MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This afternoon, President Obama signed the bill that puts new restrictions on credit card companies. As we reported earlier this week, it includes a completely unrelated amendment allowing visitors to carry loaded guns into America's national parks or any national wildfire refuge.
NPR's Ted Robbins visited a national park in Arizona to find out what people think about guns in the parks.
TED ROBBINS: I'm hiking a trail, the Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. There aren't many people on the trail, but I did manage to run into Bill and Stacy Chick, who are visiting from Virginia Beach. I asked them what they thought about the new law, and they pretty much laid out both sides of the issue just debating each other.
NORRIS: I think anywhere you have a gun, you're going to have accidents, and that means you're going to have people killed. So it's kind of sad, I think.
NORRIS: I don't know. I was going to say I think people can have them anywhere else, you know, the right to bear arms. So as long as they're being responsible, I don't really see a huge difference with them taking them in national parks.
(SOUNDBITE OF VISITOR CENTER)
NORRIS: It's not an (unintelligible), I promise you.
ROBBINS: In the park visitor's center, folks were puzzled about the new law, for instance, Ed and Sylvia Houser. He's a member of the NRA.
NORRIS: I wouldn't see why you would need it here.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NORRIS: In a national park, yeah. I mean, he's a hunter. We're from Pennsylvania. And so we do appreciate the right to bear arms, but I don't know why you'd need a loaded gun in a national park.
ROBBINS: The old law let people bring guns into parks if they were unloaded and disassembled. The new law says whatever surrounding state regulations apply, also apply in the park. In a gun-friendly state like Arizona, that means someone can openly carry a loaded rifle, shotgun or six-shooter. Only those carrying a concealed weapon need a permit. It is still illegal to use a firearm in a national park or wildlife refuge.
NORRIS: I just like the fact that this legislation is going to essentially level the playing field between the federal and the state governments.
ROBBINS: Bill Perkins is an NRA member who runs a summer camp to train kids on proper gun use. He echoes the organization's views.
NORRIS: I don't want to be the victim of crime. And by carrying a firearm, it provides me with one tool that enables me to resist the social predators and the outlaws that do exist.
ROBBINS: FBI statistics show that America's national parks are far safer than the rest of the country. For 2006 overall, there were 469 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The rate in national parks was 1.65 per 100,000. Bill Wade is a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He and a coalition of Park Service retirees opposed the legislation because they say parks were created to be different from their surroundings.
NORRIS: People go to national parks, in fact, to get away from those kinds of pressures and those kinds of aggravations. So now, legislation of this kind would intend to make it just a little bit more like every place else in the country - and less special.
ROBBINS: Wade worries that campground arguments could turn deadly with guns, or that gun-toting visitors will take potshots at signs, archaeological sites or wildlife.
The current superintendent at Saguaro National Park referred me to the Interior Department for comment. An Interior spokeswoman issued a statement saying the department will implement the new law and train its personnel on firearms law in surrounding states.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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