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Armed to kill in national parks?

A rule that would allow visitors to carry loaded guns in US parks should be shot down.

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Pressured by the gun lobby and 51 US senators, the Interior Department proposes enhancing everyone's national park experience by letting people pack heat with a picnic. That's just what the nation's millions of park visitors don't need.

Last week, Interior put out for public comment a rule that would allow people with concealed-weapons permits to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. Forty-eight states grant such licenses. The rule only applies if the park or refuge is located in a state that allows concealed guns in its parks.

Rules banning gun use go back decades for some parks and were put in place to prevent poaching and ensure public safety. The Reagan administration unified the rules so that today visitors may bring guns into national parks and refuges but they must be unloaded and stored to prevent ready use. Gun owners needn't surrender them, but they can't use them.

The new proposal came about not because the National Park Service wants it, but because gun advocates, so friendly with the Bush administration, say visitors need to protect themselves – from grizzly humans as well as bears. From 2003 through 2007 there were 59 homicides in national parks and 245 rapes or attempted rapes.

This is not to belittle violent crime in the parks, which apparently is increasing and needs stepped-up enforcement. But allowing campers and hikers to become lone rangers is not the way to improve safety in the wild – or historic homes, battlefields, and monuments. All living former National Park Service directors oppose the change, as do the current director and several park service employee groups.

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