The U.S. Department of the Interior passed new rules this week that will allow people with concealed weapons permits to bring guns into national parks and wildlife refuges -- including the Colorado National Monument.
Earlier this year, at the request of 51 U.S. Senators, the U.S. Department of the Interior looked at several rules governing national parks and wildlife refuges -- particularly concerning gun policies.
"We realized that existing regulations didn't include at all the concept of a concealed carry," said Chris Paolino, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The regulations, which were put into effect in the 1980s, made it so visitors could only bring encased, unloaded guns into national parks. But after a nearly year long review and 100,000 public comments, it's about to change.
"If a state believes a citizen has gone through the appropriate process to be legally allowed to carry a firearm, we can recognize that in national parks," said Paolino.
Friday, the Department announced that anyone with a concealed weapons permit will be allowed to carry a loaded, concealed weapon into any national park or wildlife refuge in the state where that permit was issued.
"Whenever possible, we should defer to the laws of the state in which these parks and wildlife refuges reside," said Paolino.
Jack Neckels is a retired park superintendent, who spent 41 years of his life working for the National Park Service. He says the old rules were fine and didn't trample on Second Amendment rights. He calls the new regulations "unfortunate and unnecessary."
"In all the years I was in the service, I don't ever remember a time or event where a visitor carrying a concealed, permitted weapon needed it," said Neckels.
He says allowing people to carry loaded weapons into national parks creates one more hoop for park staff to jump through, and one more danger for visitors and wildlife.
"It's one of the last, safest places we have," said Neckels. "The reason for being there is to enjoy the park."
Federal officials say visitor and wildlife safety remain high priorities, and that in no way to the new rules jeopardize that.
"We've seen no evidence that indicates carrying a concealed weapon in any way increases incidents of criminal activity," said Paolino.
Officials say similar rules are already in place on BLM and U.S. Forest Service Land -- and for the most part, their new rules are stricter than those.
"Ultimately, these regulations don't in any way allow an individual to brandish a weapon, you can't carry it out in public," said Paolino.
The rules also prohibit people from carrying guns inside visitor's centers, and from using guns for poaching and target practice inside parks.
But opponents like Neckels say that doesn't change the fact that a loaded weapon is coming into a national park. He hopes that a new administration coming into power could mean a new look at these rules.
The new rules will take effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register. Officials say that puts the date some time at the beginning of January.
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