On Friday, President Obama signed the bipartisan pro-gun rights bill that will apply state laws to lands administered by the National Park Service. The BLM and Forest Service have applied state gun laws to lands they administer for years without problems, but the Park Service has resisted. This has led to some absurd criminal charges against innocent gun owners for such things as having a gun in their car when driving on a public highway that is administered by the Park Service.
The law is set to go into effect February 22, 2010. In addition to National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges (NWR), the new law will also apply to National Monuments. While driving past the Clarno Unit of the John Day National Monument yesterday I came across a perfect example of why this is a good change. The Clarno Unit is a small (1,969 acre) parcel of land alongside Highway 218. This unit consists mostly of a parking lot and a 1/4-mile long interpretive trail at the base of a prehistoric lahar (a glacial mudflow started by a volcanic eruption.) It is an amazing place to stop and see if you are ever in the area, which is, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Among other amenities, it has the ONLY public toilet between Fossil and Antelope, which also adds to its appeal as a stopping point when traveling with young children.
During my drive yesterday from Fossil to Antelope I could count the number of cars I passed on my fingers. I saw NO policemen or other government vehicles--you're on your own out there. So imagine my surprise when I pulled into the parking lot at the Clarno Unit and saw the following sign.
I'm not talking about the welcome sign, I'm talking about the smaller one down to the left:
Criminalizing the possession of firearms in a place like Clarno is simply ridiculous. Wheeler County and the surrounding area are the very definition of rural. Tourism around hunting, camping, fishing and fossil hunting are the mainstay of the local economy. Fossil is the kind of town where people store rifles in the windows of trucks but don't lock the doors. If you are a gun-owner on a long-distance trip to visit the area, chances are you will bring a gun for plinking, hunting or protection. But heaven help you if you pull into the parking lot at the Clarno Unit to use the toilet, the picnic tables or the interpretive trail and run into a ranger or other law enforcement agent who notices a gun in your rack or a bulge under your jacket--you could be arrested.
My hunch is that the current law against firearms is violated regularly at Clarno and other remote facilities administered by the Park Service, and most rangers would probably prefer to look the other way when they can. The new pro-gun rights rule may not go into effect for another year, but hopefully common sense will rule in favor of suspending prosecutions for enforcement immediately.
As this sign at the entrance to the picnic area reminds us--stay alert! And "Don't Tread on Me!"