After years of debate, guns are finally allowed within most of America’s national parks. On Feb. 20, the National Park Service allowed visitors to carry weapons in all but twenty or so national parks in accordance with a bill passed by congress in May of 2009.
The policy change is the newest trophy above the mantle of the NRA, who argued, along with scores of gun-loving outdoorsmen, that guns were needed in the wilderness to protect travelers from wild animals and wild men alike. Opponents of the change claim that guns reduce the safety of both man and beast in the country’s national parks.
As someone who regularly makes use of our nation’s preserved areas, I find myself siding with the latter camp. While it is true that people are sometimes attacked by bears or mountain lions in America’s wilderness, these attacks are almost always preventable. Hikers are trained to make noise while hiking to avoid provoking animals, and should know some basic skills for dealing with the creatures if contact is made. In my own experience, bears are not aggressive creatures, and will run away from or simply ignore hikers if approached in the right way.
Guns create a sense of false confidence that all too often results in unnecessary deaths. Inexperienced travelers often panic at the mere sight of a bear, and considering the level of experience many visitors to our national parks have, it’s easy to imagine that dozens of bears will be needlessly shot out of little more than fear.
As for hikers defending themselves from each other, I can only assume that gun advocates have watched Deliverance one too many times.
One good thing can come from this shameless display of masculine posturing, however. If NRA members insist on playing mountain man with every visit to our nation’s wild places, the NPS can make a tidy profit selling coonskin caps and novelty belt buckles at the gift store.