An attempt to bring 12 million acres of watershed conservation areas managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the same firearm rules as other federal lands failed in the Senate on May 8.

Senators voted 56-43 for the proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), four ballots shy of the 60 votes needed for passage.

The measure, backed by the National Rifle Association, would have let people use guns for any legal purpose — including open and concealed carry — on 12 million acres of ACE-managed lands that abound with lakes, rivers, campsites and hiking trails. The ACE estimates that 370 million people visit lands it manages — more than any other federal agency because 80 percent of its tracts are within 50 miles of urban areas.

Right now, the ACE limits the use of firearms to activities like target-range shooting and hunting, and weapons must be unloaded while being carried to those activities.

Coburn proposed the bill as an amendment to a water resources bill because, he said, gun rights on ACE land should be the same as in national parks, national forests, and federal wildlife refuges, where federal law has allowed visitors to carry guns since 2010.

Coburn told the Associated Press that he will continue fighting for the measure until it passes. “I will offer it again, and again, and again until it does,” he said.

In the wake of the May 8 Senate discussion of Coburn’s proposal, the National Park Service on May 13 released a report on crime in national parks that show violent crimes increased in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 law allowing open and concealed carry, but has since declined and is now lower than the violent crime rate before 2009.

The park service numbers show 15 murder and manslaughter cases in 2010, up from four in 2009. Rapes also rose, from 34 in 2009 to 45 in 2010, as did kidnappings and aggravated assaults. Robberies dropped from 64 to 58.

However, Coburn’s office said that an evaluation of those statistics shows violent crimes have dropped an average of 11 percent in the three years since 2010, compared with the average of the three years before the new policy.

While statistics always provide fodder for interpretation, Kurt Repanshek writes in National Parks Traveler on May 13 that the small sample size skewers any attempt at substantive analysis.

“Of course, crime in national parks is generally far lower than in other areas of the country, particularly major metropolitan areas,” he writes. “As a result, even a few swings — up or down — in crime can result in significant percentage changes.”
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