Alaska editorial: Support consistency in weapons laws on national parks lands

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2008

The general sentiment behind a current push to make National Park Service lands' concealed carry laws consistent with state laws is a good one. Any measure to reduce confusion between state and federal management lines is a good idea.

Some national parks cross state boundaries, and some of these land masses even share boundaries with corresponding Canadian parks. Concealed carry laws vary from place to place.

In much of the national park and preserve lands in Alaska, carrying firearms is already allowed. For example, in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, carrying a firearm for bear protection is allowed within the park. Hunting is allowed in the preserve area, so that naturally involves carrying loaded guns. Hunting also is allowed on National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska.

Two very popular areas do stand out in Alaska: the road through Denali National Park and the old part of Katmai National Park at Brooks Falls. A person can transport a firearm through these parks, but it must be unloaded and stored in an area that is not immediately accessible.

The potential change would allow a person to carry a loaded weapon on their hip.

Critics of this idea point to a stellar safety record on parklands and a long history of peace. The same could have been said of our schools some years ago. But the argument for change should not center on safety records. Nor should it revolve around whether allowing people certified to carry concealed weapons to exercise their rights somehow destabilizes a safe environment.

This is a debate about a protected right of the people, as well as one of practicality. If an Alaskan can walk down the street with a concealed handgun, certainly they can safely and responsibly drive down a park road with one.

Parks do not hold a magical quality that make them any more or less safe than any other place. If an individual wishes to carry a firearm for protection, then they should be allowed to do so.

We can see some room for balance, however. In a situation such as Brooks Falls, individuals are guided into a situation where they are very close to bears and visitors' actions are under close watch of park guides. It would seem logical, then, that if these expert guides see loaded weapons as a potential problem, they should be allowed the authority to ask people to leave guns at home or at least back in their cabins.

In general, however, consistency between state and federal laws within the borders of a state's geographic boundaries serves the public interest.

A 60-day public comment period is underway, after which the Department of Interior will review its existing gun rules. Alaskans should participate in the process. The easiest method is online atwww.regulations.gov.



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