Leader of Park Service retirees laments shooting

AP News
Posted: Jan 02, 2012 5:45 PM
Leader of Park Service retirees laments shooting

The fatal shooting of a Park Service ranger at Mount Rainier National Park has renewed debate about a nearly two-year-old federal law that allows loaded weapons in national parks.

The outgoing chairman of a national organization of Park Service retirees said that Congress should be regretting its decision.

The law let licensed gun owners bring firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are allowed by state law. Guns are allowed in all but about 20 of the park service's 392 locations, from Yellowstone to Yosemite.

Before 2010, firearms at Mount Rainier were required to be temporarily inoperable or put away so they weren't easily accessible.

Sunday's fatal shooting of a Park Service ranger Margaret Anderson could have been prevented, said Bill Wade, a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, just outside Washington, D.C., who started his career as a professional ranger at Mount Rainier.

"The many congressmen and senators that voted for the legislation that allowed loaded weapons to be brought into the parks ought to be feeling pretty bad right now," said Wade, whose term as chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees ended Dec. 31.

He hopes Congress will reconsider the law that took effect in February 2010, but doubts that will happen in today's political climate.

A ban on guns in national parks was instituted during the Reagan administration. President George W. Bush sought to rescind the ban near the end of his administration and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence sued and won an injunction to stop that from happening, said Dennis Henigan, acting president of Brady Campaign.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., responded with legislation that went into effect in 2010.

Calls and emails to Coburn and the National Rifle Association requesting comment were not immediately returned on Monday.

In a statement about the law after it went into effect, the NRA said media fears of gun violence in parks were unlikely to be realized.

"The new law affects firearms possession, not use," the statement from the lobbying arm emphasized. The organization pushed for the law change saying people have a right to defend themselves against park animals and other people.

Henigan noted if park rangers had seen the rifle before it was used to shoot Anderson they would not have been able to take it away from him.

"You can always hope that the Congress will wake up and recognize that its first responsibility is to protect innocent lives," he said.

A volunteer ranger at Mount Rainier told The News Tribune he didn't think the law change, which he opposed, had any effect on this week's shooting.

"This is murder," said George Coulbourne, who also is a hunting safety instructor and a veteran of 60 years of hunting. "When you have someone who would spontaneously kill someone, a prohibition of guns in the park wouldn't stop someone like that."