Senate okays loaded guns, semiautomatic weapons in Yellowstone

The U.S. Senate Tuesday passed an amendment allowing the legal holders of loaded guns, rifles and semiautomatic weapons to carry them into Yellowstone National Park as long as state and local law allowed it. The amendment to a bill restricting the rights of credit-card companies passed by a 67-29 margin, attracting 39 Republican votes, 27 Democratic votes and one independent vote.

“If an American citizen has a right to carry a firearm in their state, it makes no sense to treat them like a criminal if they pass through a national park while in possession of a firearm,” said sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) said during debate on the floor on the Senate. He positioned the bill as a way to ensure the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

The move comes less than three months after U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked a move by the Bush Administration to allow loaded handguns in national parks, a rule change enacted during the final days of that administration. However, the Coburn amendment goes far beyond what the Bush administration had proposed and includes rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Coburn is being a little disingenuous when he argues current law prohibits citizens from carrying arms inside national parks. It does not: it requires the gun owners to unload and store their guns while visiting national parks. That, to many, is not an unreasonable measure.

Indeed, there is no practical use for a loaded semiautomatic weapon in Yellowstone National Park. Absolutely none. There is no reason why a tourist would need a loaded weapon on a nature walk led by a ranger, nor is there a need for a loaded semiautomatic weapon when a visitor is walking toward Morning Glory Pool or Old Faithful Geyser. While we are not gun-control advocates, we are gun-control realists, and on that measure Coburn’s bill fails the smell test.

And we suspect Coburn realizes that as well; he admitted to the Los Angeles Times that he didn’t expect the provision to be in the final version of the credit-card bill once it reaches a House-Senate conference committee. And there are some troubling legalities involved here, as it allows states to set gun policies on national land.

It’s also opposed by a rather large number of groups with a vested interest in Yellowstone National Park, including groups representing park rangers and ranger retirees.

“This amendment is much more radical than the regulation promulgated by the Bush administration,” Bryan Faehner, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group that opposes guns in National Parks, told AP. If the measure becomes law “it would not only put park visitors and wildlife at risk, it would change the character and the peaceful and safe atmosphere in our parks.”

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