Guns, with permits, now allowed in national parks

WASHINGTON — The federal government will lift long-standing restrictions on guns in national parks Monday, meaning that visitors with proper permits could pack heat along with camping and picnic gear to most of the 392 parks.

The move concerns current and former employees of the National Park Service who are convinced that it will damage the spirit of the nation's park system.

Depending on state gun laws, visitors will be able to carry concealed and loaded guns into parks, the Park Service said.

West Virginia, home to Harpers Ferry National Historical Site, allows for open carrying but requires a state permit for concealed firearms. Virginia allows for open and concealed carrying with proper permits and has reciprocity agreements with 30 states.

The Park Service has spent months preparing for the new law, holding conference calls in recent days with park supervisors to review the changes and ensure they prepare signage and talking points for visitors, spokesman David Barna said.

Differing state restrictions make understanding the new law complicated, especially for parks situated in more than one state, Barna said. Supervisors will have to ensure that tourists keep guns out of visitor centers and rangers' office buildings, because federal law bans firearms in federal facilities. But guns could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

"The burden for the public rests with knowing what the law is in the state that you're in, in a similar way that you have to know the automotive or marriage license laws of the state you're in," Barna said. Park Web sites will provide links to states' gun laws, he said.

The Bush administration had lifted the ban on concealed weapons in its final months, after pressure from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. But a federal judge blocked the move last year. The Obama administration declined to appeal the ruling, and Congress passed the law. President Obama signed the measure without comment as part of a credit card reform package.