Monday, November 27, 2006

Guns in national parks (again)

Stephen Chapman is a writer I always admire even when I disagree with him. He has published a piece in response to the New York Times editorial previously reprinted here regarding the issue of issuing concealed firearms permits to National Park visitors with a follow-up here. I quote from his column:
… since 1987, when Florida decided to let law-abiding citizens get concealed-carry permits, that has changed. Today, some 40 states have such "shall-issue" laws. They've become the norm, and the fears they inspired have proved unfounded.

As it happens, serious crime has waned in the intervening years. Murders are now at their lowest level since the 1960s. Violent crime has been cut by nearly 60 percent since the peak year of 1994. Gun crimes have plunged as well.

It may not be true, as some experts believe, that America has gotten safer because more people are legally packing heat. But it's impossible to claim that the change has made us less safe.

Why would these peaceable souls want to take their guns when hiking or camping in a national park? Same reason they might take them other places: a desire to protect themselves. Though federal lands are mostly safe, they sometimes play host to crime. In fact, park rangers are far more likely to be assaulted or killed than FBI agents.

The Times says, "If Americans want to feel safer in their national parks, the proper solution is to increase park funding, which has decayed steadily since the Bush administration took office." Maybe that would help, but we can't put a park ranger at every bend in the trail. And if you run into a thug deep in the backcountry, you can't expect the police or anyone else to come to the rescue.
For some people -- solitary women in particular -- having the means of self-defense in the woods can be not only a comfort but a lifesaver. It's fine to trust in one's fellow man. That doesn't mean it's paranoid to have a Plan B.

Judging from a wealth of experience, adopting this new policy would be a non-event, with no unwanted repercussions. The only danger it poses is to criminals, who would lose some easy prey, and anti-gun zealots, who would once again be proven wrong.
I don’t question that there are people who want to carry guns to defend themselves. Who wouldn’t want to defend themselves against a violent attack? I do question whether our national parks have become so ridden with violent crime that it is necessary for private citizens to arm themselves to the teeth before taking a hike in the woods. Isn’t there a little bit of hysteria about crime in the forest not taking into account the trade-offs?

So what is the trade offs? According to the Violence Policy Center:
Firearms are the second leading cause of traumatic death related to a consumer product in the United States and are the second most frequent cause of death overall for Americans ages 15 to 24. Since 1960, more than a million Americans have died in firearm suicides, homicides, and unintentional injuries. In 2003 alone, 30,136 Americans died by gunfire: 16,907 in firearm suicides, 11,920 in firearm homicides, 730 in unintentional shootings, and 232 in firearm deaths of unknown intent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly three times that number are treated in emergency rooms each year for nonfatal firearm injuries.
So, according to the VPC statistics, the number firearm deaths and injuries are significant. That brings up the issue about the number of guns in circulation in the United States. No one knows. It is fair to assume many of the weapons in circulation are illegitimate and used by criminals. But then there are the perfectly legitimate weapons of law-abiding citizens which have to account for some portion of the above statistics.

Now, it appears, from a quick search on the internet, that the impact of these concealed weapons laws is pretty much of a wash – there is no evidence they either reduce crime or increase gun violence. In other words, if this proposed legislation were to pass we will likely be no better or worse off than before (statistically) and a lot of the arguments for and against will be anecdotal. So let me offer my anecdotes:

I know of two boys – one dead and the other suffering from permanent brain damage – who are victims of guns purchased for self-protection. In the first case, the kid visited a friend’s house and they found a loaded pistol in the bedroom kept for home protection. Not knowing it was loaded they played with it. It discharged and killed the kid instantly.

In the second case, a woman carried a small loaded handgun in her purse for self-protection at her husband’s urging although she didn’t know how to use the gun. It fell out of the purse at a family outing. A boy picked it up and assumed it was a toy because of its small size. He pointed it at his cousin, pulled the trigger and put a bullet in his brain, where it remains to this day.

My point? The consequences of our actions are not always as intended. The weapons above were perfectly legal yet the victims were not criminals but innocent kids just fooling around.

What does this have to do with concealed weapons legislation in national parks? Let’s not fool ourselves – there are people carrying guns in the parks now. However, the permit would give permission for more and more people to carry guns in our national parks which means more guns on trails and more guns lying around tents in campgrounds with lots of kids around. Has violent crime gotten so out of hand in our national parks that the trade-off is worth it?


Anonymous said...

Uhh, how about a little honesty here?

You said:

"So what is the trade offs? According to the National Rife Association:"...and then included a quote.

Well, that isn't from the NRA, it's from the Vilence Policy Center, which is anti-gun, and it's their take on the NRA, not quotes from the NRA. So you're being dishonest when you try to lead folks to think that quote you posted is from the NRA.

Sisyphus said...

Corrected. Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...


So, statistically, does it matter if there's enough violent crime (or not) in the national parks to make it worth the trade-off? The added risk or trade-off you claim simply does not exist:

This proposed rule change is not going to add any more firearms to our society in general. No noticable number of people are going to go out and buy a handgun, and go through the concealed carry permit procedure just because they can now have it in a National Park. People that are responsible gun owners with CCW permits are going to continue to be just as responsible in a National Park, and people that are frickin idiots (like the people responsible for the two cases you menioned of children being shot)by not locking up or keeping control of their guns are not going to make any smarter choices because they cross the boundary into the same park. The reason you give makes as much sense as not allowing cars in the park because someone won't seat belt their child, or you shouldn't allow campstove fuel because someone may let a child drink it. People that are going to screw up are going to do it anywhere.

However, people with permits to carry concealed firearms are the most law abiding and responsible citizens in our society (all studies show several times LESS likely to commit crime). Why should our inalienable right of self-defense stop at the boundaries of a National Park?

I don't know if the crime rate "justifies" the relaxation of the law or not, but that should not be the point. There's no "hysteria about crime in the forest." The Second Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, not the Bill of Needs. For the right of self-defense to be denied on public land is a violation of our rights.

Thanks for reading :)