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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ind. Law - DNR lifts ban on handguns in state parks

Yesterday a number of Indiana papers reported that handguns will no longer be banned in state parks. Here is the Indianapolis Star report, written by Will Higgins. Some quotes:

It's now legal to carry a handgun in Indiana's state parks, a move seen as the latest victory for the gun lobby in Indiana.

In the past, you had to keep your piece locked in your car. But under a provisional rule change, announced Thursday by the Department of Natural Resources, licensed handgun owners can pack while birding, hiking, picnicking -- whatever. * * *

DNR Director Kyle Hupfer * * * said he came under no political pressure to change park handgun restrictions. "This is just (a regulation) I found and brought to the attention of the governor," he said. "We've been trying to slowly work our way through all aspects of the agency." * * *

In defending the move, Hupfer, who is rarely seen without a holstered pistol, said a gun could come in handy in the woods should a hiker happen upon people making methamphetamine, an illegal drug that can make its users antagonistic. The drug is often brewed in rural, out-of-the-way places.

"If my life or my wife's life was at risk," Hupfer said, "I want to be in a position to protect her and myself."

Phil Bloom of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette writes:
Hufper also changed three other rules that prohibited the possession of firearms during certain hunting-related activities on private and public land.

Hunters previously could not possess firearms while hunting deer or wild turkeys with archery equipment, nor could dog owners during the dog-running season for opossum and raccoon (typically from mid-February through mid-October). * * *

Gene Hopkins, legislative director for the Indiana Bowhunters Association, agreed.

“I never really understood what the risk was or what the problem was with carrying one in the first place if you have a license or permit,” he said. “Why not be allowed to carry one?

“My initial reaction is it’s a good thing. I’ve heard occasional stories of a hunter running into a pack of coyotes. Typically they are shy, but every now and then you run into a bold one.”

Hupfer cited another reason.

“In certain areas of the state, meth labs are popping up more and more,” he said. “Folks like to be in a position to protect themselves when bow hunting.”

The rule changes are temporary, meaning they stand for one year, but Hupfer plans to ask the Natural Resources Commission to make them permanent.

Coyotes, meth labs and pistol-packing visitors -- still want to visit your local state park?

Patrick Guinane's report in the Munster (NW Indiana) Times offers some assurance that we will be safe on the beaches:

"I don't think you'll find too many people trying to hide one in a Speedo," Hupfer said. * * * The example I give is it's no different than allowing someone to possess a handgun to walk into a bank to do a transaction. It doesn't mean that they're going to rob the bank." * * *

Hupfer says the temporary rules he signed Thursday took effect immediately and can remain in place for up to two years. He plans to ask a state panel to make the rules permanent in November. If the Natural Resources Commission grants preliminary approval, Hupfer said, a public hearing would be scheduled.

In an editorial today, the Indianapolis Star opines:
A hunter and National Rifle Association member, Hupfer insists his decision to lift the ban on firearms in the parks has nothing to do with the NRA's strong political support for Daniels. Rather, he says, it is an affirmation of constitutional rights and an authorization to defend oneself should one encounter, say, a meth lab gang on a hike through the woods. He'd sure want to be "in a position to protect her and myself" should he and his wife get accosted on the trails, Hupfer declared.

Thousands of hikers, boaters and bird-watchers may well be wondering what dangers they could have been arming themselves against all these years. Without doubt, Hupfer and Daniels will face a verbal fusillade from those who feel that allowance of lethal weapons will do the opposite of increasing park safety.

Protestations by Hupfer aside, the power of the gun lobby in Indiana is legendary; and it goes hand in hand with some of the nation's loosest gun laws. Just this year, the legislature approved lifetime gun permits and gave citizens the liberty to shoot fellow humans when they feel threatened.

So far, Indiana's application of the Second Amendment has pleased the NRA and kept the state above the national average in gun-related deaths. Opening the public's family-oriented sanctuaries to firearms is a grotesque extension of this deadly docility. If the DNR director and the governor don't recognize it for what it is and rescind the new policy, the Natural Resources Commission should shoot it down when it comes up for renewal next year.

At a later date the ILB will examine the statute that permits a state agency head to make major policy changes in the law, like this, without any advance warning, opportunity for public input or review, or opportunity for prompt redress.

[More] This from the Chesterton Tribune:

The rule changes take effect immediately.

“There is no reason that law-abiding citizens should lose a means of personal protection and the protection of their family solely because they choose to hunt or visit a DNR property,” Hupfer said.

Hupfer will now submit the rule to the Natural Resource Commission (NRC) for consideration for permanent adoption.

Save the Dunes Council Executive Director Tom Anderson said he finds the announcement unusual, especially since, according to downstate journalists, the National Rifle Association apparently knew about the rule change before the DNR would confirm it.

If the answer is to allow firearms in the state parks, Anderson said, “then what’s the question? Are the parks that dangerous?” He said if the parks have become that dangerous, then the DNR should beef up its patrols.

He expressed concern that DNR staff not allowed to carry firearms will now be expected to oversee park visitors who might be carrying concealed handguns. “As if their job isn’t hard enough now,” he said.

Anderson also cited the fights more than a decade ago at the Indiana Dunes State Park that were linked to alcohol abuse and that led to the ban on alcohol. Since there have been visitor conflicts in the past, he said he questions the wisdom of allowing visitors to carry concealed firearms. “It seems like such a contraction,” he said.

The DNR statement notes that by state law, the DNR director has authority to temporarily modify rules for the DNR. Such modifications are valid for a maximum of one year and can be renewed for an additional period not to exceed one year. In order for any DNR rule modification to become permanent, it must be approved by the NRC after successfully passing through a review process, including a public hearing. Once a rule becomes permanent, it has indefinite legal application but must undergo "sunset" evaluation every seven years.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 23, 2006 07:23 AM
Posted to Environment | Indiana Law