New Bush gun rule crashes into Parks, Forest Service staff assault trends

An 11th-hour rule change in the waning days of the Bush administration would allow visitors with valid concealed carry permits to bring a loaded weapon on the grounds of national parks, wildlife refuges and historical centers. But the move has generated tremendous hue and cry from environmentalists, park leaders and gun violence groups.

While speculation has been raised about the likelihood of increased poaching and visitor squabbles being settled with Smith & Wesson peacemakers, rolling back the 25-year-old regulation that required guns to be unloaded and stowed away puts federal workers at much higher risk than Bambi.

A report compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) highlights some worrisome trends in the number of reported assaults against Interior Deptartment employees even while the stricter Reagan-era rule was in place:

Ever since 1995, PEER has maintained the nation’s only database on violence against resource employees. The trend toward violence continues to grow with rank-and-file resource employees, those professionals in the field who are charged with implementing regulations and enforcing environmental laws, bearing the brunt. Across the country, those charged with protecting our environment are the victims of harassment, threats, intimidation, beatings, shootings and bombings.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence characterized the rule as a “parting gift” from the Bush administration to the gun lobby.

“We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry firearms in our parks. We urge the proper authorities to use common sense, and stop this senseless rule,” said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke.

According to the Estes Park Trail Gazette, which serves the communities adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, seven former park directors opposed the new rule in an April letter to Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne.

The National Rifle Association, which lobbied heavily for the rule change, cheered the news that the new guidelines will go into effect next month, days before President-elect Obama is sworn into office.

Both Colorado Sens. Wayne Allard, a Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Democrat, supported the rule change.

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