One for the road

January 14, 2008

Picture this. You're headed off on a hunting trip, driving your pickup with the gun rack on back through the wide-open spaces of the West. Mostly it's federal property, but under the management of a variety of different agencies that have different rules for permissible activities.

At some point, you pass from open range, under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, into a national park, and get busted by a ranger for carrying a loaded firearm. Oh, the inconvenience!

Nearly half the Senate considers the idea that a hunter might alternatively travel around with guns unloaded to be unacceptably burdensome and a violation of Second Amendment rights. So, the senators are trying to get the Bush administration to allow unfettered gun-toting on all federal lands before a president more hostile to gun rights takes office. The safety and security of those who seek respite from the nation's violent society in national parks and wildlife refuges seem to be of no concern.

The proposition is so absurd, the letter signed by 47 mostly Republican senators from Western and Southern states looks like little more than a political stunt.

After all, it was President Reagan's famously conservative interior secretary, James Watt, who put the current regulations into place in 1983. The agency had long been concerned that armed park visitors would occasionally take aim at snakes, bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals on land set aside as a refuge and where wildlife was specifically protected.

The rules don't prohibit licensed gun owners from bringing their firearms into park and refuge land. They just require that the weapons not be loaded or easily accessible.

Yet the letter, written by Sens. Michael D. Crapo, an Idaho Republican, and Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, first misstates the regulation, calling it an outright prohibition, then complains that the inconsistency of regulations on different categories of public land is "confusing, burdensome and unnecessary."

Oh, come. The White House is federal property; the National Mall is run by the Park Service. So are the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone. What level of inconvenience would possibly justify allowing visitors to be packing heat?

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne would be wise to get out his shotgun and blow this idea away.

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