Stop Blaming the Mt. Rainier Shooting on the National Parks Gun Law

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On Sunday, a disturbed Iraq War veteran murdered a ranger in Mt. Rainier National Park. Now, a foolhardy few are pointing their fingers at the men and women they see as the real culprits: Congress.

Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was only hours removed from allegedly shooting four people at a Skyway apartment when he steered his blue Pontiac past a chain-up checkpoint in the park. Impeded by a road block, Barnes then shot and killed Margaret Anderson, a 34-year-old Ranger, wife of a fellow Ranger, and mother to two young children.

A day later, police found Barnes, lifeless and half-submerged in a nearby creek. At the time of his death, largely assumed to be caused by the extreme cold, the fugitive was wearing only a t-shirt, jeans, and one tennis shoe.

In the aftermath of the shootings, reporters sifted through the public records that made up Barnes' life, searching for some sign of past trouble. They found a lot.

Previously stationed at Fort Lewis, Barnes was discharged two years ago after being arrested for a DUI. Court documents filed by the mother of his child, who had been locked in a custody battle with him, paint Barnes in the all-too-familiar colors of the troubled vet: suicidal, angry, and armed to the teeth.

But never mind all the evidence that points to a mentally ill ex-soldier acting alone. Because in the mind of Bill Wade, the outgoing chairman of a national organization of Park Service retirees, Barnes had 350 members of Congress riding shotgun.

"The many congressmen and senators that voted for the legislation that allowed loaded weapons to be brought into the parks ought to be feeling pretty bad right now," Wade told the Associated Press, not long after the discovery of Barnes' body.

Wade's remarks, parroted by the acting president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, allude to a law passed two years ago that did pretty much what he says it did: allowed licensed gun owners to bring their loaded weapons into national parks.

What that bill didn't do was convey the right to shoot federal employees with a shotgun. Nor did it make it legal to fire innumerable semi-automatic rounds at other Rangers, as Barnes did when Anderson's colleagues tried to reach their mortally wounded co-worker.

Thankfully, it appears that Wade, whose term as chairman ended right before the new year, is leaving precisely at the time when his thoughts diverged from those of the people he was once paid to represent. As one Mt. Rainier Ranger who also opposed the bill told the The Tacoma News-Tribune: "This is murder...When you have someone who would spontaneously kill someone, a prohibition of guns in the park wouldn't stop someone like that."

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