F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
National parks system not returning to wild west
It’s a bit of a stretch to somehow link the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial to permitting loaded weapons in national parks, but that didn’t stop Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson from trying to do just that recently.
Jackson, who has written numerous columns about why he feels loaded weapons aren’t necessary in national parks, penned another such piece last week in which he attempts to link the Zimmerman case to the federal decision in 2010 to allow guns in national parks. The previous ban had been in place 20 years.
“We started allowing loaded weapons into national parks in 2010, and the early returns are sadly troubling,” Jackson wrote. “The first murder of a park ranger in a decade occurred last year in Mount Rainier National Park, and the National Park Service recorded 100 violent acts against employees, the most in its history, according to the watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group was careful not to tie the increased aggression to gun laws, but it certainly indicates that more visitors think themselves above the law, just as Zimmerman did.”
It certainly indicates that? Really?
A closer look at the 100 violent acts included, specifically the tragic shooting of law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on Jan. 1, 2012, in Mount Rainier National Park. But it also included as examples of violent incidents the attempt of a fleeing suspect to run a park police officer over with a car and a visitor center at a wildlife refuge that received a note with profane racist remarks and a threat to burn the visitor center down.
But, according to Jackson, the one shooting death – unfortunately, the ninth such shooting of a park officer in the United States since 1916 – and 100 other acts somehow show it’s a bad idea to allow guns in national parks.
Using that reasoning, cars, pens, paper and matches should also be banned.
One shooting death is too many, to be sure, but the last such incident in a national park occurred in 2002 in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona when an officer was killed while chasing drug traffickers who obviously didn’t care that they weren’t legally permitted to have weapons.
Drug traffickers, however, are the least of the dangers at national parks, which are designated as such because they have, in most cases, held onto the more wild and rustic roots of our past.
Bear, wolves and mountain lions are just a few of the wild animals you might encounter in some of our more wild national parks. And there have been numerous stories regarding hikers, campers and others attacked and/or killed by human predators. Those occurances are far more prevalent than animal attacks.
Think a victim having a loaded weapon handy wouldn’t have prevented a few of those incidents?
The previous law permitted but severely restricted guns in the national parks, generally requiring them to be locked or stored.
Asking a charging bear to slow down or a criminal to wait a second while you unlock your weapon just isn’t very realistic.
But when you consider that the national parks system covers 84 million acres and saw nearly 279 million visitors in 2011, the numbers aren’t all that bad.
Visiting a national park is a great way to spend a vacation, as long as you’re careful. On average, 155 people die every year in our national parks, most because of drowning.
According to Jackson and others who share his sentiments, however, they’ve now become lawless throwbacks to the Wild West where gun showdowns were commonplace.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I wouldn’t hesitate to visit a national park, despite Jackson’s warnings of the lawlessness of these areas since the 2010 ruling to allow loaded weapons in our parks. In fact, I’m probably more likely to do so knowing that I can now legally take protection with me.
Outdoors Editor F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.