- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making good on a promise to fight what it called “the Bush administration’s parting gift for the gun lobby,” an anti-gun group filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to overturn new regulations that allow people to carry concealed weapons in virtually every national park and wildlife refuge.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence suit says six of its members who frequently visited national parks no longer will do so because of fears about gun violence, including two teachers who will either cancel or curtail field trips to Ellis Island in New York and the Mall in the District.

“National parks are already incredibly safe,” said Doug Pennington, a Brady Campaign spokesman. “Why are you going to add a risk where none before existed?”

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced earlier this month a change to a 25-year policy that required firearms to be kept unloaded and packed away while in national parks and wildlife refuges. Under those regulations, people were allowed to have guns only in areas specifically designated for hunting and target practice.

The new regulations, which would likely allow people to carry firearms in 388 of the nation’s 341 national parks, are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 9.

Along with filing the lawsuit, the Brady Center is seeking a temporary injunction from U.S. District Court in the District to stop the regulations from taking hold.

The lawsuit claims the DOI violated federal law by failing to conduct an environmental review before imposing the new regulations. It also accuses the DOI of violating the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act by making national parks and refuges less safe for wildlife and people.

Citing department policy, a DOI spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit.

The new regulations do not extend to federal buildings on national parks, meaning, for example, that a person with a license can carry a concealed firearm on the grounds of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, but cannot bring the gun inside Independence Hall.

And a national park or refuge must be located in a state that allows people to carry concealed weapons in order for the new regulations to apply. Further, a person carrying a concealed weapon must have proper authorization from the state where the park or refuge is located. Forty-eight states allow people to carry concealed firearms; only Illinois and Wisconsin do not.

The policy change also was opposed by all seven living former National Park Service directors and groups including the Association of National Park Rangers, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. It was supported by 51 senators from both parties and Reps. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, and Don Young, Alaska Republican, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Natural Resources Committee.

It is not clear whether the incoming Barack Obama administration will reconsider the change. A spokesman said Mr. Obama will review all “eleventh-hour” regulation changes and address them after he takes office.

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