Interior Sued Over Concealed Weapons Policy
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence today filed suit in federal court seeking to block the Interior Department's recent decision that allowing anyone with a state-issued concealed-weapon permit to carry loaded firearms into a national park or wildlife refuge. The suit is a direct challenge to a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration that was announced earlier this month and is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 9.
The new rule changes a Reagan-era regulation that allowed weapons to be carried into a national park or wildlife refuge provided they were disassembled and out of reach. Interior made the change in response to requests by 51 senators of both parties who wanted consistency between the National Park Service's gun rules and state laws. Interior secretary-designate Ken Salazar, a Democratic senator from Colorado, was one of the senators who requested the rule change. Then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) did not seek the rule change.
As one of the two letters from senators states: “These inconsistencies in firearms regulations for public lands are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary. … Such regulatory changes would respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, while providing a consistent application of state weapons laws across all land ownership boundaries.”
The Brady Center however believes otherwise.
“It was a rushed rule that clearly was a last-minute parting gift to the NRA, which lost big in the elections. It poses a serious threat to park visitors," said Daniel Vice, a senior attorney for the Brady Center. He cited a February report by The Washington Post that showed crime in national parks is relatively rare, especially considering the hundreds of millions of people who visit them each year. In light of the rule change, Vice said that Brady Center members, including school teachers, have canceled or curtailed visits to national sites including Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Philadelphia's Liberty Bell out of concern for the safety of students. The Center also believes the Bush administration "blatantly violated a host of federal laws" by not conducting an environmental analysis of the rule change.
The Interior Department does not comment on pending litigation, but spokeswoman Tina Kreisher noted that the department held a 60-day comment period and then voluntarily extended it another 30 days. All existing firearms and weapons laws apply at national parks and wildlife refuges, meaning that even if a firearm owner brought the gun with them, they could not brandish or discharge it, Kreisher said.
As for the lack of environmental review, Kreisher said: “You can’t use [the firearm] so how does it affect the environment that you carried it into the park?”
The Obama transition office would not comment on the specifics of the Interior Department ruling, but transition spokesman Nick Shapiro said, “President-elect Obama will review all eleventh-hour regulations and will address them once he is President."
That may cause disagreement between the president and his choice for interior secretary, Salazar, who through a spokesman from his Washington, D.C. Senate office earlier this month told the Grand Junction Sentinel that the senator considered the rule change “sensible.”
The Brady Center filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, hoping the court will issue an injunction before the rule takes effect on Jan. 9.
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