Guns in national parks: Dumb, stupid idea

As a parting shot from the Bush Administration, courtesy of the gun lobby, those who seek the solitude and beauty of some national parks and wildlife refuges will face the fact that the visitor standing next to them just may be packing heat and is ready to use it at the first sign of any unfriendliness, such as an argument over a camping space.

Overturning the Reagan-era ban on loaded weapons in these national treasures, the Interior Department has decided it would be all right to carry a concealed firearm into those parks located in states where undercover guns are permitted.

So much for finding a moment’s break from the threat someone might decide to shoot you over a triviality, a daily possibility in today’s urban battlegrounds. The only hope one might have under the circumstance is that before the assailant could pull the trigger, he or she would be attacked and eaten by a bear.

Those who argue that the regulation change is necessary to protect one from becoming a delicate morsel for a hungry grizzly are blissfully ignorant of the old hunter’s rule that one should never take a handgun to a bear fight.

That is based on a long-standing observation that these not-terribly friendly animals don’t take kindly to being thwacked by a peashooter, which in 99 out of 100 cases fails to do what you want it to do to the bear. In fact, a bear with a pistol or automatic slug in its paw or elsewhere just becomes angrier, if that is possible. He or she might become so upset that a decision is made to prolong its dinner and your agony by biting off just a chunk of you at a time.

So to paraphrase an old children’s warning, if you go out in the woods today, you better go in disguise ’cause this is the day the paranoids have their picnic. Since the days of Ronald Reagan and his sensitivity about being shot (having had the experience), the national parks, forests and wildlife sanctuaries have been the safest places in the country. One could carry a rifle or what have you in his car but it had to be unloaded and dismantled.

Why is it now necessary to extend the opportunity to commit mayhem under the guise of self-protection to places where mothers and dads take their kids to create lasting memories of family fun? Please don’t try to find a sane rationale for much of anything advocated by firearms worshipers. In this city, which should be a sanctuary from violence, one can hardly find a day when someone doesn’t die from a shooting. Yet the pistol- whipped, one-vote majority on the Supreme Court has decided the solution to this is to abrogate Washington’s strict gun law.

Oh, yes. In so doing the retro forces from the 18th century, led by the Great Scalia, managed to do what none of the court’s predecessors had ever dared — validate the claim of constitutionally guaranteed gun privileges for individual Americans.

But that is another story. The obvious aim of those who clearly must sleep with their 9 mm’s clutched tightly in their hands is to make no spot off limits to their "Roscoes." We’re talking about college campuses and stadiums and bars and wherever. Now they are one step closer to that goal, having secured the right to haul their pistol-packing butts into the last remaining enclaves of sanity.

The Interior Department did not say it, but there seems little doubt that the concealed weapons are meant to take the place of common sense and bear bells and other devices designed to scare away or avoid predators.

How long now before the cheerful sounds of the meadows and forests of the great American set-asides are drowned out by the sound of gunfire? Is that a bit hysterical? Probably, but it is just as hysterical to believe that it is necessary to carry a firearm wherever one goes. I eagerly await the cards and letters and vicious emails that will undoubtedly follow.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)