Let’s keep national parks gun-free



Every now and then, the people who work for us in Washington, D.C., propose a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

That’s what happened recently when 47 senators proposed ending regulations that forbid carrying firearms in national parks.

It’s a foolish idea.

The senators said the no-firearms rule in national parks “infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to transport and carry firearms on or across these lands.”

What a load of hooey.

It’s easy to transport a pistol, shotgun or rifle in a national park. All you have to do is unload the weapon — that takes less than a minute — put it into a case and then stow it in the car trunk or some other secure place that isn’t easily accessible to the people in the vehicle.

If the senators think that all of that is a chore, they must really chafe when they’re in a city — where most of us have to do the exact same thing when taking a firearm from one place to another.

Much of Washington, D.C., is public land, so do the senators like the idea of people toting firearms as they tour the sights in the nation’s capital? It would be easy to argue that Washington, D.C., is a much more dangerous place than Yellowstone, Mount Rainier, Olympic or Glacier national parks.

Hunting and shooting is against the law in all of our national parks. Why would people need a firearm during their visit?

There are plenty of reasons to keep those weapons in the trunk.

First of all, criminals do like to poach game in our national parks. This is a big problem in Yellowstone. Poachers also shoot animals in Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks.

Allowing people to carry firearms would just make life easier for the poachers.

Easy access to a rifle or handgun also would make life harder for wildlife — and humans.

Lots of people get jumpy around snakes, coyotes, black bears or even a full-grown bull elk.

A few years ago, I was in Yellowstone during the fall elk mating season, and a surly bull was busily gouging the paint of cars at the Mammoth parking lot. The bull also chased people who got too close.

That’s how some elk behave during mating season — and we are the visitors to their lands. Rangers were on hand to keep people away from the bull elk — I believe they eventually shot the animal with a tranquilizer dart and removed its antlers. But imagine if a few folks — say, from a place where elk don’t live — had a .357 magnum handy and started blazing away when the elk got near their motor home.

Imagine those bullets winging around a parking lot full of tourists from all over the world.

Imagine hiking a trail and seeing a nimrod shoot at a nearby snake or bobcat — and hearing the bullet crack past your ear.

Or picture pitching your tent in a big campground and seeing your neighbors walk around with handguns strapped to their hips — or target-shooting at a stump.

Would you feel relaxed and safe in those situations? I’ve owned firearms most of my life, but I wouldn’t feel safe in those spots.

National parks are safe places — safer than Seattle or Portland or even Olympia.

Some folks will point to grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone as a good reason to carry a weapon.

Well, I fish, hike and camp in the Yellowstone National Park backcountry every summer — which is grizzly bear country. I’ve never wished I had my 9 mm handgun or 12-gauge shotgun along.

I know how to stay away from bears — and how to keep them from getting interested in my camp. I carry a big canister of pepper spray, which will stop bears. I’ve never even had to consider pulling out my spray.

Most people who get in trouble with the grizzlies get too close, have a dirty camp or just don’t pay attention while in the wilderness.

If you want to carry a firearm in the outdoors, just head out to the millions of acres of national forest or Bureau of Land Management land that allow firearms and hunting.

Our national parks are sanctuaries for wildlife — and people who are weary of the perils of modern life.

We don’t need to carry firearms in national parks. We just need to carry along some basic knowledge and awareness.

Come to think of it, that’s something that those 47 senators need as well.