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The amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to the credit card legislation, to permit guns in national parks, has passed and has been signed by President Obama.  It's been hotly debated here and elsewhere (full disclosure: I like national parks, which is why this diary series focuses on national parks, and I don't think guns belong in national parks).  There's no use crying over spilt milk, but what has been learned?  What can Democrats, environmentalists, Congressional strategists, and others learn from this?

If you've read my diary series (formerly under the name indigoblueskies), you know that it's only mildly political, and might even slide into the "community" diaries realm.  No pootie pix, but I've explored the effect of federal stimulus money on Mt. Hood, OR; I've discussed emulating John F. Kennedy and taking a 50 mile walk; but mostly, I've talked about how wild places nourish both the soul and the body, encouraging you to explore a vernal pond, hike in Yosemite, or just get your body moving outdoors. This law struck close to my themes, and it needs to be discussed on a website whose mission is electing more and better Democrats.  Next week I'll go back to the usual pictures and musings.

For those who haven't been paying attention: Guns have been outlawed in national parks since the Reagan years.  One of Bush's midnight regulations, opposed by national parks superintendents but favored by the National Rifle Association, permitted people to carry concealed weapons in national parks to the same extent that they could carry concealed weapons in their own state parks.  In March 2009, a judge threw out the regulation, holding that it was "astoundingly flawed," particularly focusing on the environmental impact of shooting guns. Obama's Department of the Interior decided not to appeal.  Earlier this month, Coburn attached an amendment to the credit card legislation that permitted people to carry guns if "the possession of the firearm is in compliance with the law of the State in which the unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System is located."

27 Senate Democrats voted for the amendment along with all of the Republicans, official details here.  The House took the unusual step of voting on the original credit card legislation and the amendment separately.  174 out of the 178 Republicans voted yes, while the Dems split 105 yeas and 175 noes, official details here.  

Lesson no. 1 hasn't been fully written yet.  Did Coburn add the amendment as a poison pill to derail the credit card legislation, but failed because everyone wanted the credit card legislation so badly; or did he attach his amendment to a popular bill because he wanted the amendment to pass?  Pro-gun advocates in the Democratic party are Blue Dogs and Westerners...or are they all afraid of the NRA?  They voted cynically, expecting that it'll get worked out in committee...or did they honestly believe that permitting tourists and hunters to carry guns in national parks would really increase the safety of innocent Americans?

Lesson no. 2, on political strategy and tactics, possibly premature, but we Democrats were pwned!  I accuse both President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership for this.  Harry Reid voted FOR the amendment! Some news stories reported that Obama just didn't care:

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., an unabashed admirer of the president...said, "I don't think he put a lot of energy into it." Issues such as national security and the distressed economy deserve greater attention, at least for now, he said, adding that the president "picks his fights very carefully."

However, I have a different theory.  Obama let it be known that he wanted the credit card legislation signed by Memorial Day.  Normally, competing House and Senate versions of a bill would go to a conference committee, where amendments can be removed without public votes.  However, the House voted on Wednesday, May 20, and Obama signed it on Friday, May 22 -- this bill didn't have time to go to committee.  Many Democrats voted "yes" on the amendment because they're afraid of the NRA, believing that the amendment would be taken out in committee and their vote would simply be symbolic.  Instead, they were outmaneuvered by the Republicans.  

I'm no expert in Congressional procedure, and if I'm wrong, someone will surely tell me in the comments, but I do know how to time a motion so as to ruin my opposing counsel's three day weekend, and I think that a variation on this occurred.  Similarly, if Obama had simply been willing to wait one week, the bill could have gone to committee without Obama needing to pick a fight with the NRA.  Instead, we -- as Democrats -- got pwned.

Or, as the Boston Globe noted today:

Now that Congress and Obama have shown that guns in our parks are more important than the men and women we employ to protect us in them, there is no telling what next critical aspect of the environment they will cave in on. When they elevate guns to the status of eagles, bears, and our vistas, there is no guarantee for preservation of the real thing.

Lesson no. 3: Gee, so now maybe we can get single payer health care passed by adding a guns-in-hospitals amendment?  

Lesson no. 4: There is quite a bit of confusion among Kossacks, and presumably elsewhere, regarding the scope of the Coburn amendment.  It is substantially broader than the original draft Bush rule.  The original draft rule permitted people to carry concealed and loaded guns in their national parks if they could do so in their state park; this one permits people to carry guns -- not necessarily concealed -- if permitted in their state.  If you're wondering where you shall be issued a gun permit, where you may be issued a gun permit, or otherwise:  title=

Lesson no. 5: I classified the pro-gun arguments on DKos (and I hadn't realized how many Kossacks are also NRA members!) into three separate groups: those concerned with animal vs human aggression, those concerned with human vs human aggression, and those concerned with philosophy (the Second Amendment and general civil libertarians).  The first two arguments are largely factually unsupported; for example, a handgun probably won't do much good to stop an enraged grizzly bear, and the incidence of crime in the national parks is extraordinarily low, and quite probably both arguments serve as cover for the third.  As for philosophy, maybe there's just a genuine difference of opinion: those who can only focus on their absolute and unfettered right to take their guns everywhere, no matter how inappropriate, vs. those who appreciate that we're talking about national parks, dammit! Just as your right to swing your fist ends at my face, your right to bear arms (and drive a snowmobile, and drive a 18 wheeler truck, and many other rights/privileges) ends at the boundaries of the Grand Canyon.
 title=  
This photo of Grand Teton National Park (credit NPS), located in Wyoming, a shall-issue-gun-permit state, perhaps explains, better than my words can, why our wilderness needs reverence and awe, not hunters and poachers.

Lesson no. 6 (forthcoming): The NRA will push the envelope of the new law  beginning February 22, 2010 (when it goes into effect).  Federal regulations probably already prohibit bringing guns into the White House.  However, many national historical sites and national monuments are arguably covered by the Coburn amendment.  Just in shall-issue-permit Pennsylvania alone, the Independence National Historical Park (the Liberty Bell) and the Flight 93 Memorial site make my long list of Dumb Places to Carry Guns.  

Lesson no. 7: This law is largely symbolic -- I hope.  I hope that it won't have a big impact on the national park experience.  I hope people will still feel free to hike, ride horses, climb rocks, kayak, spot deer, marvel at elk, and experience wilderness. I hope that responsible gun owners will leave their guns at home when they go on vacation.  I hope existing laws against poaching will deter responsible gun owners from taking potshots at grizzly bears just because they can.  I hope this law won't hasten the gray wolf's long slow slide toward extinction.

Lesson no. 8: This law will stay in effect until the first black bear is killed by a poacher...and then nothing will change, because those who care about black bears will get shouted down by the pro-gun lobby.  Further, this law will stay in effect until the first Boy Scout is killed by a hunter...and then, who knows?

Lesson no. 9: Look to Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountains, or the Blue Ridge Parkway to see Lesson no. 8 play out.  These have healthy black bear populations; black bears are very popular with poachers; Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee are shall-issue-gun-permit states; these parks are easily accessible to much of the East Coast; and they're relatively small compared to Yellowstone or other great Western parks, meaning that armed human-animal interactions are more likely. (photo credit NPS)  title=    

Lesson no. 10: What about the environmental impact?  The Bush era regulation was struck down because it was rushed through without any pretense of an environmental impact study.  Lead poisoning from bullets harms endangered animals.  I'm no expert on environmental law, but the Coburn amendment shouldn't trump well established laws requiring detailed environmental impact studies.  The DailyKos rhetoric last week focused on gun law rhetoric, not national park laws.  The next round will be at the local level, as environmental impact studies are done for each park.  

In the meantime, hike on (safely)!

Originally posted to RLMiller on Tue May 26, 2009 at 05:14 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and falmes... (7+ / 0-)

    and to answer the FAQs, I changed my Kossack name because (a) I just didn't like indigoblueskies that much and (b) some desire to come partially out of the anonymous closet and sign my name to my work.

    fka indigoblueskies

    by RLMiller on Tue May 26, 2009 at 05:16:05 PM PDT

    •  Environmental impact? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KVoimakas

      It's still going to be illegal to actually fire a gun in the national parks.

      So we can expect only a few dozen new shooting incidents per year.  If you want to evaluate the environmental impact of 25-50 bullets in an area of about 80 million acres,  you're going to have to wait about 500 years,  for Federation engineers to invent the tricorder.

      Since PA state law already prohibits everyone but CCW holders and LEOs from carrying in Philadelphia,  there's not going to be any dramatic uptick in the number of guns at the Liberty Bell.  But I do hope that someday you'll appreciate the irony of singling out two monuments to armed citizens throwing off tyranny,  and armed citizens foiling hijackers when the government failed to do so,  to top your "Dumb Places to Carry Guns" list...

      Otoh,  you'll never be able to outdo the people who decided that the way to honor the heroism of the Flight 93 passengers was to enact regulations making it impossible for anyone else to repeat their actions.  Someday,  we should gather up all the confiscated nail clippers and melt them down to make a giant statue of a politician with his head up his ass.

      •  To sum up a lot of details: (0+ / 0-)

        first, the March 2009 ruling saw right through the Bush administration regulation BS: people who want to carry guns in parks do so because they will shoot them (whether in self-defense or for another reason).  Second, lead bullets poison endangered animals, and their impact is magnified in large predator animals who eat many small animals; they've already nearly wiped out the California condor, so we don't have to wait 500 years to see what we can already see.  

        I used Pennsylvania as an example simply because I wanted to emphasize that the new law will not affect just Yellowstone and the large Western parks.  I could have just as easily used Florida, which IIRC is the original shall-issue-permit state; or Virginia, see lesson #9 in diary.  

        fka indigoblueskies

        by RLMiller on Wed May 27, 2009 at 07:10:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

          first, the March 2009 ruling saw right through the Bush administration regulation BS: people who want to carry guns in parks do so because they will shoot them (whether in self-defense or for another reason).

          I need to nitpick this. I want to carry for self defense reasons but not because I WILL shoot, but because I COULD shoot it if I need to. Just because I have a gun doesn't mean I will be shooting, it just means I CAN.

          Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

          by KVoimakas on Wed May 27, 2009 at 07:17:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Exactly! (0+ / 0-)

            the opinion (44 page pdf) quoted many public comments saying the same thing (some not quite as articulately as you did).

            fka indigoblueskies

            by RLMiller on Wed May 27, 2009 at 08:44:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  i m r teh articulate? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RLMiller

              can haz english?

              But seriously, lead is bad. I wouldn't mind using clean ammo (they make solid copper bullets. almost 100% retention) in certain areas, like national parks, though I can see that being an issue for people who would like to defend themselves and can't afford the extremely expensive ammo.

              The bottom line for me is this: it's still illegal to poach/hunt, drink/carry, be negligent and cause harm. Punish those who break the law harshly and educate people on gun safety and we shouldn't see an issue with guns in national parks. I don't think we're going to see a huge increase in violent crimes (or negligent discharges) in national parks, but I'll wait and see.

              Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

              by KVoimakas on Wed May 27, 2009 at 08:51:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Now you're just being silly. (0+ / 0-)

          Millions of permit holders and LEOs carry every single day,  yet over 99.9% of them will never fire a single shot anywhere other than the range.

          Your scenario requires large numbers of otherwise-law-abiding citizens to step out of their tents one morning,  and say to themselves:  This place is so beautiful that I don't really deserve to be here.  I think I'll do penance for my unearned good fortune by shooting up a few trees and getting myself tossed in the federal hoosegow.

          There's simply no historical evidence to support the often-made prediction that "Change xxxxx to the law will produce a dramatic increase in shootings".

          The condors were killed by hunters.  Tens of thousands of them,  leaving lead-contaminated carcasses where the condors fed on them,  and even,  occasionally,  shooting the condors themselves.  You offer no reason to believe that there will be the dramatic surge in illegal hunting needed to have a tangible impact on carrion eaters.

  •  Thanks, RLMiller (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dewley notid, RLMiller

    Excellent diary. I too was appalled at how easily our leadership rolled over on this one.

    If I may pimp in advance...I'll be posting the second in my series of Shenandoah National Park diaries tomorrow night. It will be called "These Hills Were Once Home".

    ...to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly... Micah 6:8

    by it really is that important on Tue May 26, 2009 at 05:23:04 PM PDT

  •  Lesson No. 7 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    It'll probably be like that.

    Remember that it was always like that anyway. Never was a time like, you could be walking in a national park and a ranger would roll up on you and demand to frisk you for weapons.

    This one doesn't really change anything.

    Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

    by The Raven on Tue May 26, 2009 at 05:28:48 PM PDT

  •  This sucks in so many ways (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    Law enforcement funds for the National Parks have been slashed to the bone in recent years to begin with, now the job just got made all the more difficult.

    Poaching just got a lot easier.

  •  A nature writer by any other name...... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    I was also quite upset about the gun inclusion into the credit card bill  I think we are making too many compromises.

    On a recent driving trip south on I95 toward Miami I almost hit a florida black bear running across the highway. It looked like a young bear and was incredibly fast. I will not forgot the visible fear that was so apparent on the bears face.:(

    I think you are right the gun law will stay in effect until a child is killed.  They will not take the animal deaths into consideration.

  •  Or, just possibly, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KVoimakas

    it may be that gun control is no longer a definitional issue for liberals.

    It may be the case that one can both be a liberal and support the "shall not be infringed" part of the 2nd Amendment.

    It may be the case that one can be a liberal and place gun rights on the same plane of protection from government interference that the rights of speech, publishing, assembly and worship occupy today.

    It may be the case...

    Because I call myself a liberal, and I am as much an absolutist with respect to the 2nd Amendment as I am regarding the 1st.

    --Shannon

    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

    by Leftie Gunner on Tue May 26, 2009 at 07:16:10 PM PDT

    •  You are one of those in my mind when (0+ / 0-)

      I commented on the philosophical gun rights people.  Most sane people (and the SCOTUS) agree that there are a few limits on the First Amendment, e.g., there is no right to cry "fire!" in a crowded theater; the Second Amendment should likewise have reasonable limitations, and those should include national parks.  I understand that you are an absolutist and thus won't agree.

      I will agree with you on one point though -- gun control is no longer a definitional point for liberals.  We lost.  We lost at some point in the 1990s when the shall-issue-permit laws prevailed (see map above).  

      fka indigoblueskies

      by RLMiller on Tue May 26, 2009 at 07:44:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A minor point of contention... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KVoimakas

        I support restrictions on 2nd Amendment rights to exactly the same degree that I support restrictions on 1st Amendment rights.

        No more, and no less.

        This, to me, should have always been the liberal position.

        My quick rule of thumb is this:

        For any proposed gun control law, substitute the words "book" or "vote", as appropriate by context, for the word "gun". If you'd still support the law, then go ahead. If not, then not.

        Basically, I don't rank my rights.

        --Shannon

        "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
        "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

        by Leftie Gunner on Tue May 26, 2009 at 07:58:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Better rule for me would be: (0+ / 0-)

          substitute "wilderness" for "gun."  I'm probably garbling your syntax, but I think the translation would look like this: "No restrictions on gun rights development in wilderness.  No means No, d@mmit!"

          I respect your views but still do not agree on this particular issue.  One reason is that NPs have some development/human intrusion in them already, mostly in the touristy sections; so I'll tolerate some development/human intrusion but expect others to tolerate some restrictions on guns.  

          fka indigoblueskies

          by RLMiller on Tue May 26, 2009 at 08:30:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  There are currently more than a few limits (0+ / 0-)

        on firearms. NICS background check, felons can't own, has to be transferred through an FFL if you're transferring between states, handgun registration in certain states, longarm registration in certain states (I believe California for one), I'm with LG on this:

        For any proposed gun control law, substitute the words "book" or "vote", as appropriate by context, for the word "gun". If you'd still support the law, then go ahead. If not, then not.

        Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

        by KVoimakas on Tue May 26, 2009 at 10:52:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  As much as I don't like guns in parks, i can't (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    really get past the little bear cubs.  awwwwww.

  •  Lesson no. 3: (0+ / 0-)

    Gee, so now maybe we can get single payer health care passed by adding a guns-in-hospitals amendment?

    One can only hope! The best of both worlds: single payer health care and less 'restricted' carry areas.

    Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

    by KVoimakas on Tue May 26, 2009 at 10:45:23 PM PDT

  •  Lesson no. 8: (0+ / 0-)

    This law will stay in effect until the first black bear is killed by a poacher...and then nothing will change, because those who care about black bears will get shouted down by the pro-gun lobby.  Further, this law will stay in effect until the first Boy Scout is killed by a hunter...and then, who knows?

    Black bears have been poached before. Also, if I remember correctly, (please correct me if I'm wrong) hunting is not allowed in National Parks.

    So it should read:

    Further, this law will stay in effect until the first Boy Scout is killed by a poacher...and then, who knows?

    Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

    by KVoimakas on Tue May 26, 2009 at 10:57:23 PM PDT

  •  Lesson no. 4: (0+ / 0-)

    No quote, just a response:

    If you can legally open carry in your state, then you can legally open carry in a park. If you can legally carry concealed in your state, then you can legally carry concealed in a park. It makes national parks act like state parks with regards to firearm law.

    Why is putting national parks on the same level as state parks a bad thing?

    Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.00, -3.79

    by KVoimakas on Tue May 26, 2009 at 11:02:49 PM PDT

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