national parks

Semi-Automatic Weapons in Valley Forge National Historical Park . . . Do You Feel Safer?

This past week brought much discussion on Community Matters about sidewalks, trails and paths.  Several people suggested that if you want to walk or bicycle, why not just use the paths at Valley Forge National Historical Park.  With that in mind, I wrote the following post with the hope of engaging some lively discussion.

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The next time you decide to visit Valley Forge Park to enjoy a bicycle ride or an afternoon of sledding with the kids, are you going to feel safer? 

Did you know that as of this week, fellow visitors with proper gun permits can legally pack heat inside our national parks, including Valley Forge National Historical Park?

Yes, a law that took effect Monday lifted the long-standing ban on bringing guns into our national parks.  In Valley Forge National Historical Park, as we walk the trails and enjoy family picnics, tourists will be allowed to carry guns – handguns, rifles, shotguns and AK-47s. Now, as long as guns are allowed by state law, licensed gun owners can bring firearms on park property.  Guns will be allowed in all but about 20 of the park service’s 392 locations, including some of its most iconic parks: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as historic parks, including our own Valley Forge National Historical Park. Guns will not be allowed in visitor centers or rangers’ offices, because firearms are banned in federal buildings, but they could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

The new rule allows people to carry firearms, including semi-automatic weapons, in most national parks and wildlife refuges, so long as they follow the gun laws of the state. (That could get a little complicated, as more than 30 parks occupy land in multiple states.) The rule means people can now carry concealed weapons while camping in places like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

I admit up front that I am one of the people with issues concerning the availability of guns in this country.  My stance on stricter gun control rules will certainly strike a chord among some of the readers. I know the argument that strict gun control does not reduce crime because it does not keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. Criminals do not abide by waiting periods or registration requirements. The only people affected by these so-called “gun control” measures are law-abiding citizens, who are rendered less able to resist crime. However almost daily, our world is filled with news of gun violence in this country . . . in shopping malls, on college campuses, office buildings.

Gun crimes in any setting are horrific. However, crimes committed on the grounds of an academic institution take on an almost macabre air because of the serene atmosphere associated with such places. Gun violence on school campuses is a stark reminder that guns cannot discriminate amongst their victims, nor can they discern the intentions of those who wield them. This is repeated so often that it may as well be a cliché. If events over the past decade are any indicator, no positive response seems forthcoming. Though it is a human who pulls the trigger, there is no violent crime without the proverbial smoking gun. National parks [Valley Forge National Historical Park] like our educational institutions, are places that enshrine the ideals of knowledge and tranquility . . . should we not feel beholden to preserve these places as a utopian ideal for the future?  Do we want to be remembered as the generation that put guns into paradise?

The way I see it there are two camps on this.  First, there are the people who will feel safer knowing that they can be armed in our national parks, just in case they run into troublesome people or dangerous wildlife.  The second group will feel more unsafe.  You willl never know who is armed, and anytime there is a confrontation, firearms bring a whole new sense of alarm into the equation.  Once you pull that trigger, there’s no taking it back.  From my vantage point, toting firearms into our national parks poses a serious threat to the public.  There, I said it. Personally, the next time I am walking in Valley Forge National Historical Park, I am not going to feel safer knowing that fellow visitors on the path may be legally packing a weapon.

The new law permitting licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks has come over the objections of gun-control advocates who fear it will lead to increased violence in national parks.  Responding to the new law, John Waterman, President, US Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police offered the following statement:

The Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has opposed this ill-considered law from the beginning. The new law goes beyond concealed carry to include all guns anytime.  The chances of an inexperienced visitor who has not seen a bear or buffalo wandering through a campground, gets frightened and takes out the now readily available firearm and shoots blindly at an animal or a person in a misguided effort to “protect themselves” from a perceived threat is now increased.  Allowing untrained and unlicensed people carrying guns in National Parks is an invitation to disaster. It puts the safety of the public and rangers at increased risk and virtually invites the desecration of our natural and historic treasures. 

Pennsylvania has fairly loose restrictions on carrying guns.  As long as a person is legally entitled to own a firearm – for instance they must have no past felony convictions, mental-health commitments or protection-from-abuse order restrictions – there is little stop a person from carrying a gun in public. I am sure that there will be readers who completely disagree with my position on the danger of guns in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  In fact, I am certain that some people will suggest that their ‘right’ to carry a gun should not stop at the park entrance.   

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