In yesterday’s paper there was an article about a shooting in Mt. Rainier National Park. There was a tragedy in the park. A young man, believed to be Benjamin Colton Barnes, had severe mental problems – possibly PTSD from service in Iraq. He shot several people near Seattle on New year’s Eve. He may also have been involved in another shooting incident that night. On New Year’s Day Barnes he fled to Mt. Rainier National Park.
Park police had a checkpoint set up to make sure people had chains because of the snowy conditions in the park. Someone blew through that checkpoint. One of the rangers followed that person. Another ranger, Margaret Anderson, set up a roadblock to stop the person who ran the checkpoint. As she was getting out of a vehicle she was shot and killed. Police believe Barnes was the shooter. Barnes was later found dead in the Park. The cause of death is believed to be hypothermia – he was found in a snowy stream in a T-shirt and jeans.
Before Barnes was found dead, rangers had rounded up all of the park visitors and evacuated them. They were afraid for their safety. Afraid that Barnes would try to kidnap or harm some of them.
According to the Associated Press, “the shooting has renewed debate about a federal law that made it legal for people to take loaded weapons into national parks.” That’s crazy! Make no mistake, the shooting of a law enforcement officer – in this case also a mother of two children – is a tragedy. But that tragedy is not a reason to pass a foolish law.
Why is the law foolish? Well, let’s see. Right now the law says that people who legally hold concealed weapons permits can carry those concealed weapons in a National Park. Does anyone really think that Ranger Anderson would be alive if that law did not exist? Does anyone really think that Barnes, after illegally shooting four people and maybe more, would get to the boundary of the national park and say, “Oh my, it’s illegal to have a loaded gun here. I better leave mine behind.” If you think that is likely, I bet you believe in the tooth fairy, too!
Outlawing guns in the park would not have made anyone safer that weekend. It might, however, have made people less safe. I’ll bet you some of those park visitors were lawfully carrying concealed weapons. (I have an CW permit, and I carry mine when I visit Acadia National Park. I can’t imagine I am the only one.) Those people who were armed were safer than those who were not. Moreover, it is possible that Barnes knew the folks in the park might be armed, and maybe he avoided them because of that knowledge. If the law were in effect, the only unarmed civilians in the park would have been the law-abiding ones. Easy pickings for predators.
There is a saying in law that hard cases make bad law. What than means is that politicians and voters often have knee jerk reactions to tragic situations. They want to pass a law that will prevent the tragedy. Often they pass overbroad laws that don’t prevent those tragedies. In this case, we know that criminals sometimes go to national parks and shoot people. It is a pretty god bet that people who are armed stand a better chance of not being shot by criminals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that criminals are less likely to attack people they believe to be armed.
So the last thing we should do is make it illegal for law abiding citizens to carry weapons where they can come into contact with armed criminals. This is especially true where those citizens have been checked by police and meet the requirements for carrying a concealed weapon.
There should be no debate here. Changing the law would not have helped Ranger Anderson. I might have endangered park visitors. Don’t let a hard case make bad law.