WASHINGTON — The Bush administration formally proposed Wednesday to scrap a longtime ban against bringing loaded weapons into national parks and wildlife areas.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the beginning of a 60-day public comment period on the proposed update to the nation's gun regulations.
Under the plan, an individual could carry a concealed weapon in national parks and wildlife refuges if he or she is authorized to do so on similar state lands in the state where the national park or refuge is located.
"The safety and protection of park and refuge visitors remains a top priority for the Department of the Interior," said Kempthorne. "The proposed regulations will incorporate current state laws authorizing the possession of concealed firearms, while continuing to maintain important provisions to ensure visitor safety and resource protection."
The announcement wasn't unexpected. Under pressure from Congress, the department said in February that it would review the ban and make a recommendation by the end of April. As a result, many proponents of the ban feared that the administration was getting ready to lift it.
Several National Park Service employee advocacy groups and the National Parks Conservation Association said the proposed change would lead to confusion for visitors, rangers and other law enforcement agencies.
"This is purely and simply a politically driven effort to solve a problem that doesn't exist. There are no existing data that suggest any public interest to be gained by allowing visitors to parks to possess concealed handguns," said Bill Wade, chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. "This proposed regulation increases the risk to visitors, employees and wildlife rather than reducing it."
The Interior Department said the current regulations were adopted in 1981 but that many states have enacted new firearm policies since then. Currently, 48 states allow for the lawful possession of concealed weapons.
"We strongly endorse the principle that states have the prerogative to develop appropriate policies and standards in this area, and believe that our management of parks and refuges should defer to those state laws," said Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty.
After 60 days, the department said it will evaluate all public comments before issuing a final rule.