WASHINGTON — A long-standing ban on firearms in national parks will be lifted Monday in many states because of legislation authored by Sen. Tom Coburn, who says the change will end an unnecessary conflict in state and federal laws.
But a coalition of former National Park Service employees is warning that allowing firearms into parks will threaten the safety of park rangers and visitors. The National Park Service is preparing for the change, spokesman David Barna said, by posting new signs at park entrances and printing cards to be distributed to visitors and educating federal and civilian workers in the affected parks. In Oklahoma, the Web site for the Chickasaw National Recreation Area already has a message about the new law and directs Web site visitors to details of the state law on carrying concealed weapons. Barna said the bottom line is that firearms laws within a state will now be consistent. "The law doesn’t change when you enter a (national) park,” he said. Coburn’s legislation, which was passed by overwhelming margins in the House and Senate last year, would allow people to carry firearms into national park areas and wildlife refuges in states that have right-to-carry laws. About 40 states have laws that make it relatively simple for citizens to obtain permits to carry firearms, while 10 others have more restrictive laws or don’t allow permits. The National Park Service first banned firearms in 1936, though the regulations were modified in 1983 to allow firearms to be taken into parks if they were unloaded and stored in vehicle trunks. An effort under former President George W. Bush’s administration to change the regulations was killed by a federal judge. Coburn, R-Muskogee, added his legislation to a bill mandating changes for the credit card industry; he argued last year that he had to use the credit card bill as a way to get the law passed because Senate leaders wouldn’t otherwise allow a vote on the proposal. In a recent news release, the Coalition of National Park Services Retirees said the change in law would allow assault rifles at the Grand Canyon, handguns at the concert theater at Wolf Trap in Virginia and shotguns in the backcountry at Yellowstone National Park. Bill Wade, former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, said, "This is a sad chapter in the history of America’s premier system of heritage areas ... Out There Blog: Guns in national parks: Will you feel safer?