Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, today blasted the gun lobby for “hijacking” the credit card reform bill by sneaking in an amendment to permit gun owners to carry loaded firearms, including AK-47 assault weapons, in the national parks.

Speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference, Grijalva called it a “gotcha amendment” that has nothing to do with curbing the predatory practices of credit card companies. The National Rifle Association (NRA) “is taking over both the House and Senate,” Grijalva added, citing the lopsided 67-29 vote to approve the amendment, including 27 Democrats. It was authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the most rabid ultra-right labor-baiters in the Senate.

Grijalva was joined by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy and Carolyn Maloney, both New York Democrats, in appealing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and President Obama to take steps to block the NRA-backed amendment. Rep. McCarthy’s husband was gunned down by a deranged gunman on a commuter train in 1993, and she has been a staunch foe of the gun lobby ever since.

Daniel Vice, senior attorney for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told the World, “We’re fighting this amendment but it was approved by the Senate and attached to a ‘must pass’ bill so it is very difficult to stop this very dangerous provision. Park rangers are especially concerned. They won’t know, deep in the parks, who is carrying loaded, concealed weapons.”

A member of the National Park Service Lodge of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association told the World that a recent study by the U.S. Justice Department found that National Park rangers who patrol alone, far from any backup, suffer the highest rates of injury and death of any federal law enforcement agency, “10 times higher than the FBI.” Permitting the general public to carry loaded firearms will only add to the violence, he said. He asked that his name not be used because he is not the official spokesperson.

One answer, he continued, “is to double the numbers of rangers so that they can patrol in pairs.” The ranger force has been cut from 6,000 to 3,000 over the past decade, he said. “We’re very hopeful that this amendment won’t make it out of a House-Senate conference. The court found that no environmental impact study had been conducted. We want that environmental study completed.”

Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke echoed these views. “Families should not have to stare down loaded AK-47s on nature hikes,” he said. “The president should not remain silent while Congress inserts reckless gun policies that he strongly opposes into a bill that has nothing whatsoever to do with guns.” The House Democratic leadership should strip the gun rule from the credit card bill, he said.

The rule permitting gun owners to carry loaded firearms, both openly and concealed, was a gift to the gun lobby by President George W. Bush in the waning months of his failed presidency.

The Brady Campaign immediately filed a lawsuit seeking to block Bush’s regulation. On March 19, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed, issuing an injunction against the Bush rule. She described the rulemaking process as “astoundingly flawed.” Among the factors she was weighing was the opinions voiced by 140,000 people during the public comment period. A whopping 73 percent opposed the rule permitting loaded firearms, concealed or openly carried, in the national parks. Initially, the Obama administration argued in support of the Bush rule but later switched and agreed not to challenge her injunction.

The Brady Campaign attorney assailed the senators for bowing to the gun lobby. “The National Rifle Association suffered a huge loss in the last election,” Vice said. “They spent more money trying to defeat Obama than they have in any other presidential election.” In contests pitting NRA-endorsed candidates against candidates that favored stronger gun control, “they lost 80 percent,” Vice said. “NRA clout is mythical. Its perception not reality. But too many Democrats are unwilling to stand up against the gun lobby.”

Studies show that “introducing concealed weapons increases violent crime,” he continued. “We should remember that President Reagan imposed the ban. He felt it was necessary for public safety to keep loaded guns out of the National Parks.”

The Brady Campaign, he concluded, will continue to challenge the Bush rule both with both grassroots protests and in the courts.

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