The Credit Card and the NRA

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
- H.L Mencken

most surprising thing during the week of May 17th was not Dick Cheney
slithering out of his Jackson Hole in order to affix blame for the next
terrorist attack (whose advent he breathlessly awaits so he can say "I
told you so"). It was the success of the National Rifle Association in
securing passage of the bill that gives all American citizens the right
to bear loaded and cocked arms in national parks in the United States.
This was not a success that was easily achieved since in order to get
passage of this bill the NRA had to agree to some incidental arcane
provisions dealing with the credit card industry that, though
unpalatable to many NRA members, proved acceptable to them in order for
them to achieve their overarching goal of restoring the right to bear
arms in National Parks, a right that had been taken away by their
former idol and president, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan believed there should be some places where citizens did not have
to fear being shot by careless gun owners. In 1984 his Department of
the Interior issued regulations that protected the public from gun
owners while traveling through their national parks. Under the Reagan
era rule, gun owners were permitted to transport firearms through
national parks so long as they were unloaded and reasonably

As George Bush was preparing to return to
private life, his Department of the Interior issued a new regulation
overturning the Reagan administration rule. The new regulation said if
the gunslinger had a valid state permit, he or she could carry a loaded
gun into a national park.

Commenting on the proposed new
Regulation prior to its issuance, seven former National Park Service
directors sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior explaining why
they opposed changing the Reagan rule. In part the letter stated:
"The current regulations have served the Park Service and the public
well for the past 25 years. These rules, promulgated during the Reagan
Administration, are essential to park rangers in carrying out their
duties of protecting park resources and wildlife, and in assuring the
safety of visitors to the parks."

The Bush Interior
department had a different take from the former directors. It believed
the park rangers were incapable of carrying out their duties. As
reported in Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence V. Salazar, the
court decision enjoining enforcement of the December Bush Regulation,
the Interior Department said: "We [Interior Department] . . . recognize
that the NPS and FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] together employ
approximately 3,000 full and part-time law enforcement officers who are
responsible for patrolling and securing millions of acres of land, a
substantial portion of which is remote wilderness. In these
circumstances, NPS and FWS law enforcement officers are in no position
to guarantee a specific level of public safety on their lands, and
cannot prevent all violent offenses and crimes against visitors." The
Bush Interior Department believed that a sort of informal deputization
of the citizenry could be effected by permitting it to march about in
national parks with loaded weapons, confident that not all would prove
as incompetent as former vice president and now official doom-sayer,
Cheney, who inadvertently plugged a hunting companion.

the judge in the Brady case issued a temporary injunction against
enforcement of the Bush Regulation, the NRA got busy. It asked its
Congressional supporters to pass a law that would supersede any court
opinion or Federal regulation and it didn't matter to the NRA if other
matters had to be addressed in the legislation in order to get it
passed. And that is how it came about that credit card reform occurred.

The coupling of credit card legislation with a bill
permitting guns in national parks might seem odd since the two issues
have nothing in common. One bespeaks increased governmental control in
the private sector (credit card rules) whereas the other bespeaks less
governmental control (guns in national parks). The NRA, however, is
never concerned who its legislative companions are so long as it gets
what it wants. It did. Incidental beneficiaries of its efforts, of
course, are those who while in greater danger in the national parks
from careless gun owners, will be at less peril in the commercial
world, from unscrupulous credit card issuers.

(A few people have expressed concern that tourists will be able to tour the White House, a national park property,
with loaded guns since the District of Columbia has no law prohibiting
guns in its national parks. The Secret service has let it be known it
will not permit visitors to that particular national park to bring
along loaded guns. That probably comes as a disappointment to the NRA
which probably figures there are few places where being able to protect
oneself is more important than the White House.)

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