Barack Obama was voted into the White House by promising “change” at every campaign stop. Since entering the Oval Office however, much of the change Obama has been delivering on has from that of his campaign promises. Although Obama had previously expressed his opposition to “conceal and carry” laws, his Department of Justice (DOJ) is defending a last-minute Bush Administration rule change that has dramatically extended the reach of loaded handguns into national parks.
Lawsuits from the Brady Campaign and one from the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees contend that the changes to the Interior Department’s Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) were rushed into force without adequate environmental or public safety review. The CFR revision came into force on the 9th of January and eliminated gun control regulations that had been in effect for a quarter century. In an interview in today’s Washington Post, the president of the Brady Campaign questioned why the Obama administration is defending a rule that embodies “bad policy and bad procedure.”
After lobbying hard for the rule change, the National Rifle Association welcomed the change, which it said “brings clarity and uniformity for law-abiding gun owners visiting our national parks.” Yet Bush’s own National Park Service (NPS) Director Mary A. Bomar, in a letter to the House Natural Resources Chairman before the law change went into effect, wrote that she believes “that the existing regulations provide necessary and consistent enforcement parameters throughout the National Park System.” The law has also been formally opposed by seven former NPS directors.
The Interior Department, which is affected by the policy shift, has taken a very ambivalent stance on the issue. Interior spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley supported the Department of Justice’s actions: “Secretary Salazar believes the [DOJ] should put forward its legal arguments in defense of the rulemaking procedure and allow the courts to reach a conclusion.” And yet at the same time, Salazar is lending credit to the lawsuits by directing the National Park Service “to undertake a 90-day review of any environmental considerations associated with implementation of these rules.”
All the legal wrangling and hand-wringing aside, the rule change is relatively insignificant in practice. Guns were allowed in national parks before, they just had to be dismantled or stored in the boot of a car. Even with the Interior Department’s CFR revision, one must still have the relevant conceal and carry permits and, as the term “conceal and carry” implies the gun cannot be waved about, Yosemite Sam-style.
In principal, the administration’s handling of these lawsuits is much more important. It’s bad enough that the Obama administration appears to be reflexively upholding a law of dubious utility, implemented without adequate environmental reviews. What’s even more troubling is the symbolic victory it delivers to the NRA in their never-ending battle against common-sense weapons regulations. This policy change will only add another confusing layer to the nation’s patchwork of gun control regulations. Conceal and carry laws are determined on a state-by-state basis individual states may or may not honor the permits issued in other states meaning that in a park like Yellowstone, which is spread across portions of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, a gun owner may need up to three permits to pack his heat. And even then, he cannot enter the gift shops or visitor centers with his piece because these are confusingly designated as federal property, where concealed are weapons are (still, for the moment) not allowed.
Attorney General Eric Holder should call off his lawyers and the Interior Department should subject this rule change to the proper reviews, which it will no doubt fail. With this campfire flare-up under control, President Obama and the DOJ should turn their focus towards delivering some common-sense “change” to America’s dangerous patchwork of handgun regulations.