Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
- H.L Mencken
The most surprising thing during the week of May 17th was not Dick Cheney slithering out of his Jackson Hole in order to affix blame for the next terrorist attack (whose advent he breathlessly awaits so he can say "I told you so"). It was the success of the National Rifle Association in securing passage of the bill that gives all American citizens the right to bear loaded and cocked arms in national parks in the United States. This was not a success that was easily achieved since in order to get passage of this bill the NRA had to agree to some incidental arcane provisions dealing with the credit card industry that, though unpalatable to many NRA members, proved acceptable to them in order for them to achieve their overarching goal of restoring the right to bear arms in National Parks, a right that had been taken away by their former idol and president, Ronald Reagan.
President Reagan believed there should be some places where citizens did not have to fear being shot by careless gun owners. In 1984 his Department of the Interior issued regulations that protected the public from gun owners while traveling through their national parks. Under the Reagan era rule, gun owners were permitted to transport firearms through national parks so long as they were unloaded and reasonably inaccessible.
As George Bush was preparing to return to private life, his Department of the Interior issued a new regulation overturning the Reagan administration rule. The new regulation said if the gunslinger had a valid state permit, he or she could carry a loaded gun into a national park.
Commenting on the proposed new Regulation prior to its issuance, seven former National Park Service directors sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior explaining why they opposed changing the Reagan rule. In part the letter stated: "The current regulations have served the Park Service and the public well for the past 25 years. These rules, promulgated during the Reagan Administration, are essential to park rangers in carrying out their duties of protecting park resources and wildlife, and in assuring the safety of visitors to the parks."
The Bush Interior department had a different take from the former directors. It believed the park rangers were incapable of carrying out their duties. As reported in Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence vs. Salazar, the court decision enjoining enforcement of the December Bush Regulation, the Interior Department said: "We [Interior Department] . . . recognize that the NPS and FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] together employ approximately 3,000 full and part-time law enforcement officers who are responsible for patrolling and securing millions of acres of land, a substantial portion of which is remote wilderness. In these circumstances, NPS and FWS law enforcement officers are in no position to guarantee a specific level of public safety on their lands, and cannot prevent all violent offenses and crimes against visitors." The Bush Interior Department believed that a sort of informal deputization of the citizenry could be effected by permitting it to march about in national parks with loaded weapons, confident that not all would prove as incompetent as former vice president and now official doom-sayer Cheney, who inadvertently plugged a hunting companion.
When the judge in the Brady case issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the Bush Regulation, the NRA got busy. It asked its Congressional supporters to pass a law that would supersede any court opinion or Federal regulation and it didn't matter to the NRA if other matters had to be addressed in the legislation in order to get it passed. And that is how it came about that credit card reform occurred.
The coupling of credit card legislation with a bill permitting guns in national parks might seem odd since the two issues have nothing in common. One bespeaks increased governmental control in the private sector (credit card rules) whereas the other bespeaks less governmental control (guns in national parks). The NRA, however, is never concerned who its legislative companions are so long as it gets what it wants. It did. Incidental beneficiaries of its efforts, of course, are those who while in greater danger in the national parks from careless gun owners, will be at less peril in the commercial world, from unscrupulous credit card issuers.
(A few people have expressed concern that tourists will be able to tour the White House, a national park property, with loaded guns since the District of Columbia has no law prohibiting guns in its national parks. The Secret service has let it be known it will not permit visitors to that particular national park to bring along loaded guns. That probably comes as a disappointment to the NRA which probably figures there are few places where being able to protect oneself is more important than the White House.)