Posted by: davepidgeon | May 19, 2009

Salazar: I would carry a gun into a national park

I want to confess.

Regarding the debate over whether people should be permitted to carry loaded guns into national parks, I’m a little torn between both sides.

I do believe the words “well regulated” as they appear in the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment means government control over gun rights. I’m a firm believer in the concept of rights and responsibilities, that if you exercise your rights irresponsibly government will take them away or at the very least tweak them for the greater good of the society government is contractually obligated to protect. I think about that whenever I hear about gun crimes or illegal straw purchases or when someone shoots down cops in Pittsburgh. But I do not believe “well regulated” means taking the complete right to own a gun away from a law-abiding citizen.

Many of us who are backpackers and users of the backcountry are prone to look to our leaders for guidance on such morally ambiguous questions. I for one would look to Ken Salazar, the intellectual secretary of the U.S. Interior Department and all-around good fella. I interviewed Salazar for American Cowboy and Backpacker magazines in April, and I asked him point blank – Would you carry a loaded gun into a national park. This is his answer:

If I felt I was in danger, I would. I grew up in a place where I often slept with a .22 by my bedside because I was far away from anyone. I was often in my days of high school scared to be out there in the darkness and wilderness and many times by myself. That’s why I had a .22 next to my bedside for many of my high school years. You’re out sometimes on the ranch or in the mountains, there’s a sense of security you have with a gun with you. So I have a great respect for guns.

That’s a rather profound statement, one I’m sure that will make those who want to keep loaded guns out of national parks shudder. Salazar is no longer able to exercise a Senate vote on the matter, but his words will be marked by those in Congress as this issue floats through the halls of the U.S. Capitol. And with a mid-term election beginning to loom on the horizon, you can bet gun-owner advocates will renew their push.

The part of me who would like to keep loaded guns out of national parks keeps floating back to this statistic: One out of ever 68,000 visitors to national parks are victims of serious crime. Remove theft and burglaries, and the stats become even more impressive. National Parks are safe places. I’d be safer hiking through Yosemite backcountry than I am sitting at my desk typing this or driving on I-81 toward Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

But my thoughts also turn to that number: One. I look at that number and then at the Second Amendment and wonder. I can’t honestly say whether that one person who experienced a violent crime in a national park could have prevented it if they possessed a loaded weapon. I just don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m afraid loaded guns in national parks is slowly moving toward reality. As I understand the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the District of Columbia’s gun laws, since national parks are public lands there is very little any one can do to restrict the right to pack heat into Yellowstone, Acadia, Grand Canyon and the rest. The U.S. Senate just recently passed overwhelmingly a law to that effect (the U.S. House has not taken any action).

My feelings continue to be ambivalent. Should I want to protect myself with a loaded gun, I have that option. But I don’t know if I would ever exercise that option, and a part of me wants to believe there are places in our country where guns don’t have to be permitted, and there are no better places for that than national parks. 

And so the debate goes on publicly and in my own conscience. I wonder how Salazar’s words above will impact Congress as it wrestles with this issue. I wonder, too, how I should shape my views based on his answer.

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