife. Those goals have been achieved. National Park Service spokesman David Barna recently stated that national parks are now among the safest environments in the country.
Permitting loaded firearms to be carried or used within our national parks or wildlife refuges would be a radical, unprecedented change that would likely upset the delicate balance that exists between wildlife and park visitors in these areas. More importantly, allowing loaded and accessible weapons in national parks would create a dangerous environment for the millions of American families who annually visit our national parks expecting a safe and enjoyable experience - not loaded firearms and stray bullets.
We are aware of the letter recently sent to you by Senators Crapo and Baucus, together with other Members of the U.S. Senate. Respectfully, the letter contains certain inaccuracies, and ignores the unique status of our national parks and wildlife refuges.
Most notably, the letter inaccurately claims that the current regulations prohibit individuals from possessing a firearm on lands managed by the Department of Interior. As you know, under the current Interior regulations visitors may freely possess weapons in our national parks as long as they are rendered inaccessible. The firearms must simply be unloaded and placed somewhere that is not easily reached, such as in a car trunk.
There is also no inconsistency between these Interior regulations and the firearms rules that apply to Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands where hunting is allowed. The key distinction is a very simple one - ready-to-fire guns are not allowed on designated national lands where hunting is not permitted.
In contrast to the Reagan policy that has worked well for decades, the new regulations would rely on state concealed weapons laws that would yield troubling inconsistencies and pose grave risks to the public. As National Park Service spokesman David Barna recently stated, the background and training requirements for concealed firearms possession vary significantly from state to state. Trying to achieve uniformity of concealed weapons issuance throughout all 390 Park Service jurisdictions would be nearly impossible and unenforceable. Changing these regulations would strain our underfunded and understaffed park rangers, and increase the risks to visitors and wildlife.
In addition, the National Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Parks Retirees, and the American Hunters and Shooters Association all oppose changing the current regulations. We urge you not to wade into the middle of this contentious policy debate when the Reagan Interior regulations have remained clear and consistent for almost 25 years.
Our citizenry consistently rates our national parks at the top of federal government programs that work well. There is no need to "fix" this system that Americans so overwhelmingly tell us is not broken.