Gun law won’t affect local wildlife refuge

Published 9:57 pm Saturday, May 23, 2009

Staff Writer

By Ted Strong
Staff writer
The manager of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge said he doesn’t think a new law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges will be a problem at his refuge.
The House approved the measure, 279-147, on Wednesday, one day after the Senate acted. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Friday.
A total of 105 Democrats in the House joined 174 Republicans to support the gun measure, which essentially restores a Bush administration policy that allowed loaded guns in national parks for two months earlier this year.
People are rarely found violating the current ban at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, said refuge Manager Howard Phillips.
One rationale for the change proponents have cited is the use of some federal lands by criminals to produce or grow drugs. Phillips said such operations aren’t a problem at the refuge.
“We’ve not detected any meth labs or marijuana grows or anything like that,” he said.
He pointed out that the vast, soggy expanse is hot, humid and buggy during much of the growing season.
“It’s pretty inhospitable in the summer,” he said.
Law enforcement officers on the refuge, which allows some firearms already for hunting, will have to deal with a few more armed people, but the change won’t be a major problem, he said.
“It’s not going to do anything other than legalize what’s already legal all around the refuge,” Phillips said.
He said refuge officials will probably have to research the measure thoroughly before they’re sure of all its impacts.
The vote was a bitter disappointment for gun-control advocates, who watched as a Democratic-controlled Congress handed a victory to gun-rights advocates that they did not achieve under Republican rule. Many blamed the National Rifle Association, an advocacy group that pushed hard for the gun law.
“The NRA is basically taking over the House and Senate,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat and a leading gun-control supporter. “If the NRA wins, the American people are going to be the ones who lose.”
Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican, disputed that.
“The fact is American gun owners are simply citizens who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights without running into confusing red tape,” Hastings said. He was referring to the Second Amendment of he U.S. Constitution, which says citizens have a right to bear arms.
Hastings and other Republicans said the bill merely aligns national parks and wildlife refuges with regulations governing national forests and property controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Republicans called the current policy outdated and confusing to those who visit public lands, noting that merely traveling from state-owned parks to national parks meant some visitors were violating the law.
A majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate opposed the gun measure, but enough Democrats voted for the bill that the final tally in both chambers was not close.
The Associated press contributed to this report.