Armed and Ready for Nature

Land commissioner jumps the gun on carrying firearms in national parks

If a land commissioner claims he had a gun in a national park, and no one was there to see it, did it really happen? Jerry Patterson, who heads up the Texas General Land Office, has tried to turn the broadly supported transfer of the Christmas Mountains to the federal government into a Second Amendment cause célèbre. Now he says that he broke federal law by taking a gun into Big Bend National Park, and he's admitting it in a press release.

"When I'm in a state or national park, I'm armed," Patterson said, though in a national park, all privately owned guns must be unloaded and locked away in a vehicle. When asked why Patterson was using GLO-headed notepaper to claim he had broken federal law, his staff simply confirmed he had taken a gun with him while hiking in Big Bend during the last weekend in April.

It's no coincidence that Patterson made this claim just when the Department of the Interior is considering allowing guns into national parks – a change opposed by every major park employee organization, including the Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and, in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, seven former NPS national directors. The rule change proposes allowing people with concealed firearm permits to carry a gun into a national park if they are legal in the surrounding state, but ranger groups say this change will make parks more dangerous. Currently, there's a greater chance of being hit by lightning than being the victim of a violent crime in a gun-free park.

In the release, Patterson said, "Texans who can lawfully carry a firearm in state parks can now carry in federal parks, including Big Bend National Park." However, Texans should ignore that advice: It could get them arrested. At the time of the release, the Department of the Interior was on day three of a 60-day public-comment period on changing the rule, but currently, anyone found carrying a gun in a national park is liable to "$5,000 in fines and/or up to 6 months in jail." Anyone hoping for a Patterson vs. NPS Second Amendment court showdown is out of luck. NPS staff said just because someone claims they committed a crime doesn't mean they actually did it or could be arrested without evidence.

You can comment on the proposed rule changes at www.doi.gov.

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Richard Whittaker, Oct. 21, 2011

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Jerry Patterson, General Land Office, Big Bend, Second Amendment, Department of the Interior

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