Government Documents Show Bush Administration Ignored Warnings 'Guns in Parks Rule' Violated Law

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Peter Hamm,
Communications Director
Doug Pennington,
Assistant Director: 202-898-0792.

Government Documents Show Bush Administration Ignored Warnings 'Guns in Parks Rule' Violated Law

WASHINGTON - The Bush Administration ignored warnings from senior career Interior
Department officials that its last-minute rule change allowing the
carrying of loaded, concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife
refuges was being hurried through in violation of Federal law,
government documents obtained by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun
Violence show. 

The rule, which took effect on January 9, 2009, overturned Reagan-era
restrictions on the carrying of loaded, concealed weapons in national
parks.  The documents were released late last week by the government in
response to a lawsuit filed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun
Violence.  The suit charges the new rule is unlawful because it was
issued without any analysis of the rule's impacts on the environment
and park visitors' safe use of the parks, as required by the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws.

"These documents show that the Bush Administration ignored the
procedural concerns and safety warnings of two federal agencies in
pushing for a last-minute rule to allow concealed weapons in national
parks.  The Bush Administration apparently cared more about pleasing
the gun lobby than following the law in making this post-election rule
change," said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke.

According to the Interior Department documents, the National Park
Service's Chief of its Environmental Quality Division, Jacob Hoogland,
warned in an April 3, 2008, e-mail that the rule "required additional
NEPA analysis" and that "at minimum an Environmental Assessment should
be prepared on the proposed revision to the existing firearms
regulation."  Similarly, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Chief of its
Division of Policy and Directives Management, Michael Schwartz, warned
in a May 14, 2008, e-mail, "The rule was published before they did any
NEPA analysis.  Last week, I pointed out that this is a procedural
flaw."  The documents are available at
http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/pdf/lap/cases/gunsinparks/update-feb2009.pdf.

Then-Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne responded with a
memo on August 22, 2008, stating that the rule is "one of my top
priorities," and the rule was then issued without the environmental
analysis required by law.

The documents also show that the rule was strongly opposed by the
National Park Service, whose Bush-appointed Director, Mary Bomar, wrote
in a July 31, 2007, letter, "We believe that the [previous] regulations
[restricting guns in parks] provide necessary and consistent
enforcement parameters throughout the National Park System."  The new
rule allows guns in rural and urban national park areas around the
country, from Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park and California's
Yosemite National Park to Philadelphia's Independence National
Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell.  The suit was filed on
behalf of the Brady Campaign and its members, including a school
teacher in New York who said she was canceling school trips to Ellis
Island and the Statue of Liberty now that guns are allowed in these
national park areas. 

The suit charges that the Bush Administration violated several federal
laws in its rush to implement the new rule before President Bush left
office, including failing to conduct any environmental review of the
harm that the new rule will cause, as required by the National
Environmental Policy Act.  The lawsuit also points out that the new
rule was adopted in violation of the National Park Service Organic Act
and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which
created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe
enjoyment of all visitors.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Rules in place since the Reagan Administration have allowed visitors to
transport guns in national parks and wildlife refuges if they are
unloaded and stored or dismantled.  These restrictions have helped make
these areas some of the safest places to visit in the country. At the
behest of the gun lobby, however, the Interior Department announced
last year that it planned to allow concealed firearms in national parks
and wildlife refuges. The last-minute Bush rule allows the carrying of
concealed weapons even in states that specifically ban the practice in
state parks.

The Brady Campaign filed its lawsuit challenging the rule on December
30, 2008.  The National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition of
National Park Service Retirees filed a similar suit on January 6, 2009.

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The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence.

We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.

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