Monday, February 22, 2010

The Impact of Guns in the National Parks

On the tiny summit of Forbidden Peak, a climber takes off his pack and empties the contents. He pulls out a water bottle, some sunscreen and his Glock handgun. On Astroman's crux Changing Corners pitch, a climber decides that it would be better to haul his shotgun. That way if it were to swing off his shoulder a little bit, it wouldn't get in the way of his cams. And on Denali's West Buttress, a team digs a cache at 13,100 feet. They fill the cache with bandoliers of ammunition...


Not even close.

Climbers up high in the mountains are unlikely to have to worry about the change in national park rules that goes into effect today. But climbers and hikers down low, in public campgrounds where the RV hordes and the wanna-be survivalists drink their beer, things have changed; and now those people will be allowed to legally carry weapons.

The nearly 100 year-old rule will be relaxed today on more than 84 million acres of land which include national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas and trails. This change, an evolution of changes sought by the Bush administration and Second Amendment advocates, was passed in May as an amendment to an Obama administration credit card reform bill.

Visitors will now be able to bring concealed and loaded weapons into national parks, as long as they abide by state rules regarding firearms. They still won't be permitted to bring weapons into federal buildings such as visitor centers or the White House; and they won't be allowed to bring them into concession buildings or on concession busses.

Obviously, some people carry weapons because they wish to defend themselves against violent crime.
However, in the national parks such crime is extremely uncommon. An article on AOL news brings this into perspective:

Violent crimes -- homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- have been declining for more than a decade in the national parks, according to FBI statistics. The rate for those crimes in 2008, the latest figures available, was 0.13 per 100,000 recreational park visitors. The nationwide crime rate: 454.5 per 100,000.

Arguably, permitted firearms have always been allowed on National Forest and BLM land and climbers have had few problems. Whether we will start to have safety issues in the national parks is subject to debate. However, more "tourists" visit the national parks than the National Forest and BLM locales. And it is possible that gun-toting city people in particular, who wish to express their Second Amendment rights may not be quite as responsible as those who visit the wilderness regularly.

What many news stories on this topic seem to have missed is the impact on animals in national parks. In September an armed angler shot a 175 lb female black bear near Lake Mary in the Eastern Sierra. The animal apparently got into the man's snack food. Scared and ignorant of how little danger he was actually in, the man subsequently shot and killed the bear.

The situation in the Lakes Basin was outside of any national park. And, by all accounts, the man was legally allowed to carry the weapon that he had with him. However, the angler was completely ignorant about bears, about food storage and about the reality of his situation. I have no doubt that the man thought that a bear getting into his marshmallows was a life-threatening situation and I have no doubt that his life was NOT in danger.

The result was a dead bear.

It is possible that with the advent of these new rules in the national parks that there will be a lot more dead animals. Many people who don't spend a significant time in the outdoors are likely to bring and show off their weapons simply to exercise their second amendment rights. Theoretically, it will be illegal to discharge said weapons, but that won't stop a few ignorants from shooting when they get scared by animals doing what they do in the woods...

--Jason D. Martin


  1. Very disappointing to read this sort of dabble coming from AAI. Stick to achieving your mission.

  2. I would say AAI is sticking to its mission. They often operate within National Parks and the climbers they guide are probably only thinking about their safety while on the rock, but the guides are thinking about their safety overall. Not to mention that the wildlife adds to the overall experience.

    Sure this article may seem "gun bashing" but I feel like it is something not many people would be aware of. It's more eye opening than gun bashing.

  3. Very pleased to read this sort of thing from AAI.

    The scared-of-their-own shadow crowd will always consider simple statements of fact (e.g., the 0.13 per 100,000 figure) "gun bashing."

  4. AAI must love guns! I mean, Cliffhanger was a rock climber, and he had a bolt gun. Hello!? Bolt GUN.

  5. I can't tell you how many times people have asked where you could get a bolt gun? Just imagine what would happen to you if you put the barrel of a pistol up against a chunk of granite...

    It wouldn't be pretty.

    No, drilling a bolt is a dirty and time-consuming process. I wish it was as easy as Sly made it look.

    On another note, I want to make it clear that we're not anti-gun or anti-hunting. We just have some concerns about a very small percentage of the already small percentage the will carry guns in National Parks and how they will impact the wildlife.

    --Jason Martin


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