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May 26, 2009

“One should ask, what do guns have to do with credit cards?”

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives gave final approval to a dangerous, non-germane amendment that was attached to the "Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009" by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The amendment, drafted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), would allow individuals to carry loaded semiautomatic handguns, assault rifles and shotguns into America’s National Parks as long as the firearm is in compliance with state law. The House approved the amendment by a vote of 279-147 (with 105 Democrats voting for it). The amendment had previously passed in the Senate by a vote of 67-29 (with 27 Democrats voting for it).

The Coburn Amendment would override a regulation that was enacted by the Reagan Administration that requires visitors to keep guns stored and unloaded when traveling through National Park lands. It has been opposed by every living and former director of the National Park Service, ranger organizations, retired superintendents, and environmental groups. In a joint statement issued by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers, and the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, NPCA Executive Vice President Theresa Pierno said of Congress and President Barack Obama: “By not taking a stand to prevent this change, they have sacrificed public safety and national park resources in favor of the political agenda of the National Rifle Association.” The amendment would create an enforcement nightmare for park rangers attempting to enforce gun laws in National Parks that straddle several different states.

Senator Coburn’s amendment is even more extreme than a last-minute rule issued by the Bush Administration that would have allowed individuals to carry concealed handguns in National Parks. The Bush administration moved forward with the rule despite the fact that 73% of the 140,000 people who voiced their opinions during a public comment period opposed it. In March of this year, the United States District Court issued an injunction against the implementation of the Bush rule. Judge Colleen Kollar-Ketally found that the Bush administration’s rulemaking process was “astoundingly flawed” because they “abdicated their [National Environmental Policy Act] obligations” and “ignored substantial information in the administrative record concerning environmental impacts.” Senator Coburn has also purposely avoided the environmental review process set up to protect the Parks.

Senator Coburn says his amendment “is about protecting every American’s Second Amendment rights” and he claims, “Whether it is meth labs hidden amid lush forests or car prowls at trailheads, park rangers and forest officers are seeing an increasing amount of criminal behavior.”

The senator is apparently not familiar with the Supreme Court’s June 2008 decision in the controversial Second Amendment case of District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for the five conservative justices in the majority in the ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia stated:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Senator Coburn also wildly exaggerated the threat of violence in our National Parks. The truth is—like other gun free zones—they are some of the safest places in the United States. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, there were only 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 National Park visitors in 2006. That can be contrasted with an overall national violent crime rate of 469.2 victims per 100,000 citizens in 2005.

The legislation has now moved to President Barack Obama’s desk. Concerned citizens can contact the White House at (202) 456-1111 to urge President Obama to veto H.R. 627 and demand a clean bill from Congress minus the Coburn Amendment. It was just last year that the president publicly stated, "I am not in favor of concealed weapons. I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during) altercations." Americans should hold him to his word and indicate that the safety of their families is not a political commodity to be sacrificed.

For additional information, read this statement from CSGV Executive Director Josh Horwitz and see NPCA’s “Keep Parks Safe” webpage.

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