A View From The Overlook: Safety Issue

The National Park Service and other federal law enforcement agencies have always had a guarded, nervous relationship with the National Rifle Association, and with good reason.

The 4.5-million-member NRA is the largest armed entity in the world; larger than the American army, larger even than the Chinese Army, and is vociferously truculent in assertion of its rights.

True, there are some NPS rangers who are duly ordained life-members of the NRA and who support it enthusiastically and religiously (the NRA does indeed have some aspects of a religion).

Other rangers are not so sure. One ranger, who shall remain anonymous, as he is still making a living with the NPS, had this to tell me:

“PJ, early in my NPS career, I became a firearms instructor. As part of that training and in order to gain certification, I was required to join the NRA. I was furious and complained to my supervisor. My peers looked at me like I was some wild-eyed commie.

"After joining the NRA, I received an amazing amount of NRA propaganda, including subscription to two of their publications. It was very instructive to experience the materials that were sent to their members. I now understood why they hold the severe positions that they do and how they become so rabid about these issues; total mind-bending propaganda similar to what might have been seen in World War II Germany. I know it sounds extreme, but after you read their publications, I am confident you will agree," Ranger X told me.

One person who apparently agreed with Ranger X was the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Unlike Ranger X, President Bush was an NRA True Believer; a life member. However, Bush resigned his life membership. What happened?

Among other things, what happened was Wayne La Pierre, “spokesperson” for the NRA.

It seems that Wayne spoke.

Well, you say, that’s what “spokespersons” are supposed to do, right?

Except in the case of Wayne. Not a bad person, Wayne was sort of like your Uncle Fred.

Every family has an Uncle Fred. A decent enough chap, but there are certain things that send him into raging, crazy tirades. Uncle Fred believes that the Democrats are putting fluoride into the water supply to turn everyone into liberal zombies. Therefore, everyone at Thanksgiving dinner is warned not to mention (A) Democrats (B) Fluoride or (C) Water.

In the case of Wayne, some of the trigger words that will set him off are (A) federal agents (B) guns (C) gun control and of course, (D) the Second Amendment.

La Pierre had a dim view of federal agents before the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 federal employees, including four commissioned federal law enforcement officers. Just days before the bombing he compared federal agents to some kind of fascists in a letter soliciting support for the NRA in its opposition to gun-control legislation.

“What did Wayne say that was so bad?” you ask.

Basically, Wayne said that the federal law enforcement officers were “Jack-booted thugs.”

After the bombing, President Bush resigned his life membership in the NRA with the following letter to La Pierre.

“…. Al Whicler, who served on my Secret Service detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country and serve it well he did.

"I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of the NRA’s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

"However, your broadside against federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slandered a wide array of government law enforcement officials who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us…”

Well said, Mr. President!

Now among the “wide array of government law enforcement officials” are the National Park Service's commissioned law enforcement park rangers, who don’t wear Jackboots and are not thugs. (Wayne may have watching too many old World War II movies on TV.)

Now, one of the problems of protecting the public is the “Security Bubble Illusion,” the fondly and widely held belief that somewhere, someplace, somehow, there is a ” Camelot of Safety,” an enchanted place where Nothing Bad Can Happen.

This is often described as being some rural village in the “Heartland" ---until, of course, something really horrific happens there.

Another “Camelot of Safety” is America’s National Parks where John Muir’s injunction to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings!” is expected by the gentle and naive to cure even potential mass murderers of their desires.

Unfortunately, that is not in the mountains’ job description. Since humans visit national parks; this means the potential of random violence exists in even the smallest, most bucolic historical park. Even something as mundane as a dog off a leash can escalate into murderous violence. This was exactly the case at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park in Hawaii, and cost a responding park ranger his life.

More recently, Ranger Margaret Anderson was killed in Mount Rainier National Park on January 1, 2012, by a paranoid fugitive who was headed up the mountain toward the heavily used Paradise Visitor Center. The killer’s intentions are not known, but they were unlikely to have been pleasant. The killer’s plans were disrupted and in the ensuing manhunt, Mount Rainier itself exacted the ultimate vengeance.

There is no “Camelot of Safety” in national parks. Things happen. Last year, a mountain goat improbably gored a visitor to death.

So, with the smarmy oleaogeness of a crooked undertaker, the National Rifle Association offered a plan to protect the patrons of the national parks from dangers both animal and human.

How? Well, the NRA believes that everyone who visits a national park should potentially be armed and dangerous (to the bad guy or “bad” animal of course)

Now this is the kind of bizarre idea that normally shows up in publications like THUNDERBEAR, which the NPS can ignore.

Unfortunately, the NPS cannot safely ignore the NRA.

Using malleable congresspersons who, for whatever reason, agreed with their position, the NRA put sufficient pressure on the Department of Interior and the NPS to reverse a nearly 100-year-ban on firearms carry in the national parks.

To be sure, since parks were often adjacent to U.S. Forest Service or other public land where hunting was permitted, bringing unloaded, cased, and/or disassembled firearms through a park was OK. That all changed when the gun people won the right to carry fully operational, fully loaded guns in the parks, the rationale being defense against dangerous animals or people. (One envisions Wayne LaPierre being enveloped by an Everglades Python!)

Do the NPS Resource Management folks agree? Generally speaking, no.

The wildlife management folks understandably believe that their years of education and experience in animal behavior trump the knowledge of a used car salesman with the price of a Glock pistol.

The wildlife rangers point out that bison often manage people with false or bluff charges when us pesky two leggers get too close. However, the charge can become a real one if 9 mm rounds irritate the bison.

Some Yosemite National Park bears adopted a clever mugging strategy. While they would not directly attack a backpacker, they would seize the bottom end of the backpack and hold on. This is a Tug O’War that no human can win. The hiker is forced to abandon his pack.

Seems like a clear case for Mr. Glock or Mr. Colt, doesn’t it? Nope, the NPS believes that the bear should learn human avoidance, but not by dying, and the NPS would much prefer that you use the very effective bear sprays.

Ah, but what about the human predator? Again, the law enforcement ranger spends hundreds of hours in training, and later with that stern teacher, Experience, in learning when to shoot and when not to shoot. They prefer that you leave these decisions to the ranger.

“But what if there is no ranger available?” you ask. What if you are hiking a dark and lonely trail 20 miles from civilization and you come upon a strange and suspicious character, possibly a liberal or maybe even a Democrat, coming down the trail, directly toward you! What are you going to do? Shouldn’t you have the ability to shoot him?

Well, an actual and similar situation happened to David Michael Keane, son of the present president of the NRA. In the year 2002 The 21-year-old Mr. Keane was driving the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service. An aggressive driver cut off Mr. Keane. There was not a park ranger in sight (never around when you need ‘em!) So young Mr. Keane hauled out his legal 9mm semiautomatic and fired one shot at the offending driver. The bullet shattered the rear window and lodged in the headrest of the driver’s seat. (Not bad shooting from a moving vehicle!)

Bullets are strange things, once fired they cannot be recalled and they change lives forever. The aggressive driver was not injured (except for being scared out of his Okole, as the Hawaiians say). David Michael Keane on the other hand, could not unshoot that single bullet and it changed his life. He was arrested on December 5, 2002, pled guilty and was sentenced to ten years in federal prison where he was to learn anger management and the manufacture of interpretive signs for the NPS.

Something to think about.


Absolutely excellent, PJ. (But better duck because bullets will soon be flying.)

Here's a link to a cartoon in the Salt Lake Tribune that captures exactly the NRA's grip on Congress:


WARNING: The cartoon will certainly offend gun nuts.

Meanwhile, here in Utah, a person may obtain a concealed carry permit without ever having actually fired a gun.

Sorry to disappoint you Lee, but i dont have any real problem with the article. Noone should be forced to join the NRA to keep their job just as noone should be forced to join a union. The angry driver got what he deserved. Too bad PJ failed to mention the 1.5 to 2 million people a year that defend themselves or their property with a gun. Perhaps that is why someone would like to carry in a park.

Oh, and has the assertion that one need not fire a gun to get a concealed carry actually led to a problem incident that you can identify?

I will take one exception to PJs article. Contrary to the assertion that

"Basically, Wayne said that the federal law enforcement officers were “Jack-booted thugs” who got what was coming to them."

in respect to Oklahoma City, LaPierre's "Jack-booted thugs" comment was in an NRA solicitation letter that had nothing to do with nor made any reference to Oklahoma City. He never said nor implied the Oklahoma agents deserved anything. PJ's characterization is a total misrepresentation of the facts.

Furthermore, the NRA reputiated the comments and LaPierre later apoligized for the remark clarifing that he was referring to the activities of some agents (Waco perhaps) not government law enforcement in general.

PJ -

Thanks for a very entertaining and informative take on a timely topic.

I get it P.J. You don't like guns. You don't trust people with guns. You think everyone with a gun is criminal or crazy.

I won't address your take on the NRA. It's a strawman argument. The NRA represents their almost 5,000,000 members kinda like the trade unions do theirs.....

I am a law abiding citizen. I vote. I'm a veteran. I pay my taxes. I love the National Parks sites and visit them often. The NPS has arbitrarily banned possession of firearms in their sites forever. Two recent Supreme Court decisions clarified the individual right, included in the second amendment. Our current president signed the order permitting people like me to carry in parks.

My gun in a NPS site does not endanger anyone. I carry because I can. My specific reasons are not your business, it's my business. Don't put honest people in the same category with a murderer, a rapist, a thief or the insane.

This is not a political site. Politics occasional intrudes and is sometimes addressed by the moderator. Blatently political posts like yours today should not be allowed to be posted.

Second Amendment = okay

First Amendment = naughty

lee. You may not be aware but the first and second amendment refer to constraints on government, not on citizens. But i agree in that i would rather not stifle this speech.

re: "...has the assertion that one need not fire a gun to get a concealed carry actually led to a problem incident that you can identify?"

It didn't take long in a Google search to find an example of a bystander death involving shots fired by a CCA permit holder who had good intentions...but a sad outcome. In this case, a store clerk was accidentially killed by a shot fired by a CCA permit holder who pulled a weapon and tried to stop a robbery.


I think there are legitimate concerns about the lack of requirements in many states for hands-on training as a requirement for a handgun permit - and that training needs to include more that simply how to fire the weapon. It should include a demonstrated ability to hit what you're shooting at.

Yes, I realize that training doesn't guarantee the absense of stray shot victims; those incidents also occur involving trained police officers. However, as the number of untrained handgun toters rises, the potential for more tragic accidents is likely to grow. Training is simply a simple way to improve the odds for everyone involved.

Given the fact that we require people to demonstrate the ability to drive a vehicle before issuing a driver's license, the requirement for at least basic training for safe handgun use prior to licensing to carry those weapons in public places doesn't seem unreasonable.

Then again ... maybe some of those permit applicants are concerned they can't pass the hands-on test?

Utah's CCPs used to be very popular with people living in other states with stiffer requirements. Citizens of some states found it easier to get a permit from Utah by mail. No class or anything other than a short questionnaire needed. Not long ago several of those states decided to no longer honor Utah permits.

About a year ago, a Utah CC holder had an accidental discharge while trying to draw his weapon from its holster so he could put it away. Blew up the TV set his children were watching.

Was listening to the radio a few moments ago and heard a report that "an unnamed source" in the NRA has reported that the number of members cancelling their memberships is nearly equal to the number of new members as a result to the NRA's response to the Connecticut shootings. Interesting.

And thank you, Jim, for your good sense.

Things that amaze me:

-how the wording of the second amendment is interpreted to support private gun owner's rights

- that hunters need AK 47 with high capacity magazines to go hunting

- one needs a license and registration to operate a car but not a gun

The NRA is completely irrational. I wholeheartedly support ownership of hunting rifle, but I really don't see why citizens should be in possession of armor piercing bullets and other weapons of war. Why not own an RPG while we're at it? Maybe to blow up a grizzly?

I would add that NPS law enforcement includes the United States Park Police.

Also - there's something just (I don't know of a better word) sleazy about slipping a clause on firearms carry on NPS land into a consumer credit card protection bill. It would be one thing to insert something like that into an NPS appropriations bill, but credit cards?

One envisions Wayne LaPierre being enveloped by an Everglades Python!

An intriguing vision indeed!

You know, I'm a hunter and a gun-owner.....but the NRA is crazy.

Atually PJ, and this might surprise you, the toxicity of fluoride in drinking water is a serious issue, addressed by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, but with very little response from EPA or CDC, other than to warn about overexposures to infants.


The health benefits of fluoride prevention of tooth decay appear to be limited to the surficial application of this chemical, but not with ubiquitous wide-spread oral consumption. So Uncle Fred appears to be at least partially right.

With regards to the guns rights issue: it's high time for more sensible restrictions.

I am ALSO a law abiding citizen. I also vote. I am also a veteran. I also pay my taxes. And a gun owner. And I think it is an excellent article.

Shame on you, PJ, for so blatantly using your First Amendment rights.

It didn't take long in a Google search to find an example

Except there is no evidence that individual had no training.

Yes, having training is a good thing. In fact the NRA is a huge proponent of training. But there is no indication that the lack of a training requirement to get a CC permit is an issue. In fact, I would guess there are very few - if any - people who apply for a Utah CC permit that haven't ever fired a gun.

For Zeb -

I don't know how you could interpret the wording of the 2nd amendment any other way.

"the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." And yes I know there is the statement regarding the need for a militia in front of that phrase but in the times the entire adult male populous was the militia. To not understand how the 2nd amendment protects private ownership is to not understand the context of the history and the 2nd amendment's formation.

As to AK47s, other than being underpowered for any reasonably sized game, why not use it to hunt?

BTW - the "right" to drive a car is not guaranteed in the Constitution.

YPW - I agree on the credit card bill. That is why we need single subject legislation so that bills (and their provisions) stand on their own merits and Congressmen can't hide their votes.

ecbuck, don't forget the part about the militia being regulated. The fact is that the 2nd amendment, just like the first, is not without limits. Some states ban semi automatic weapons. It's high time we have federal reasonable limits put on gun ownership. Weapons of war have no business being sold to ordinary citizens.

don't forget the part about the militia being regulated.

Again you can't apply the defintions of the 21st language to the usage of the 18th century language. The term regulated was referring to training, drills, fighting tactics, organization etc. it have nothing to do with controlling what kind of arms could be owned.

It's high time we have federal reasonable limits put on gun ownership

To what purpose? There is no evidence that "reasonable limits" would have any impact. Our own experience with "assault weapon" ban 1994-2004 showed no change. In England after handguns were banned in 1997, crime went up, violent crime went up and gun related crime went up.

Weapons of war....

Hard to respond to. You don't think knives should be owned by ordinary citizens? Rifles? Shotguns? If you are talking about fully auto weapons - they already are outlawed.

Again you can't apply the defintions of the 21st language to the usage of the 18th century language.

Can you expect 18th century politicians to envision 21st century realities?

Can you expect 18th century politicians to envision 21st century realities?

Envison, no, anticipate, yes. Its called Article V of the Constitution. But then, I don't know what "realities" you see that would have had them write the 2nd Amendment any differently. But, I bet if they would have seen today "realities" they would have written Article III much different.

And now an otherwise intelligent conversation is about to wander into the wilderness.

Well, Lee, EC makes a valid point...but I don't anyone from the 18th century could have envisioned, or anticipated, the rancor and partisanship in Congress today, nor the way guns are being made and used, nor the standing military forces that we have these days.


Go back and read some of the debates of the time. There is no more partisanship and rancor now then then. You know, like when Jefferson called Adams a

"hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

and Adams responded that Jefferson was

"a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

Nor is there any evidence that guns are being used in any different way (or to different effect) than then.

Finally, the fear that standing armies would be formed was exactly one of the reasons the 2nd Amendment was implemented.

And many other aspects of modern life. Can you imagine the lively arguments they'd have had if the Internet had been available instead of having to sit down, think, and then use a quill pen write a letter that might or might not make it to its destination?

I'll also bet that if they had seen the realities of today, they'd have done a lot of things differently. Almost certainly including the Second Amendment.

And in the end, Adams and Jefferson became friends again. Perhaps they provide some hope for us all.

I find nothing in their writings or speeches that suggest they would view the second amendment any differently today. Perhaps, Lee, you could provide some evidence for the speculation you asserted with such certitude.

They certainly had a grasp of the language! And yet Jefferson and Adams became such good friends.

Should I post a couple hundred clips from Wikipedia that have no bearing whatsoever on the current discussion? Like Founding Father tried a while back?

No Lee - you should post something to back your assertion.

The term regulated was referring to training, drills, fighting tactics, organization etc.

This is pretty great. Since the Second Amendment states that "a well regulated militia . . . shall not be infringed," one can imagine militia tripping over rifles, bumping into one other, accidentally discharging their guns, etc. and a government official shaking his head, "this is a poorly regulated militia--time to infinge."

Nice try justin but of course that is a total misreading. To have a militia, well regulated or not, the citizens must have arms. If they don't have arms, there can't be a militia much less a well regulated one. Why, rather than play word games, don't you go back and read the works of our founder fathers. They you will understand what they wrote and why they wrote it.

But, I suspect, that like others that have perverted (ignored) the Constitution, you do know what they said and why and just don't like it.

Nice try justin but of course that is a total misreading.

How so? (This wasn't a slight on you, ecbuck. It's an oddly worded amendment, and the historical context you provide for the term "militia" further shows that.)

ecbuck - re: your comment "you can't apply the defintions of the 21st language to the usage of the 18th century language."

If that's true, that leads us to the oft-debated question of interpretation of the Second Amendment as it applies in our 21st century world ... and hence the reason for this dialogue.

Perfectly stated, Jim.

It applies as the 18th century language states. There is nothing in the 21 st world that makes it invalid.

Take another look at Jim's post; it's not a question of the Consitution being valid/invalid.

Justin ?

The 2nd amendment says what is says and was written for a reason. It shouldn't be interpreted any different today than when it was written. If you don't believe it is good law then change it ----Constitutionally, i.e via Article V.

America has a long, tortured, tumultuous history. But part of the genius of whole is that out of chaos we seem to somehow find ways to move forward toward better things. I just finished watching the final installment of The Abolitionists on PBS. Can anyone argue today that the turmoil of that time was in vain?

Now, as has always been the case, we are faced with what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. Sensible regulation of firearms. Sensible spending and revenue. Sensible ways to ensure the dignity and worth of all our citizens. Sensible ways to ensure that the nation will continue in its greatness. Sensible ways to not only continue, but to actually increase that greatness.

PJ -- and others like him -- like Val Bagley the cartoonist at the Salt Lake Tribune whose cartoon I cited here earlier -- all play a role in this. They cause people to think. If they are willing to put aside ideologies and try to be rational. Part of rationality is willingness to carefully listen to what others may have to say without attempting to ridicule or twist the words and thoughts of those with whom we may not, at the moment, agree. Then, if we must, it is our responsibility as citizens to speak and try to persuade with sensible ideas of our own. Somewhere there is actually middle ground.

And somehow, from all that, when we finally achieve that middle ground, we manage to move foward and not backward. I sincerely hope that we will find a way to continue in that direction. Because no matter what, we are all Americans and we all sail in the same ship. Ec is correct in his post just above mine. That process of adjusting interpretations as needed and perhaps even changing our ideas is part of the process. But it has never been -- and probably never will -- be easy.

By the way are the 1st amendment, 3rd 4th .......not relevant with todays realities?

It shouldn't be interpreted any different today than when it was written.

The whole point is how do we know how it was "interpreted . . . when it was written" other than by interpreting those interpretations. And what governs how we in the 21st century interpret those interpretations?

We read.

but then i don't know what needs to be interpreted from

"the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

And so do other people read. But apparently some people feel that they are the only ones capable of some sort of clairvoyance that allows them to divine exactly what people had in mind when they wrote something over 200 years ago.

Lesser mortals realize that along with reading often comes a need for something called interpretation. But maybe that is something those other folks believe we are incapable of doing without some Tarot cards or something. Either that or they believe they are reincarnations of our Founding Fathers. Yet they still are unable to provide any insight as to why the founders used those pesky little words "well regulated" in there without giving themselves a hernia.

But this is going in circles now.

"the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

"Arms" for one. (But that isn't what the Second Amendment says anyway.)

While this discussion on 18th century writing quirks is gripping, I'd like to understand ecbuck's stance on weapon regulations.

Excellent article.

the role of the Supreme Court is to interpret. And they have.

We have sensible gun regulations currently. The goal is to regulate the criminal and those who are "dangerously" mentally ill.

What we need is enforcement of existing law, not the currently popular overreach that Diane Fienstein will exhibit this morning.

It does no good to restrict the law abiding American knowing that the criminal element will not be impacted in the least. It's legislative theatre.

Zeb - Ineffective and unnessarry for handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Thanks for sharing ecbuck. I can't understand why anybody feels the need to own a semi automatic with 30 bullets magazine full of armor piercing ammo. It has no legal use. I certainly hope that Feinstein proposal becomes law.

It has no legal use.

Target shooting isn't legal? Hunting isn't legal? Self defense isn't legal? 30 round magazine could be convenient for all those. Oh and by the way, it is already illegal to manufacture or import armour piercing handgun ammo except for law enforcement. Can you show me where legally obtained "armor piercing" rifle ammo has been an issue?

Do you realize the time differential to shoot a 30 round magazine and 3 ten rounds is measured in a few seconds if your intent is to shoot them as rapidly as possible. It would make absolutely no difference if someone wanted to shoot with ill intent. Not to mention these magazines, even if made illegal, could be easily obtained or manufactured (check out the new 3D printing technology) by anyone with criminal intent. The 1994-2004 "ban" had no measurable effect and neither will any new ban - other than to take guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens.