New law allows firearms in national parks

by
February 22, 2010

By JOSH GARVEY
Special to the Record-Eagle

LANSING — A new federal law allows firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges, including concealed guns, and makes state law applicable within the park or refuge.

In Michigan, that means a person with a concealed weapons permit can have a hidden gun, and that an openly displayed firearm also is legal. The change doesn’t apply to national forests, which already follow state laws.

Tim Colyer, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s chief ranger, said the new law will “change the way we’ve historically done things in the National Park Service.

“As a general rule, firearms have always been prohibited,” he said. “Now, Pictured Rocks has always been a little unique in that we’re one of 18 parks in the service that has always allowed hunting. So I don’t think it will affect us as much as it would someone like Yellowstone.”

Michigan has five national parks, Isle Royale and Keweenaw National Parks, Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the still unfinished North Country Scenic Trail. There are also eight national wildlife refuges and management areas: Detroit River, Harbor Island, Huron, Kirtlands Warbler, Michigan Wetland, Michigan Islands, Seney and Shiawassee.

Buildings within parks and refugees aren’t covered because they are federal facilities, said Colyer and Larry Johnson, the chief ranger of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

“We’ll be posting information on the buildings and federal facilities where firearms will not be allowed,” Johnson said.

“The state laws that will be in effect don’t trump the federal law that prohibits firearms in federal facilities,” including visitor centers and other buildings, he said.

Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association in Chicago, said Sleeping Bear has only two rangers on duty at a time.

“The new law puts an even greater burden on the Parks Service’s understaffed law enforcement division,” she said. “How can two guys keep the peace with the normal things you encounter with visitors during the summer, and now also have to be on the look out for this new sort of potential danger?”

Erin McDonough, Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ executive director, said there’s no reason for the national parks to have separate laws from the state.

“The people who are going to do anything illegal with guns are going to do it regardless of the laws,” she said. “All you’re doing is punishing the legal gun owners for no reason.”

Colyer said Pictured Rock’s staff is preparing for any culture shock because of the change.

“We have been and still are in the process of making sure everybody understands exactly what the new law means and how it applies to the park and park employees and a little bit of what to expect from visitors,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure our employees know that people are allowed to carry firearms — ‘Here’s what the law says, here’s what that means to us, here’s how we should deal with it if you are approached or if you receive a report.'”

Josh Garvey writes for Michigan State University’s Capital News Service.

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