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Guns in Our National Parks

Now that guns in our national parks will be allowed, travel tips may be in order.

It’s not that often that something comes out of Washington that makes any kind of sense, but recently one of these rare good decisions came down the pipe.

A small amendment attached to a credit card reform bill, of all things, has now made it legal to carry guns in the nation’s national parks.

Naturally, some folks are thrilled about this and some aren’t too happy but, hey, that’s democracy. As a Montana resident who’s suffered the ridiculous annoyance of disassembling guns to drive through Yellowstone on the way home, I’m fairly pleased about it.

That having been said, it can’t hurt to go over a few of the particulars with summer coming up and so many folks intending to visit the parks.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that just because it is now legal to possess a firearm in a national park, you’re still not supposed to be shooting. It is still illegal to discharge firearms or do any kind of hunting in the parks — you’re simply allowed to bring firearms for purposes of self-defense.

This means that if you do fire a gun in a national park you going to need a real good reason for it. A charging grizzly bear or some machete wielding, hockey mask wearing campground stalker had better be on the receiving end of the bullet if you’re planning on not getting ticketed.

It also can’t hurt to remember that getting ticketed in a National Park means getting a federal ticket, to be hashed out in a federal court, which is never any fun. If you think it’s a good idea to do some plinking in a national park, there is one thing I can assure you of, your legal troubles will last a lot longer than your vacation.

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The next area of concern is that the guns laws of the state or states that a national park lies in must be observed. If you’re visiting a park in your home state you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on laws and regulations, but what if you’re a stranger in a strange land?

Granted, a lot of national parks that are popular summer destinations are out west, which means that guns laws are a lot less draconian, but every state has its own little nuances.

To complicate matters further, some parks are in more than one state. Yellowstone is wedged on the border of three states and it is possible to cross into Canada in Glacier National Park. Some of this is going to require some real head scratching if you don’t want to end up wearing handcuffs in all your vacation photos. It’s important to do your research first.

If you want to concealed carry in a national park you’ll have to make sure that your permit is recognized in the state the park is in. If you’re going to be bringing a long gun along for the trip you’re also going to have to do some research on the rules and regulations for transporting weapons.

It will also behoove the visitor to pay close attention as to which structures it’s legal to carry in. In most states, banks, bars or buildings with signage prohibiting firearms are off limits. You’ll need to go over these laws and observe them as well.

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Finally, a traveler needs to be certain they’re not bringing a gun into a state where that particular gun might not be legal to possess. There are dozens of funny little laws regarding magazine capacity, collapsible stocks and even some pertaining to specific models of guns in various states.

For example, there are a lot of national parks in the state of California, which basically only allows its citizens to own day-glow orange cap pistols at this point. It’s important to do your research first –there’s no apologizing after the fact.

To wrap things up, I’d like to address some practical concerns. I’ve by no means visited every national park, but I have spent a fair amount of time in Yellowstone. It’s a beautiful place and I’m glad I’ve been able to spend so much time there. Now that it’s legal to carry a firearm in the park I’ll be bringing one if I ever visit again, but I’ll be packing a concealed handgun, not a long gun.

This is not to say that I wouldn’t prefer to have a rifle when it comes to a close encounter with a bear, but I have to consider the other people in the park. Our oldest national park just isn’t like the national forests or wilderness areas I usually frequent.

Sometimes it seems more like a theme park than a park. Every year Yellowstone is packed with visitors from all over the world, many of whom come from countries with little or no private gun ownership.

Personally, I don’t feel like spending my whole vacation explaining the Second Amendment to groups of Japanese hikers. If I go back to Yellowstone with my gun it’s going to be residing out of sight in my holster until the bear charges or I wind up in the real life version of a Friday the Thirteenth flick.

There’s nothing wrong with exercising your rights or wanting to be safe, but keeping your gun out of sight will allow everybody in the park to enjoy their vacations and the park rangers will appreciate not getting constant calls about a “man with a gun” from the British tourists.

There’s no law that says you have to show discretion in national parks, but a little flexibility will probably make your vacation a lot more enjoyable.

Guns in Our National Parks