Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House have rebooted a plan that would lift the current gun free zones on lands controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The measure, H.R. 1045, the Recreational Lands Self-Defense Act, would allow otherwise lawful permit holders to carry their guns in the 12 million acres and over 90,000 campsites the Corps administers.
U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, the sponsor of the legislation, argues that in 2009 the National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuge System dropped their ban on possession of firearms on their property while the Corps resolutely continued with their prohibition.
“If an American has lawfully obtained a concealed-carry permit, he or she should be able to exercise their constitutional rights on federal recreation lands, regardless of the agency,” said Gibbs in a statement.
Gibbs’ legislation would mandate that the Corps recognize issued concealed carry permits at their water resources development projects. Corps’ projects include some of the most densely used federal recreation areas, and receive more than 370 million visits per year, making the projects the most-visited of any single federal agency’s sites. As noted by the agency, nearly a fifth of all freshwater fishing in the country occurs on Corps-maintained waterways.
Similar legislation was proposed by the Ohio lawmaker in 2015, gaining 92 co-sponsors as a standalone bill before it was rolled into the larger Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. Approved by the House, the package was left on the table at the end of the last Congress.
Gibbs has been advocating the move since at least 2011.
The new version of the bill has the early backing gun rights groups to include the National Rifle Association. Even if the legislative action does not succeed in lifting the gun ban on Corps land, the agency is defending at least two enduring legal challenges filed by carry advocates in Idaho and Georgia that have made their way to the U.S. 9th and 11th Circuits respectively.
In arguing for keeping the ban, the Corps has pointed out in these cases that many of their areas — for instance dams — have increased homeland security risks, that the agency’s park rangers are not armed and that prohibitions against guns on the water resources property have been in place dating back to 1946.
Gibbs’ latest proposal has 39 Republican co-sponsors and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.