Carrying a weapon — concealed or otherwise — won’t be as simple in Yellowstone National Park as gun advocates think, for a number of reasons. First, the background: under legislation championed by the NRA, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and signed into law by President Barrack Obama, guns are allowed in National Parks if the state housing the Park allows for gun permits and concealed-carry permits. In other words, if you have a valid permit in your state and the state you are visiting recognizes the validity of that permit, you’re in the clear to carry.
That fits into the original purpose of the law, as argued by Coburn (which, by the way, was a noncontroversial rider to a nonrelated credit-card reform bill that easily passed the Senate): that legal gun owners shouldn’t need to worry about being nailed for illegal possession when moving from one state to another. Fair enough.
However, the law has been blown way out of proportion by advocates on both sides: retired rangers say it will increase the likelihood of being shot in a National Park, and the NRA hails it as a way to defend yourself against the scores of drug dealers in National Parks.
But neither side knows the law, especially the NRA, which is pushing the law as a reason to kill wildlife. For while the law made it legal to carry a legally permitted sidearm or rifle, it did not go a step further and allow the weapons to be discharged in National Parks.
And that’s where Yellowstone and the National Park Service comes in. Packing won’t necessarily be as easy in Yellowstone as NRA advocates think: the Park lies in three different states, and each states have different laws pertaining to reciprocal permits and concealed carry. Wyoming, for instance, recognized permits from only 23 states; Montana from 40 and Idaho from 48. Wyoming’s gun laws are a little more restrictive than you’d think, so you will want to check up if you’re planning on bringing a weapon into the Park.
But why would you? It’s still illegal to discharge a weapon in Yellowstone National Park. Various laws, including anti-poaching initiatives from the 1880s, prohibit the discharge of weapons. President Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t allowed to discharge a firearm when he visited Yellowstone, and neither can you. There are no self-defense provisions to Yellowstone’s firearm restrictions, either, so making up some tale about a rutting whitetail threatening your personal space won’t fly.
Plus, there are still areas where firearms are totally prohibited: any National Park Service building (including visitor centers) will continue to ban them, and we expect concessionaire Xanterra to announce a ban in hotels and stores as well.
Here’s the full press release from Yellowstone:
New Federal Firearms Law Takes Effect Monday
Yellowstone subject to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming firearms laws
A change in federal law effective February 22, allows people who can legally possess firearms under federal, state, and local laws, to possess those firearms in Yellowstone National Park.
The new federal law makes possession of firearms in national parks also subject to the firearms laws of the states where the parks are located.
Yellowstone spans portions of the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. All three states allow open carry of handguns and rifles on one’s person or in a vehicle. They all also allow concealed carry of firearms with a permit.
While the state boundary lines are posted along park roadways, they are not posted along trails or in the backcountry. Each state has somewhat different firearms regulations. Those possessing firearms are responsible for knowing which state they are in, and are subject to the laws of that state.
Visitors who may wish to bring firearms to the park are encouraged to do their research ahead of time to ensure that they are aware of and abide by the laws that apply. Additional information is available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm.
The new federal law has no affect on existing laws and regulations regarding the use of firearms in national parks or hunting. Hunting, or the discharge of a firearm in Yellowstone National Park continues to be prohibited. Other weapons such as bows, air rifles, and slingshots may be secured and transported through the park, but may not be taken on trails or into the backcountry.
Federal law continues to prohibit firearms in certain facilities, such as park visitor centers and federal office buildings. These facilities are posted with appropriate notices at public entrances.
Firearms should not be considered a wildlife protection strategy.
Park regulations require visitors to stay 25 yards away from most wildlife, and 100 yards away from bears and wolves at all times.
The best defense is to stay a safe distance from wildlife, and use your binoculars, spotting scope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look. Hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers are encouraged to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and keep an eye out for animals. Bear pepper spray has proven to be a good last line of defense if you keep it handy and use it according to directions when animals are within 30 feet.
So forget all that talk from the NRA about gun owners being free to take out two- or four-legged predators: in Yellowstone: gun usage is still not permitted. And legal gun owners will find it a little easier to make their way through the region.