Judge Blocks Rule Permitting Concealed Guns In U.S. Parks

By Juliet Eilperin and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 20, 2009

A federal judge yesterday blocked a last-minute rule enacted by President George W. Bush allowing visitors to national parks to carry concealed weapons.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by gun-control advocates and environmental groups. The Justice Department had sought to block the injunction against the controversial rule.

The three groups that brought the suit -- the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees -- argued that the Bush action violated several laws.

In her ruling, Kollar-Kotelly agreed that the government's process had been "astoundingly flawed."

She noted that the government justified its decision to forgo an environmental analysis on the grounds that the rule does not "authorize" environmental impacts. Calling this a "tautology," she wrote that officials "abdicated their Congressionally-mandated obligation" to evaluate environmental impacts and "ignored (without sufficient explanation) substantial information in the administrative record concerning environmental impacts" of the rule.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the department could not comment because of "ongoing litigation."

The regulation, which took effect Jan. 9, allowed visitors to carry loaded, concealed guns into national parks and wildlife refuges if state laws there allowed it in public places. In most cases, a state permit would be required to carry a concealed weapon into a national park.

In the past, guns had been allowed in such areas only if they were unloaded, stored or dismantled; gun rights advocates said they saw no reason to be denied the right to carry concealed weapons in parks when they could in other public places.

Bryan Faehner, associate director for park uses at the National Parks Conservation Association, said his group is "extremely pleased" with both the court decision and the fact that Interior is now conducting an internal review of the rule's environmental impact. "This decision by the courts reaffirms our concerns, and the concerns of park rangers across the country, that this new regulation . . . has serious impacts on the parks and increases the risk of opportunistic poaching of wildlife in the parks, and increases the risk to park visitors," Faehner said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company