April 20, 2019
Column

Guns in parks would do more harm than good

I take issue with Brad Macdonald’s position in his column “Guns in parks a national right” (BDN, June 25). The right to bear arms does not mean the right to carry guns in schools, hospitals and government buildings, or on

playgrounds, and, in my opinion, other public places funded by my tax dollars.

If Mr. Macdonald were a hiker, he would know there have been very few incidences of murder on the Appalachian Trail. Those incidences are fewer than one every three years. Traveling the AT is a safe, beautiful and quiet adventure for adults and children. That’s its charm and why people want to be out there. Most of us come from places where fear dominates and guns are everywhere. On the AT we can leave fear and violence behind.

Lollie Winans of Unity and her partner were killed on the trail in 1996. This brings the issue close to home. Those women were experienced guides, and they would have told you that the trail is not a dangerous place. Sure things happen – nobody can prevent that – but do we need to encourage violence by encouraging guns in national parks?

Any hiker will tell you they will not feel safer knowing people are carrying guns on the trail, quite to the contrary. I estimate that I packed and unpacked my backpack 452 times during the seven months and 2,143 miles it took me to complete the Appalachian Trail. It would have been a dangerous decision for me to carry a concealed weapon because it weighs too much, is difficult to manage and is likely to be lost or stolen. And what on earth would I do with it, shoot songbirds?

Hiking the AT by myself at the age of 53, I never once encountered any instance where a gun would have been even remotely useful. Four of the nine people killed on the trail were women murdered for their sexual orientation. If guns were allowed on the trail the chances of someone like Lollie becoming a victim would be greater, not less. Over a 20-year period there were only six murders committed on the AT. Of course that’s tragic, but not a large number considering the 3.3 million people who use the trail each year.

Randall Lee Smith shot and killed two AT hikers in the ’80s. When he was released in 1996, he went back on the trail and attempted to shoot and kill two more hikers. One of the charges against him was possession of a firearm. If we legalize guns in parks, we make it impossible to arrest those who wield them.

Introducing guns makes people ask unnecessary questions: “Who is out there with a gun? Should I carry a gun? What is going to happen to me out there? This must be a dangerous place if we need to carry guns? And so on, engendering fear that does not need to be there. We live with too much fear now; most of it is imaginary. It is this imaginary fear that drives people like Mr. Macdonald to think that guns make people safe. They do not.

When I started my hike I was told by Ed Garvey (author of “The New Appalachian Trail”) that what makes

people safe is their own good decision-making. It pays to hike smart and most hikers know that.

In 1988, a couple was murdered in Pennsylvania. They made several bad decisions that cost them their lives. First, they drank with locals in a sleazy bar. Secondly, they decided to hike out late at night and announced that fact to the clientele (most hikers know they should never announce their intended destinations). Lastly, they camped in an easily located trail shelter where there were no other hikers rather than going off-trail to conceal their location. A gun wouldn’t have helped them. They were shot to death in their sleep.

Guns in parks will just encourage more fear and violence. Don’t worry about us on the trail. We hikers have our own network for safety. An example: There was an indigent person camping out in one of the AT shelters. He had moved in with his few belongings and was asking for handouts. Word flew up and down the trail in a heartbeat. We all avoided that shelter. Meanwhile, someone called the local sheriff who tactfully handled the situation and took the homeless man to a shelter in town. Within hours the word was back out on the trail that all was well. That’s safety.

The most important lesson I learned on the trail was how kind, helpful, concerned and trustworthy people really are. We are what makes the world safe, not guns.

Karen Johnson of Machias hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail in 1993. Her trail name was “Trail Snail.”


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