A ban on the carrying of firearms in U.S. national parks is based on a dangerous delusion, given that visitors to these often remote areas aren’t somehow magically immunized against criminals or attacks by animals.
Americans shouldn’t have to surrender their Second Amendment rights or an effective means of self-defense when visiting their own “public” lands.
The point was punctuated last month when the director of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, warned that violent drug cartels are turning our state and federal lands into armed camps, dotted with poppy fields, pot plantations and methamphetamine labs. Their presence, Walters warned, has raised the danger of violent confrontations for hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Officials are finding what Walters has termed a “major strategic and organizational shift” from the past, when drugs were mostly smuggled in, not domestically grown and processed. And these groups aren’t easy-going amateurs who simply laugh off the presence of interlopers.
“Many people think of marijuana growing as just run by a bunch of guys who are Cheech and Chong in the movies, kind of fun-loving guys,” Walters said. “These are violent organizations. They’re using violence without hesitation — it’s part of doing business to them.” Walters said those guarding these illegal operations are well-armed, and often have orders to shoot even those who inadvertently stumble on the sites.
“The public lands have become a preferred area of operation for these organizations that are increasingly violent and sophisticated,” Walters said. “People think they’re hiking in a remote wilderness area, and they come across these plots or these labs and they’re run by armed and violent criminals.”
While firearms are permitted on most national forests and lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, they are forbidden in all but a few national parks.
Drug gangs are understandably drawn to national parks and state and federal forests due to their remoteness, and an ability to operate there with little fear of detection. But an added appeal must be that the gangs know they have little chance of encountering campers or hikers who are armed and able to defend themselves.
Law enforcers last summer discovered a large field of opium poppies in a section of California’s Sierra National Forest immediately bordering Yosemite National Park. In September, police in northern California had to shoot and kill four armed men guarding a marijuana plantation on public land.
Efforts reportedly are under way by federal land agencies, including the Park Service, to beef up law enforcement in response to the threat. But patrolling millions of acres of often wild and remote public lands is a daunting challenge. And since authorities cannot guarantee that citizens who enter public lands aren’t also likely to be stumbling into a potential confrontation with drug gang members or other types of criminals, we believe the ban on firearms in national parks should be lifted.