Senate measure would allow loaded guns in national parks

McClatchy NewspapersMay 12, 2009 

WASHINGTON — People would be able to carry loaded guns in national parks and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public lands under a provision approved overwhelmingly Tuesday by the Senate.

Final passage of the amendment, which was attached to legislation rewriting some credit card laws to favor consumers, isn't guaranteed, however.

Though it was passed by a 67 to 29 vote, with 27 Democrats, 39 Republicans and one independent voting aye, it could still be stripped from the final bill, which the Senate will continue to consider Wednesday. One Republican, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, joined 28 Democrats in voting no.

The measure was pushed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who argued it "makes no sense to treat (gun owners) like a criminal if they pass through a national park while in possession of a firearm."

He was trying to undo a March ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that overturned a rule implemented by the Bush administration in its final days.

In January, a few days before President George W. Bush left office, people were allowed to carry loaded guns into parks and wildlife refuges if they had a permit for a concealed weapon and the state permitted weapons in parks.

The Obama administration said last month it wouldn't appeal the decision, a stance hailed by gun control groups.

"Semiautomatic weapons have no place in the valleys of Yellowstone, on the cliffs of Yosemite, or under the torch of the Statue of Liberty," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The restrictions had been in effect since the early 1980s, and had been overturned after requests from U.S. senators.

The National Conservation Association had fought hard to keep guns out of parks, pointing out that the FBI found that in 2006, there were 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 visitors to the parks, making them "some of the safest places for families to visit in the United States," the group said.

Coburn had a different view. "Visitors to national parks also should have the right to defend themselves in accordance with the laws of their states," he said. "This amendment is about protecting every American's Second Amendment rights."

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