Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
America's parks and wildlife refuges are an important part of our shared national heritage, and a source of inspiration and enjoyment for visitors from around the world. For nearly 100 years, Congress has vested the Secretary of the Interior with the responsibility for managing these lands and resources in a manner that ensures their preservation and seeks to provide for the safety of visitors and employees. In administering these lands, Congress has enacted various statutes authorizing the Secretary to work closely with respective State and local governments in the management of these areas. In the following decades, the Department has worked closely with its State, local
Forty-eight States currently authorize law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms. However, existing Federal regulations governing firearms in national parks and national wildlife refuges, promulgated before the vast majority of these state laws were in effect, unnecessarily preclude law-abiding citizens from possessing, carrying, or transporting a concealed firearm that is otherwise legal in that state.
On December 14, 2007, forty-seven United States Senators from both parties wrote to the Secretary of the Interior asking the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “remove their prohibitions on law-abiding citizens from transporting and carrying firearms on lands managed by these agencies” by amending their regulations to allow “firearms consistent with the state law where the National Park Service's sites and the National Wildlife Refuges are located.”
The Department agrees with the 51 United States Senators that the regulations should be amended to reflect developments in state law, particularly where, as in this case, the deference can be achieved without impacting the visitors or resources the regulations are designed to protect. Accordingly, on April 30, 2008, the Department chose to address this issue proactively through the development of a proposed regulation, which it published in the
We believe that in managing parks and refuges we should, as appropriate, make every effort to give the greatest respect to the democratic judgments of State legislatures with respect to concealed firearms. As stated in the proposed rule, Federal agencies have a responsibility to recognize the expertise of the States in this area, and Federal regulations should be developed and implemented in a manner that respects “state prerogatives and authority.”
The regulations being amended by this rule are intended by the NPS and the FWS to protect the natural and cultural resources of park areas and refuges, and to protect visitors, employees and property within those lands. In their previous form, these regulations generally prohibited visitors from possessing an operable and loaded firearm in areas administered by these bureaus unless the firearm is used for lawful hunting activities, target practice in areas designated by special regulations, or other purposes related to the administration of Federal lands in Alaska. The previous regulations also allowed visitors to transport firearms through parks and refuges subject to limitations that generally required the firearm to be unloaded and rendered inoperable or inaccessible. See 48 FR 30282 (June 30, 1983); 49 FR 18444 (April 30, 1984).
The previous FWS and NPS regulations were last substantively updated in 1981 and 1983, respectively. The overwhelming majority of States now provide for the possession of concealed firearms by their citizens. In many States, the authority to carry loaded and operable concealed firearms extends to State park and refuge lands, whether expressly or by operation of law.
The Department's intent in adopting this final rule is to better reflect the decisions of the States in which parks and refuge units are located to determine who may lawfully possess a firearm within their borders, while preserving the Federal government's authority to manage its lands, buildings, and other facilities. Mindful of that objective, the Department's final rule amends the regulations to allow individuals to carry concealed, loaded, and operable firearms in Federal park units and refuges to the extent that they could lawfully do so under non-conflicting state law. By adopting state law in this manner, this rule is similar in approach to that already taken by NPS and FWS in various regulations pertaining to hunting, fishing, motor vehicles and boating. Additionally, the final rule treats state law in a similar manner to regulations adopted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), both of which allow visitors to carry weapons consistent with applicable Federal and state laws.
Under the final rule, individuals must have actual authority to possess those loaded and concealed firearms under state law in order to carry those loaded concealed firearms in Federal park areas and refuges. This means that the State in which the park or refuge unit is located must have laws that authorize the individual to possess those concealed and loaded firearms, and the individual must be so authorized. Additionally, to the extent that a State's law recognizes licenses issued by other States, including the applicability of reciprocity agreements, the final rule would similarly recognize such reciprocal authorities. Finally, individuals authorized to carry firearms under this rule will continue to be subject to all other applicable state and Federal laws. Accordingly, as stated in the preamble to the proposed rule, this rule does not authorize visitors to use
We also note that national park areas and wildlife refuges are often located in close proximity to state parks or wildlife management areas, National Forests, or public lands managed by the BLM. Visitors to these sites may frequently travel through a combination of Federal and state lands during the course of a trip or vacation. In these circumstances, the Department believes that adopting for these Federal lands the applicable state standards for the possession of firearms will promote uniformity of application and better visitor understanding and compliance with the requirements.
During the course of the public comment process, a number of entities and individuals, including the State of Alaska and employees of the FWS, suggested that the Department's reference to “similar state lands” in the proposed regulation is ambiguous and confusing since individual States provide for various management regimes that make it difficult to determine what areas are actually similar. As discussed more fully below, the Department agrees with this concern and has deleted this language in the final rule. The modified final language adopts state law in a similar manner to regulations adopted by other Federal agencies regarding firearms on public lands, as called for by the 51 United States Senators who wrote to us.
We understand that states with concealed carry laws routinely impose statutory prohibitions on the lawful possession of concealed handguns in certain locations. It is possible that a state may wish to prohibit an individual from possessing a concealed weapon on Federal lands within state boundaries. In the event a state enacts such a law, the Department's final rule respects the legislative judgment of the people of that State.
During the pendency of our public comment period, the Supreme Court announced its decision in
The Department received approximately 125,000 comments on the proposed rule from a wide variety of entities, including members of Congress, government agencies, current and former NPS employees, conservation groups, coalitions, and private individuals. Most of those comments were form letters or cards. Many of those expressed opposition to a change in the rules. The majority of supporting comments were submitted by individuals and elected officials favoring a rule that would align Federal policy with the adjacent state law. In addition to the original 51 United States senators who originally wrote to the Secretary, U.S. Senators Jim Webb (VA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) as well as Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote letters in support of the rule during the comment period. U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Daniel K. Akaka along with U.S. House members Norman D. Dicks and Raul M. Grijalva submitted a letter during the comment period opposing any change to the existing regulations.
To facilitate analysis of the public comments, we formed a working group composed of employees from the NPS, the FWS, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. The group was charged with analyzing the comments and organizing them into categories for further review. The working group considered all of the information and recommendations submitted in developing the final rule. The following is a summary of the comments and our responses.
Issue 1: The Department should not rely on state law to manage firearms because Congress has given Federal government complete authority over Federal lands.
Issue 2: The proposed rule will not provide a uniform standard because state laws governing concealed firearms vary. Additionally, since many parks are located in two or more states with different licensing schemes, there is no way that visitors and park managers will be able to maintain clear standards and enforcement.
Issue 3: The Department's reference to “similar state lands” in the text of the proposed regulation is ambiguous and confusing since individual states appear to define their parks and refuge lands in different ways, and may regulate these lands differently within the same state. The text could be clarified by simply making a more general reference to state law as the governing standard which, by implication, will also include more specific regulations or policies adopted by the state with regard to the possession of a concealed firearm in a state park or wildlife refuge. The rule should be modified to cure this ambiguity.
We have given consideration to this issue and have revised the proposed language to delete the references to “similar lands” and to more succinctly state that we are applying the rules established by the applicable state laws. First, by adopting this revision, the final rule more closely resembles the regulatory approach used by BLM and the USFS. Second, we believe the final rule will lessen or eliminate confusion about the application of the various Federal rules because the primary Federal land managers will now have a similar approach to addressing the issue. Finally, no State separately commented in opposition to permitting loaded firearms to be carried in Federal parks—whether such rules were related to “similar state lands” or any other state law standard. The only State to comment on the proposed rule was Alaska, which supported an amendment to existing regulations that would authorize loaded firearms in Federal parks consistent with state law.
Issue 4: There is no reason to allow visitors to carry a concealed firearm for personal safety since visitors to a national park area or wildlife refuge are statistically unlikely to be a victim of violent crime or criminal assault.
The Department has recently proposed substantial budget increases to resolve some of these problems, and our law enforcement officials will continue to work with their colleagues in tribal, state, and local law enforcement to prevent criminal activities on Federal lands. We do not believe it is appropriate to decline to recognize state laws simply because a person enters the boundaries of a national park or wildlife refuge, or because there is a lesser chance that a visitor will be harmed or potentially killed by a criminal in a national park unit or wildlife refuge.
Issue 5: Visitors should not carry a concealed firearm for self-defense because NPS and FWS law enforcement officers are more than adequate to protect individuals from harm.
Issue 6: Once a visitor sets up camp in a campground, the site becomes a temporary dwelling subject to legal protections. For that reason, the rule should recognize that a visitor has the right to possess an operable firearm in the campsite for self-defense.
Issue 7: A visitor with a concealed firearm may not be well-trained to use a firearm and thus be given a false sense security against potential attackers.
Issue 8: Visitors who carry a concealed firearm permitted under state law are likely to use their handguns to shoot or injure wildlife.
Issue 9: The rule will inhibit the ability of park rangers to halt poaching because brandishing a firearm would no longer be probable cause to search for evidence of wildlife parts.
Issue 10: The proposed rule is too narrow and should be expanded to allow visitors to carry all forms of firearms, including shotguns and rifles.
Issue 11: The proposed rule should have been subjected to a full environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act so that the public could comment on the impacts of the rule on the environment.
Issue 12: The proposed rule should have been subjected to study and consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Issue 13: National Parks and Wildlife Refuges are designed to be havens of peace and safety. In this respect, visitors who do not like guns will not fully enjoy their visit to a National Park or Wildlife Refuge if they know that another visitor in close proximity is carrying a loaded and operable firearm permitted by the state.
This document is a significant rule and is subject to review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under Executive Order 12866.
(1) This rule will not have an effect of $100 million or more on the economy. It will not adversely affect in a material way the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local, or tribal governments or communities.
(2) This rule will not create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with an action taken or planned by another agency.
(3) This rule does not alter the budgetary effects of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs or the rights or obligations of their recipients.
(4) This rule raises novel legal or policy issues.
The Department of the Interior certifies that this document will not have a significant economic effect on a substantial number of small entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601
This rule is not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), the Small Business
a. Does not have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more;
b. Will not cause a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; and
c. Does not have significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or the ability of U.S.-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises.
This rule does not impose an unfunded mandate on State, local, or tribal governments or the private sector of more than $100 million per year. The rule does not have a significant or unique effect on State, local, or tribal governments or the private sector.
In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the rule does not have significant takings implications.
In accordance with Executive Order 13132, the rule does not require the preparation of a federalism assessment.
This regulation meets the applicable standards set forth in Sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of Executive Order 12988 Civil Justice Reform.
This regulation does not contain information collection requirements, and a submission under the Paperwork Reduction Act is not required.
The Department has analyzed the final rule under NEPA and determined that the action is subject to a categorical exclusion under applicable regulations.
In accordance with Executive Order 13175 “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” (65 FR 67249), the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, “Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments” (59 FR 22961), and 512 DM 2, the Department has invited federally recognized tribal governments to jointly evaluate and address the potential effects, if any, of the proposed regulatory action.
Previously, Section 2.4 generally prohibited visitors from possessing an operable and loaded firearm in national park areas unless the firearm is used for lawful hunting activities, target practice in areas designated by special regulations, or other purposes related to the administration of Federal lands in Alaska. Under the final rule, an individual may possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded, and operable firearms within a national park area in the same manner, and to the same extent, that a person may lawfully possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded and operable firearms in the state in which the Federal park, or that portion thereof, is located. Possession of concealed firearms in national parks as authorized by this section must also conform to applicable Federal laws. Accordingly, nothing in this regulation shall be construed to authorize concealed carry of firearms in any Federal facility or Federal court facility as defined in 18 U.S.C. 930.
The previous regulation in Section 27.42 generally prohibited visitors from possessing an operable and loaded firearm in a national wildlife refuge unless the firearm is used for lawful hunting activities. Under the final rule, an individual may possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded, and operable firearms within a national wildlife refuge in the same manner, and to the same extent, that a person may lawfully possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded and operable firearms in the state in which the national wildlife refuge, or that portion thereof, is located. Possession of concealed firearms in national wildlife refuges as authorized by this section must also conform to applicable Federal laws. Accordingly, nothing in this regulation shall be construed to authorize concealed carry of firearms in any Federal facility or Federal court facility as defined in 18 U.S.C. 930.
16 U.S.C. 1, 3, 9a, 17j-2, 462.
(h) Notwithstanding any other provision in this Chapter, a person may possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded, and operable firearms within a national park area in accordance with the laws of the state in which the national park area, or that portion thereof, is located, except as otherwise prohibited by applicable Federal law.
Sec. 2, 33 Stat. 614, as amended (16 U.S.C. 685); Sec. 5, 43 Stat. 651 (16 U.S.C. 725); Sec. 5, Stat. 449 (16 U.S.C. 690d); Sec. 10, 45 Stat. 1224 (16 U.S.C. 715i); Sec. 4, 48 Stat. 402, as amended (16 U.S.C. 664); Sec. 2, 48 Stat. 1270 (43 U.S.C. 315a); 49 Stat. 383 as amended; Sec. 4, 76 Stat. (16 U.S.C. 460k); Sec. 4, 80 Stat. 927 (16 U.S.C. 668dd) (5 U.S.C. 685, 752, 690d); 16 U.S.C. 715s).]
(e) Notwithstanding any other provision in this Chapter, persons may