Why do we need guns in Acadia National Park?

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The Maine Legislature is wrestling over the issue of whether to allow guns in Acadia National Park. It is curious how this legislation has come to occupy so much of the Legislature’s valuable time.

The National Rifle Association and the gun lobby have been on a national campaign to allow guns to be carried almost everywhere, including airports, trains, and university campuses. Recently, they have targeted national parks, “America’s Best Idea” according to filmmaker Ken Burns. Last spring the NRA was successful in convincing Congress to pass legislation that repealed the federal rules prohibiting guns in national parks that had been in effect since the Reagan administration. Despite the fact that national parks are clearly federal land and the issue of allowing guns in national parks has always been a matter of federal law, Congress not only repealed the federal rules but delegated to the states the responsibility for setting gun policy in those national parks located within each state.

Based on that delegation, Sen. Dennis Damon and House Speaker Hannah Pingree and other legislators introduced LD 1737 to simply incorporate into state law the federal rules that had been in effect for 30 years. In essence, LD 1737 prohibits guns in Acadia National Park, subject to a number of common sense exceptions such as allowing guns to be carried by law enforcement officials and allowing guns that are broken down and stored in a case.

LD 1737 is also consistent with the rules that the State of Maine applies in state parks. Possession of firearms in Maine state parks is prohibited except between Oct. 1 and April 30, and only if hunting is allowed in the particular state park. In several state parks, including Crescent Beach State Park, Bradbury Mountain State Park, Reid State Park and Sebago Lake State Park, guns are prohibited throughout the year. LD 1737 is also consistent with the rules in Baxter State Park. In most areas of Baxter State Park, firearms are prohibited but may be transported through the park if “kept in a car trunk, enclosed in a case or otherwise inaccessible to use.”

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Because LD 1737 is simply a response to the invitation by Congress for the State of Maine to set policy for Acadia National Park and is also consistent with both the state rules in effect in state parks and the previous federal rules in effect in national parks, it is surprising that there is opposition to LD 1737.

Unfortunately, the NRA and the gun lobby have decided that LD 1737 represents a set back in their efforts to introduce guns into national parks throughout the country. As a result, Maine has become a pawn in the NRA’s national political campaign to allow guns in all national parks.

We urge the Legislature to stand up to the NRA and do the sensible thing of continuing the existing rules in Acadia National Park. Whether guns should be allowed in some of the larger, more remote national parks out west is not something that should be a concern to the Maine Legislature. For the past 30 years, when guns were prohibited in Acadia National Park, the Park continued to be a source of great pride and enjoyment to the citizens of Maine. Whether bicycling on a carriage trail or watching a sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, families have enjoyed the beauty, tranquility and recreational opportunities offered by the Park. Until the NRA became involved, no one complained that they were forced to leave their guns at home.

The Legislature should tell the NRA to take its campaign elsewhere and pass LD 1737 to preserve the peace and tranquility in Acadia National Park.

William Harwood is a member of Advocate for Friends of Acadia and Larry Gilbert is mayor of Lewiston.

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