Commentary: Guns to become essential gear for national parks

Like many other Americans, every time I take my family to a national park I find myself thinking: Wow! If I only had a gun . . .

Now, thanks to Congress and President Obama, all of us will soon be able to carry loaded firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges. Even concealed weapons will be allowed, for those who have state permits.

It's about time. The one element that's been missing from the outdoor experience in Yellowstone and Yosemite was the adventurous possibility that the drunks at the next campsite might be fooling around with a loaded .357.

Now the thrill is back, and the man to praise is Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma and a proud warrior for the National Rifle Association.

Even though Oklahoma isn't famous for its national parks – you're probably not planning your summer around a trip to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area – Coburn took up the battle on behalf of armed tourists everywhere.

It was those yellow-bellied liberals in the Reagan administration who imposed the current restrictions on guns in federal parklands. Ever since the '80s, owners have been required to lock or store their weapons in car trunks or glove boxes.

That meant everyone entering a national park was essentially stripped of his or her Second Amendment rights for the duration of their visit. (Despite this punitive constraint, attendance mysteriously soared at parks from coast to coast.)

The battle to put loaded guns back in the hands of American vacationers wasn't easy. Efforts to revoke the Reagan rules fell short even when Congress was controlled by the Republicans, and George W. Bush was president.

But Coburn and the NRA saw a golden opportunity two weeks ago, as Congress was rushing to rein in credit-card companies that were jacking up interest rates on debt-ridden customers.

The senator slyly attached the controversial parks measure as an amendment to the credit-card reform bill, which he knew was certain to be passed and sent to Obama. The president was pushing to sign it by Memorial Day.

Said Coburn, "Timing is everything in politics." Democratic leaders couldn't figure out how to separate the gun issue from the credit-card issue, and again found themselves outfoxed and outmaneuvered.

Unfortunately, the new firearm rules won't be in effect this summer, so campers and hikers in national parks still can't arm themselves with anything stronger than pepper spray or barbecue tongs. That will make domestic disputes a bit more difficult to settle.

However, beginning in February, two great American traditions will return: Not only can park visitors pack heat, they can purchase all the guns and ammo they want on multiple credit cards, without fear of being gouged when they fall behind on the payments.

Critics of the new law, including wildlife officers, say that since hunting is still illegal in national parks, there's no reason to be roaming around with a loaded weapon unless you're a poacher.

Admittedly, poachers might cheer the Coburn rules because they'll no longer have to hassle with unlocking their car trunks to grab their rifles, an activity that tends to alert the elk. Instead poachers can keep their guns handy in the backseat or, more conveniently, on their laps.

Law-abiding citizens have even more compelling reasons to bring firearms to a park. Statistically, you're far more likely to die from a bee sting than be attacked by a bear or moose, but that doesn't mean the woods are safe.

Don't forget the raccoons. Wilderness regions like the Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Teton produce some gi-mongous raccoons, and those mothers are absolutely fearless. Given the chance, they'll swipe every darn Oreo in your backpack.

Finally, thanks to Congress, such brazen intruders will soon be staring down the business end of a 20-gauge Remington. Go ahead, varmint, make my day.

Tourists planning a stop at Everglades National Park would likewise be smart to come prepared, because the place is crawling with huge pythons.

It's a veritable infestation, and the new gun law couldn't have come at a better time.

The problem with shooting at a 20-foot-long snake is that the odds of hitting its tiny brainpan are about 200-to-one. And if do you miss the brain, you risk infuriating the snake.

Luckily, no humans have been devoured by any Everglades pythons so far. In fact, there hasn't been a single attack – but what does that really prove?

All it takes is one rogue reptile that develops a fondness for sunblock, Tivas and pale human flesh.

Listen to the NRA. There's no place for naive complacency in the great outdoors, so lock and load, America.

Next summer we can pack our MAC-10s with the marshmallows.

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