WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday backed an amendment that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sponsored the measure, which he said would protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. The amendment allows firearms in parks and wildlife refuges, as long as they are allowed by federal, state and local law.
''If an American citizen has a right to carry a firearm in their state, it makes no sense to treat them like a criminal if they pass through a national park while in possession of a firearm,'' Coburn said.
Twenty-seven Democrats joined 39 Republicans and one independent in supporting the amendment, which was attached to a bill imposing restrictions on credit card companies. The credit card bill has wide support for its consumer protections. The amendment was approved 67-29.
Michigan Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both voted against the amendment.
Groups supporting gun control, park rangers and retirees opposed the amendment, which they said went further than a Bush administration policy that briefly allowed loaded handguns in national parks and refuges.
A federal judge blocked the policy with a temporary injunction in March, two months after it went into effect in the waning days of President George W. Bush's term. The Obama administration has said it will not appeal the court ruling. But parks officials said they could not comment on the current Senate amendment, indicating pending litigation on the topic.
Department of the Interior Press Secretary Kendra Barkoff said Thursday that officials will not comment on any issue touching on guns in national parks, because of ongoing litigation the department is involved in.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Superintendent Jim Northup was reached on a working visit to Boston, but said he also could not comment.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore currently does not permit guns in the park, and has not in the past, said acting lakeshore superintendent and facilities manager Chris Case. Case said he cannot comment on the amendment, but said that historically at Pictured Rocks, visitors have not made an issue of the gun restrictions. When the Bush policy would have allowed it this year, Case said he encountered some questions from visitors who were unclear on the current regulation at that time.
"Since it's been an issue, since the first of the year, we've had some inquiries about the rules, but it's always been prohibited," Case said.
If opponents of the measure succeed, that will continue to be the case. Gun control advocates say it goes farther, with less oversight, than the stricken-down Bush rule, particularly in its allowance for the open carrying of guns, rather than the concealed carry previously debated.
''This amendment is much more radical than the regulation promulgated by the Bush administration,'' said Bryan Faehner, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group that opposes guns in parks.
If the measure becomes law ''it would not only put park visitors and wildlife at risk, it would change the character and the peaceful and safe atmosphere in our parks,'' Faehner said.
Faehner's group sent a letter to senators Tuesday stating that Coburn's amendment would allow individuals to openly carry rifles, shotguns, and semiautomatic weapons in national parks. ''As a result, individuals could attend ranger-led hikes and campfire programs with their rifles at Yellowstone National Park and other national park treasures across the country,'' the letter said.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called the Senate vote reckless.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked the Bush rule because she found that the Interior Department had not done the proper analysis, Helmke said, ''and now the Senate is basically rushing into this with little or no debate, and no analysis on what impact it will have on the people who use the parks and the wildlife in the parks. I think that's reckless.''
Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, said he hoped the credit card legislation would pass this week. Helmke and Faehner said they would try to get the gun amendment stripped from the bill before final passage.