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Maybe Smokey The Bear would like to add a Kevlar vest to his park ranger uniform, because things might be getting even more wild in our national parks. The Los Angeles Times reports today that under a federal law that took effect Monday, February 22, Americans may now bring firearms into every national park in the country, provided they comply with the firearms laws of the park's home state. The law permitting this change was attached as an amendment to credit-card legislation.
In some parks, the local and federal laws will allow for the carrying of concealed, loaded firearms. Weapons will not be permitted in buildings where federal employees work, such as park visitors centers. However, restaurants, hotels and gift shops will be subject to the new gun law.
Opponents to the law naturally fear an increase in violence against all species resident in the parks. They note that data from the park police shows that for the last seven years, park rangers have been the most assaulted group of federal law enforcement officers.
Gun proponents see the change in law a different light. "Now it's a big sea of gun freedom," Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, told the Times. However, gun owners must remember to comply with the state and local weapons laws of the park's home state. For parks that span more than one state, the law will not necessarily be any easier to discern. The Times notes as an example, Yellowstone Park, which is located mostly in the state of Wyoming, but has pieces that stretch into the neighboring states of Montana and Idaho. Each of these states has different laws governing the use of guns.
The outdoor camping experience could undergo a change as well. Bill Wade, of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, worries about law-abiding gun owners who may not be accustomed to camping in the great outdoors. "The single biggest threat is the situation that's going to occur in campgrounds, where you have inexperienced people, who don't know much about parks, who are out of their element," Wade said. "You are sleeping under the trees and you hear a noise. You look out of the tent and see a shape and start firing." Will nervous campers take the time to ask, was that a bear or another camper just looking for the porta-potty?
Please note: Despite the change in carry laws, it remains illegal to fire a weapon or kill an animal in a national park.