Guns in national parks issue is a wedge to block an omnibus land protection bill

As I speculated in a number of threads, the hot new issue over guns in the national parks is indeed a political invention for this presidential campaign with the primary intent to stop a large number, over 60, relatively low controversy land protection measures that had been rolled into an omnibus bill.

Those promoting “the Coburn Amendment” were so effective in raising this wedge issue that few of media either knew or bothered to explain that it is an unrelated amendment to a public lands bill to designate wilderness areas, and enlarge a number of minor national park service sites.

Once Senator Coburn (R-OK) unwrapped this smelly fish of an amendment, it immediately became a partisan issue with McCain signing on as a co-sponsor and Senator Reid pulling the bill from the floor. It had already passed the House. Reid feared it would put too many Democrats in jeopardy with the upcoming election.

On most major Senate bills, senators bargain beforehand how many amendments and what kind of amendments will be offered to a bill when the bill is brought to floor. Senators of both parties generally do this is in good faith because they know their transgression of process today will come back and haunt them on their own bill tomorrow. The bargain between Coburn and majority leader Reid was that Coburn would get to offer five amendments, but this kind of amendment was not expected because Coburn had not raised this issue (guns) at all in the months leading up the floor action. Instead he had opposed the bill for being “bloated” and “too expensive.”

So Coburn will earn himself some payback, but for now he has probably blocked measures like the Wild Sky Wilderness near Seattle for yet another Congress.

Meanwhile, sensing an issue they can use, Republican Secretary of Interior Kempthorne is ordering the Park Service to see if he can allow guns in some national parks by administrative actions of the Department of Interior.

Story in the Missoulian by Michael Jamison. Park’s Gun Rules May Change.

This kind of amendment is called a “poison pill,” and Coburn and the Republicans carried it off with success.



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Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan