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Army Corps of Engineers rule change would simplify carrying weapons at recreational reservoirs

WASHINGTON–The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) April 13 that would eliminate the need for people recreating on Corps water resource development projects to get written permission to carry weapons, including firearms, bows and arrows, crossbows or “other projectile firing device.”

Corps-controlled areas in Colorado that would fall under the rule change include the Tri-Lakes projects (Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, and Chatfield reservoirs), Trinidad Lake Recreation Area, and John Martin Reservoir in southeastern Colorado.

Existing federal regulations allow the possession of weapons on Corps projects for certain recreational pursuits including hunting, fishing and target shooting at authorized shooting ranges.

But the same regulations do not address the carrying of weapons, particularly firearms, for self-defense purposes. In order to possess a firearm on Corps projects for other reasons, written permission must be obtained in advance. The Corps estimates that it receives about 300 such requests each year.

Public recreation on Corps water resources development projects is specifically authorized by federal law, and the Corps is required to provide and maintain “ready access to and exit from such areas along the shores.”

The NPRM notes that other federal agencies including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuges all allow people to carry firearms on open federal lands so long as they are legally allowed to possess them under the prevailing state and local laws, including concealed carry.

The Corps acknowledges that its policies are not in conformance with the “approach taken toward other Federally managed lands.”

The NPRM says, “Following the developments in state law since that time, the Corps believes it is now appropriate to join the other Federal land management agencies in deferring to state law requirements, as the Corps already does for other land management practices. The Corps believes the proposed revision will benefit the public by eliminating the burden to apply for written permission from the Corps as well as by aligning the requirements for possessing a weapon on Corps projects lands with the requirements applicable to the areas surrounding a project.”

Weapons would continue to be prohibited in federal buildings on federal property, as is the case for other federal lands. It’s still illegal for example to carry a handgun into a visitors center or other facility in national parks and on Forest Service or BLM land.

Not all public federal property, however, is open to the carrying of firearms, even outside of buildings.

In 2015, Tab Bonidy of Avon sued the U.S. Postal Service after finding out that he could be arrested for carrying his legal concealed handgun into the post office while picking up his mail, or even for having a gun in his car in the parking lot.

Colorado law allows anyone to carry a loaded handgun in their automobile for protection without a permit.

But in a 2-1 ruling against Bonidy, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said, “The security of the postal building itself is integrally related to the security of the parking lot adjacent to it.”

The Corps is accepting public comments on the proposal until June 12. Detailed information on the proposed rule and instructions for submitting comments can be found here.

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