Just this past Monday, February 22, 2010, 94 years of legal sanity came to a crashing end. For as of last Monday, it is now perfectly legal for licensed gun owners to bring weapons into any of America's national parks or wildlife refuges, so long as they are allowed by state law. Another newly-enacted law permits gun owners to bring weapons on to Amtrak trains. Further, the first measure permits folks to "openly carry rifles, shotguns and even semiautomatic weapons on ranger-led hikes and campfire programs at national parks."You read me right:
- Want to carry a Colt to Crater Lake? Go ahead.
- Got an itch to ride with a Ruger through the Redwoods? Be my guest.
- Have a burning desire to brandish a Beretta in Bryce? No problem.
- Gotta have a Glock at Glacier Bay? The law says "OK!"
When the issue first came before Congress in the latter days of the Bush Administration seven former directors of the National Park Service signed a letter opposing a relaxation of gun restrictions in parks. These former park officials said the stricter regulations -- which had been in place since 1915 -- made national parks "among the safest places in America." In response, the measure's sponsor, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn proclaimed that his bill "protects every American's Second Amendment right," and further said, "Visitors to national parks should have the right to defend themselves in accordance with the laws of their states."
Ah, guns and politics . . . a marriage made somewhat south of the highest heavens.
Few issues in American political life attract as much passion, conviction, or anger as guns-versus-gun control. For the so-called "Second Amendment crowd" -- those who support unfettered access to weapons -- any attempt to rein in the number of guns one may possess is but another step toward tyranny; a return to the days of King George III. Indeed, one of the most oft-verbalized fears of the nascent "Tea Party" crowd is that "Obama and the Democrats are coming to take our guns away." In response to this fear -- and despite the fact that since his inauguration he has said little and done nothing about controlling weapons -- states are enacting a slough of laws to make gun ownership even easier. Consider that:
- Last week, the Virginia General Assembly approved a bill permitting people to carry concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
- At the same time, the Virginia House of Delegates voted to repeal a 17-year old ban on people purchasing more than one handgun a month.
- Arizona and Wyoming are considering laws that will permit citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
- Both Tennessee and Montana passed laws last year exempting their states from federal regulation of firearms and ammunition that are "made, sold, and used in state."
- Last month, the Indiana legislature passed a bill that blocks private employers from "forbidding workers to keep firearms in their vehicles on company property."
When asked how anyone could conclude that a president who signs a law making it legal to carry weapons into state parks or on Amtrak trains can be considered anti-gun, the National Rifle Association's (NRA) chief executive, Wayne LaPierre responded, "The two measures [were] attached as amendments to larger pieces of legislation that the president wanted passed." (As noted above, the guns-in-national parks issue was appended to a bill cracking down on credit card companies; the Amtrak issue was part of a transportation appropriations bill.) In other words, LaPierre and the NRA would have us believe that the president was so intent upon enacting credit card legislation and funding transportation projects that he was willing to go against one of his core beliefs. It just doesn't wash . . .
On the other side of the argument are the advocates of gun control. As convinced as the Second Amendment crowd is that Obama's lack of action is a sure sign that he's about to do something, the gun control folks are becoming increasingly uncertain about whether the president has caved in to the NRA. After all, he has signed the bill permitting weapons in national parks and on Amtrak. And, federal background checks for gun purchases between November 2009 and January 2010 are down a full 12% compared with the same months a year earlier. This, they argue, shows that the president really isn't all that concerned about gun control -- an issue on which he campaigned in 2008.
The United States has the the most heavily-armed citizens on the face of the planet, with the possible exception of Afghanistan and Israel. According to the FBI, there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Add to that the number of weapons owned by the military and law enforcement, it likely comes out to one gun for every man, woman and child in this country. About one in four Americans own a gun. FBI statisticians have concluded that on average, firearm owners own four guns each.
The folks at Gallup report that 44% of those polled believe that gun control laws should be "made more strict," and 43% believe should be "kept as they currently are." Interestingly, only 1% of those polled had no opinion. Tell me: can you think of any other issue on which 99% of the American public has an opinion?
The gun issue is huge is most campaigns. The National Rifle Association, although far from being the largest or richest lobby in America (truth to tell, it is relatively small) is nonetheless seemingly everywhere. They have a huge cadre of devotees who frequently will look to a candidate's position on gun-related issues first, his or her position on all others second. As a result, for many politicians it is an ineluctable fact of life: supporting gun control can be hazardous to one's health.
I hope there will be legal challenges galore to what I'll call the "Glocks 'n Glaciers" law. I simply cannot see any reason anyone to be "strapped" at a national park. For many, the answer to the question "why?" is simply, "because we can." To me, that's not good enough. For as long as I can remember, I've been pro-gun control. Personally, I do not believe that owning a weapon or weapons is all that stands between me and tyranny. Then too, I obviously don't read the 2nd Amendment with the same set of eyes as many others.
This does not mean that I am intractable. I am open to suggestion and may well modify my position.
How's about this:
Anyone can own as many weapons of any sort as they desire. They may purchase as many as they choose with absolutely no restrictions on time, date or place.
In exchange, we'll simply pass a law making the manufacture, sale or transportation of ammunition . . . illegal.
©2010 Kurt F. Stone