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Relaxed gun rules in the Everglades - handguns permitted.

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legal concealed weapons are allowed in the Everglades now.

Everglades' relaxed gun rules alarm wildlife officials

By Miek Clary, (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel

MIAMI — Beginning Jan. 9, visitors to Everglades National Park and most other U.S. wildlife refuges will be permitted to pack a concealed weapon along with their mosquito repellent and sunscreen as they head into the great outdoors. The Bush administration’s last-minute reversal of a decades-old ban on loaded handguns in parks has alarmed National Park Service officials, who fear that areas now among the safest in the nation will become more perilous for park rangers, visitors and endangered animals.

“More guns always increase potential for incidents, and that’s something law enforcement never likes to see,” said Linda Friar, an Everglades National Park spokeswoman. Friar said park rangers reported 39 incidents involving firearms in 2007.

Bob DeGross, public-information officer at Big Cypress Preserve, said, “Obviously, law-enforcement officers will have to be more on guard.”

The new rule, announced Dec. 5 by the Interior Department, was backed by the National Rifle Association and 51 U.S. senators, including Florida Republican Mel Martinez.

The national-parks rule will now conform to statutes in 48 states, including Florida, that allow persons with a license to carry concealed weapons. More than 537,000 Floridians are licensed to carry concealed weapons, according to state figures.

Opposing the change were the National Parks Conservation Association, unions representing park rangers and the 700-member Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

The Interior Department received 140,000 comments on the proposed rule change, most in opposition. “The more weapons we have in the park, the more chances of accidents and illegal poaching,” said Rick Smith, a former assistant superintendent at Everglades National Park.

Among animals of particular concern in South Florida, Smith noted, are endangered American crocodiles, the Florida panther and the loggerhead turtle.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said “the Bush administration’s parting gift for the gun lobby to allow hidden weapons in our parks threatens the safety of these national treasures and those who visit them.”

The National Leadership Council, a 22-member group made up of National Park Service officials, also opposed the measure, according to Parks Service spokesman David Barna.

“Crime and poaching is very low; our 84 million acres are some of the safest places in America,” Barna said. “It is difficult to say how this would be a good thing to do.”

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for Barack Obama’s transition team, told The Associated Press earlier this month that he had made no decision on whether he would seek to overturn the rule, a process that could take years.
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Relaxed gun rules in the Everglades - handguns permitted. legal concealed weapons are allowed in the Everglades now.