Sunday, February 07, 2010

Are Guns Legal in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? They will be in just a few days...

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with other park service units will be allowing some park visitors to carry a gun as part of the credit card reform bill starting February 22nd 2010.

Will it be legal or illegal for you to carry a gun in the GSMNP or in other national parks? Here is the official park statement so you can decide for yourself:

GSMNP statement about firearms in national parks:

Concealed Firearms Regulations
As of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in this park. It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable state, local, and federal firearms laws before entering this park. As a starting point, please visit the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms website and select the state that you are interested in from the list on the right side of the page. More specific information about state permit regulations can be obtained on the following websites:

North Carolina

Federal law also prohibits firearms in certain facilities in this park; those places are marked with signs at all public entrances.

Additional Information for North Carolina permit holders:

The permit holder must have the permit together with valid identification whenever carrying a concealed handgun, and must disclose to any law enforcement officer that they have a valid permit and are in possession of a concealed handgun when contacted. The permit and proper identification must be presented to a law enforcement officer upon request.

Carry of Shotguns and Rifles
The possession of long guns, specifically shotguns and rifles shall be in accordance with North Carolina state law. See the North Carolina website listed above for more information.

North Carolina recognizes certain out-of-state concealed handgun permittees to carry concealed handguns, if the person’s respective state also grants such privilege to North Carolina concealed handgun permittees.

The list of states granting such reciprocity is constantly changing. Out-of-state permittees should refer to the North Carolina Department of Justice’s website at for a current listing of those states which are allowed to carry, pursuant to their concealed carry permits in North Carolina.

To possess a concealed handgun in North Carolina, out-of-state holders must:

  1. Carry their permit and a valid form of identification at all times.
  2. When approached or addressed by any law enforcement officer in North Carolina, disclose the fact that they have a valid concealed handgun permit.
  3. Inform the law enforcement officer that they are in possession of a concealed gun.
  4. Present both the permit and valid identification at the request of the law enforcement officer.

Additional Information for Tennessee permit holders:
The permit holder must have the permit in their immediate possession at all times when carrying a handgun and must show the permit at the request of a law enforcement officer.

Carry of Shotguns and Rifles
The possession of long guns, specifically shotguns and rifles shall be in accordance with Tennessee state law. See the Tennessee website listed above for more information.

Tennessee recognizes a facially valid handgun permit, firearms permit, weapons permit, or a license issued by another state according to its terms, and will, therefore, authorize the holder of such out-of-state permit or license to carry a handgun in the state of Tennessee.

This means that the state of Tennessee will recognize any state’s valid permit or license, even if Tennessee does not have a written reciprocity agreement with that state, and even if that state does not recognize a Tennessee permit.

Individuals must be in possession of the permit or license at all times while in possession of a handgun in Tennessee.

Until the new regulations take effect on February 22, 2010, carrying concealed firearms is not allowed and all possession of firearms within National Park Service lands must be in accordance with 36 CFR 2.4, which states firearms must be "rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased or stored in a manner that prevents their ready use."

...End Of GSMNP Statement on Firearms in the Park

Please be advised I am not a lawyer or offering legal advice. The last time the law about guns and firearms in national parks was revoked and they were made illegal again, the national park service did not make any public announcement of the change therefore anyone who is accessing this information should check with the national park service and state authorities to see if it is still valid.

States with NC and/or TN
Concealed Weapons Reciprocity Agreements
(subject to change without notice)

  • Alabama NC only
  • Alaska NC and TN
  • Arizona NC and TN
  • Arkansas NC and TN
  • Colorado NC only
  • Delaware NC only
  • Florida NC and TN
  • Georgia NC and TN
  • Idaho NC only
  • Indiana NC only
  • Kansas NC only
  • Kentucky NC and TN
  • Louisiana NC and TN
  • Michigan NC and TN
  • Mississippi NC and TN
  • Missouri NC only
  • Montana NC only
  • New Hampshire NC and TN
  • North Carolina TN
  • North Dakota NC only
  • Oklahoma NC only
  • Ohio NC and TN
  • Pennsylvania NC and TN
  • South Carolina NC and TN
  • South Dakota NC and TN
  • Tennessee NC
  • Texas NC and TN
  • Utah NC only
  • Virginia NC and TN
  • Washington NC only
  • West Virginia NC and TN
  • Wyoming TN only

Official Link to TN Firearms Regulations
Official Link to NC Firearms Regulations

I was personally under the impression that only concealed carry with a valid permit was what was going to be legal in the Great Smoky Mountains national park staring on February 22nd 2010.

Unlike the last time that firearms were legal in the GSMNP for a few weeks in 2009, apparently now there will be open carry in some national parks including rifles and shotguns as they are specifically listed in the park statement above.

I cannot answer how having very visible shotguns and rifles will play out in the Great Smoky Mountains national park at this time. I can say that for many people who have come to the GSM national park in the past, seeing highly visible firearms may not only be disconcerting, it will also lead to a rangers potential confusion as to a visitor's intent in the park.

Do out of state visitors without concealed weapons permits have to right to open carry long guns in the Great Smoky Mountains national park? What about handguns? If not, can concealed weapons permit holders from a state with reciprocity agreements open carry long guns and or handguns in the Great Smoky Mountains national park?

Some other questions remain such as do you have to announce that you have a concealed weapon if you just pass by a ranger on a trail or one walks up and greets you? Do you have to only announce concealment to a Protection Ranger or do interpretive rangers along with other uniformed park staff count as well?

Since the Great Smoky Mountains national park is in both NC and TN - 2 states with different weapon laws and these borders are not at all clearly defined except at Newfound Gap, will each part of the park have different laws based upon the location of a visitor and his state of residence? Obviously from the chart of Concealed Weapons Reciprocity Agreements above there are huge difference between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Other very interesting questions about how this new law will effect visitors to national parks and staff around the country is presented here.

Even if and when it is legal for you to have a gun in a national park, there are some places where firearms are prohibited such as visitor centers, ranger stations and office buildings. This is not a complete list of where guns are prohibited in a national park (which will also vary by state) so please check with the park service first. In the past, the national park service did have signs at these locations showing that firearms are illegal.

Remember even though some guns will be legal to carry in some parts of the Great Smoky Mountains national park, hunting is not.

Lastly if you want to protect yourself against a black bear attack in the GSMNP you should not use a gun but use bear pepper spray which is legal for use in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and is much more effective and safer to use as well.

Related New Stories on Guns in National Parks:

Comments are welcome and encouraged. When it comes to gun laws and/or restrictions, tempers on both sides of the issue often flare but lets keep it civil or they will not be posted.


Matthew said...

You need to do some more research before you post such an article.

First, open carrying of a rifle/shotgun is not legal in TN. At least not loaded. You can have a long gun with rounds in it, but not one in the chamber. And you can not walk around in the park with it (legally you could if it was unloaded and there was no ammo on you.)

Second, you will have to have either a TN handgun carry permit, or another state's HCP/Conceal Permit to legally carry in the TN side of the park period. There is no unlicensed carry in TN. NC allows for open carrying without a permit.

Lastly, the carry permit always follows the laws of the state you are IN, and not the laws from the person's state. So someone from KY with a permit will have to follow the laws of TN or NC depending which side of the park they are in. If they want to OC, but have a CCW from their state, they can legally OC in the entire GSMNP because both states allow OC.

I just want to remind everyone that just because someone has a firearm doesn't mean you need to freak out. If they are walking around with it in their hand, then be alert, but criminals don't normally wear holsters.

Anonymous said...

This whole exercise saddens me. I have been a frequent hiker in the Park for 20 years and I have never seen or heard from anyone a circumstance in which a firearm was needed for safety. It seemed to me that the rules issued under President Reagan -- a person could carry an unloaded gun in a storage area of a car -- were working fine. The fact that the new law was tacked onto a credit card bill that had nothing to do with the National Parks suggests to me it is just another lobbying special to pay off a special interest, in this case, the NRA.

Oh well.

But thanks for the post and thanks for the update.

Smokies Hiker said...

Mathew thanks for the interesting comments.

I am not an expert of guns laws but I am a CCW holder, NRA member and gun owner for more than 30 years.

A big issue I have with this major change in firearms law is a lack of guidance the national park service is offering visitors.

My guess is that the lack of transparency is a gentle effort to discourage visitors from bringing guns into the park and/or maybe not frighten visitors who dislike guns from coming to the park. This is purely speculation on my part.

A perfect example of visitor confusion is you state rightly or wrongly: "First, open carrying of a rifle/shotgun is not legal in TN. At least not loaded. You can have a long gun with rounds in it, but not one in the chamber."

I just spoke to 8 people tonight about your post - all but one owned guns and one is a lawyer from another state.

All 8 interpreted an "unloaded gun" as a gun with no bullets in it at all. A quick check of most states guns laws shows that the legal definition is "no bullets in a gun" – nothing to do with the chamber.

If in fact Tennessee’s legal definition of an unloaded gun is different from most other states, gun owners especially out of state visitors will be confused. The national park statement points out long guns and never states that they must be unloaded (whatever definition you want). Confusion.

So Mathew you are saying if you have a TN HCP/CCW or an out of state recognized CCW permit you can open carry a handgun in the GSMNP in both states? Outside of the park too? Didn’t know that, and that is not stated by the park is it? Again if you are correct, confusion.

As for needing a TN handgun carry permits, or another state's HCP/Conceal Permit to legally carry in the TN side of the park verses NC where you stated you don’t need a permit to open carry, how do you know in the backcountry what state you are in? There are no signs or fences etc.

This statement of yours: "Lastly, the carry permit always follows the laws of the state you are IN, and not the laws from the person's state." is correct. I think it is in response to this question "will each part of the park have different laws based upon the location of a visitor and his state of residence?"

My statement was an attempt to point out that based upon which state you are from as well as what state you are standing in the GSMNP will determine if your HCP/CCW permit is valid or not because of the varying reciprocity agreements of states.

When it comes to fishing regulations in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, the park service goes by the most liberal laws of both states for both simplicity and uniformity.

Mathew, If you can post URLs of official/government web sites to support your statements, please do so and I would appreciate any other further input from you.

As for the post by Anonymous at 9:09 tonight, I believe in the right to protect one’s self, although I don’t believe guns need to be in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, however in some other national parks, I think NOT having a gun is a huge mistake.

Christopher Hibbard

Anonymous said...

Better bone up Chris...
A law was passed last year in TN. that does INDEED allow long guns to have ammunition in the magazine of the gun but NOT the chamber.
So, it has everything to do with the "chamber". This is provided you have the carry permit. If no permit then, your long gun must be unloaded and ammunition stored in a different place.

Smokies Hiker said...

Thanks for the input Anonymous 8:03pm.

So is it that gun without a round in the chamber defined legally in TN as "unloaded" or do they have another legal definition for a gun in that state of readiness?

Though I live much of the time in Tennessee, I only have a handgun up here and my rifles are in Florida so I never looked into TN rifle laws.

Since 65 proposed changes in gun laws were before Tennessee legislature in 2009, it would take an army of lawyers to keep up with all of them.

Jeff said...

Thanks for your post. I realize that this is a very sensitive topic for people on both sides of the fence, and I thought your post handled it very well. One issue that is bound to come up is the difference in state law. I hope that the park and the rangers will work very hard at discerning between law abiding citizens and those who are intentionally trying to break the law. Having said that, if CCW holders will work hard to follow the law, it will go a long way with a public that isn't quite sure this is a good thing. Most of all remember that a CCW permit means concealed.

Anonymous said...

The State of NC is silent on open carry. There is no legislation prohibiting open carry in NC. Therefore, since this new firearms change says essentially that one must be in compliance with federal and state law, open carry would be authorized in NC assuming all other requirements are met, because nothing prohibits it. There is also some language specifically saying when you cannot be in possession of a firearm, like when consuming alcohol.

CCW is a completely different issue. In NC to carry concealed one must possess a valid CCW, notify law enforcement of such a permit and their possession status whenever contacted by law enforcement. Law Enforcement generally in the National Park setting is not an Interpretive Ranger in the Visitor Center, but a federal law enforcement officer for the NPS known as a Park Ranger (LE). These are commissioned, sworn law enforcement officers with federal and State enforcement authority. They wear a different shield than the standard employee does on the NPS uniform and they are also usually seen wearing duty equipment such as a police belt, firearm, and other police gear.

Most criminals are unpredictable and often cunning. I disagree with Mathhew's assessment that they often do not use a holster. This is not accurate. These is a media influenced perception of a criminal carrying a gun in their front wasteband. Criminals often use concealed holsters. Some young thugs do not, because they are inexperienced, but any criminal with any type of weapons experience knows it is safer to carry in a concealed inner belt holster or some other carry appratus to avoid an unintended discharge.

A criminal is a criminal. Criminals do not read the entrance sign that says Great Smoky Mountains National Park and turn away in fear. Just like anywhere else in America, our National Parks are subject to criminal activity. In fact Great Smoky Mountains National Park has seen one ranger murdered in 1998 by open carry of a long gun, a juvenile female murdered in 2006 by concealed handgun, and other violent felonies committed by criminals. Trying to profile what a criminal looks like or how they are geared up has proven inaccurate usually on every 5 o'clock news channel when a neighbor interviewed about another neighbor who is alleged to have committed a heinous act, is found to say "he was such a nice man, no one every saw this coming". We are fooled every day by the cunning. Being cunning like the wolf, is paramount to criminal success, assuming they do not want to be caught.

Bottom line. Most of your CCW permit holders play by the rules and are not out violating the law. They are instead trying to protect themselves from people who do. Open carry is another issue all together. However, be smart, be vigilant and report things that just don't look right. Carrying a firearm legally for self-protection is not such a bad idea in the post-9/11 world we find ourselves in. As a society we just do not have the same regard for life and morality that we once did. We are killing one another at alarming rates. If one accounts for the advances in pre-hospital care and hospital care (surgical intervention), we would be killing each other at even more alarming rates across the US. A quick look at the felony assault rate in the US is a more accurate reflection of our societal change. Not the murder rate since the murder rate is affected by science/medicine advances. Until we find solutions for deminishing lack of morality in the US which in my view is promolgated through the media, we will continue to see our per capita felony assault rate continue to rise and only thankfully to advances in medicine will we see the murder rate under some level of a controlled climb.

Anonymous said...

This law is certainly not good for the United States' National Parks. CCW alone, which was in the first bill, would have been a much easier pill to swallow. However when a bunch of retired, out of date, rangers and non-law enforcement types like ANPR get together and fight such a law, you get what we have here which is a rider which essentially opens the whole thing up into a mess with open carry now etc. We would have been better off with the previous version of this gun law.

Smokies Hiker said...

Anonymous post 1:20 pm today, I must thank you for such a great post with such interesting information, ideas and insight.

While the world did not end this Monday, the open carrying of long guns in the North Carolina sections of the GSM national park will certainly make arrest and subsequent prosecution of suspected poachers much tougher – a big enough problem for the park already.

Open carried guns – especially long guns are not what most visitors who come to a national park want to see.

Concealed weapons in the park would cause far less angst to visitors who are uncomfortable with firearms, however the legal open carry of a pistol may be enough to scare the boogey man away that so many grownups are afraid of. These people seem to forget family, friends or known acquaintances, usually perpetrate the almost 10,000 murders a year committed by people with firearms in the US.

Either case, the more guns in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the more problems that the park service will have to deal with and the more danger the employees, visitors and volunteers will be in.

Guns open carry or concealed in Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona or Wyoming National Parks? Now there is another story.

Powhatan said...

what a touchy not a lawyer or a scholar. i am a working man with a Tn HCP..i know everyone has opinion but facts are greater knowledge . the vagueness of those laws in the park are because they arent park laws you are following they are state HCP states (in accordance with the states laws you are carrying in)so if you follow those laws you will be fine and just because you can carry doesnt mean you can fire the weapon there are more laws for that than there are for just carrying thats where you really have to be sure you need your weapon and why you take classes and better knowledge yourself..(for those who dont understand what self defense is) The reason they changed the law to carry in the park 1. was because there is one law enforcement agent for somewhere around 300 sq mile radius (i wouldnt wanna be the only badge in those odds of crazies)..2 you walk down the street of your town how many guns do you see NONE the odds are you pass by dozens of us every day we stand behind you in wlamart checkout lanes and sit beside you in your local resturaunt(and we havent shot you yet)because this law is for those who have a liscense to do so and its not us you have to worry about its those who dont have a license or a registered gun...My point is whether it be in town or out in the woods(national park)there is no difference between the sure this will get bashed by anti gun people ... but if i was a Pharmacist in a pharmacy being robbed i would like to know the 5 people (standing behind the crazy person with the gun pointed at my face)were HCP owners just in case the crazy tried to shoot me...i bet if the robber knew he had those odds he would prolly think b4 he robbed someone

expatman said...

I cant believe some of these posts! What part of "shall not be infringed" do you not understand? The Constitution does not say "shall not be infringed EXCEPT FOR THE SMOKY MT. NAT. PARK" It say simply "shall not be infringed", period. You may not like it but that is the Constitution. There is a way to change it and that would be through the amendment process. Feel fre to begin that process if you wish. As for those that say there is no need for a weapon in the park or on the entire length of the A.T. for that matter, why don't you ask some of the women who have been raped on the A.T.? I am sure some of them, in hindsight, wish they had a firearm for their constitutional right to protection.

Anonymous said...

We have a right to carry a gun anytime anywere... no person or Government has a right to say otherwise...all human rights are kept safe only by the individual gun owner and an individual secures their own safety only by a preparedness to deliver deadly force at any time if needed. "Shall not be infringed",that means there will be no law passed about guns period, but rather each individual will carry/own a gun based on their own desire or concious and you will live or die based on those choices. I trust my own judgment far beyond any Government.
There should not even be a discussion about this because there should be no law about guns. We should be enjoying the Park with some people carrying guns and some not based on their own choices. Of course if a person is under the influence of something or acting in a menacing manner to others for no reason then they should be immediatly disarmed until what time they return to a level of normalcy, people carrying guns are no more a threat than people carrying cigarette lighters. I have never just grabbed a person and held them down and burned them with my lighter and I am not going to just up and shoot you because I carry my gun! If you were being attacked by a bear or another person you would be more than happy to borrow my gun! It is not the duty of the government to secure our safety it is our duty to secure our own and at the same time keep a very close eye on the Government.

Guns said...

It should be illegal to carry a Gun at any public place like park etc.

Michael Abbott said...

"It should be illegal to carry a gun in any public place like a park"...Hikers saying they simply don't want you have a gun on the trail because..... Well, just because. They feel it takes away from the park somehow.. "Families shouldn't have to come see people carrying guns". That for some magical reason, a gun would never be needed in the park. Someone even suggested that it" makes poaching easier". Someone else actually said until now there were no guns and there were no problems so now its all messed up??lol The law actually is fairly clear except that there are a points that need clarifying. I don't think non LE rangers are actual law enforcement officers just because they wear a uniform and badge. The key will be if they sworn or not. If they aren't wearing a duty belt Id say they aren't LE. Wearing a firearm isn't the test, as some park service personnel who deal with dangerous wildlife are authorized to carry firearms even though they aren't LE. s for passing one on a trail, I dont think that constitutes "approached". I would say once you are greeted or hailed in some way, spoken to other than a hello or good morning good afternoon, you've been approached. On the trails is where youd most likely need the gun from human animals and bears. Sure you can argue people aren't attacked by bears or how "low" the chances are. Maybe so. But you can look on the NPS website and tells you bears are dangerous and are encountered on the park. Likely hood of being attacked? No. Likely hood of being raped or mugged on a trial? low. But very real possibility, and person should be able to defend themselves from that risk if they chose...Sometimes the risk are in a single young woman on the trail staying all night alone. The fisherman fly fishing on the little river has a greater chance of encountering bears. I saw where one poster saud they support gun rights but see no reason a gun should be on the park. Why? what makes your protection any less important on the park? As for where on the park you can carry, its pretty clear that you should stay out of all attended buildings-visitor center, shops, museums. If there are no park services your permitted. My guess is park bathrooms are permitted places, unless the bathroom is in a attended building. As for open carry on the park, if TN permits open carry, open carry is allowed on the TN side of the park. If it isn't on the NC side then you cant on the NC side of the park. People who "don't want to look at it" will just have to look the other way. Its the US, we have a 2a. As for long guns, I don't see the purpose. Its clear if its a handgun its for self defense. While its true that a person has a right in some states to open carry a long gun, and while you probably can on the park since its legal in that state, you should ask yourself if you SHOULD, and why your really doing it. If its to draw attention to yourself, you should know that if you get what you want, you may not like it. Having a right and exercising it may have consequences. I know that by carrying my sidearm, I increase my chances of being mistaken as someone bent on bad things. Even though you have a right to do something doesn't mean your insulated from scrutiny from doing it. handguns are a and should be allowed on the park...concealed or otherwise, to simplify things they should make a park-wide rule making the law the same no matter what side of the park your on. Make it easier on park guests and LE.