WATERLOO - Sean McClanahan would like to be able to carry a concealed handgun when he goes hiking in parks.
"The biggest issue that we have is when you make a law that says no guns are allowed here ... the only people that really obey that are law-abiding citizens," said McClanahan, a former sheriff's deputy and president of Iowa Carry.
"If someone wants a very good representation of just how that works, you only need to look three places - Columbine, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood," McClanahan said.
He was a guest panelist at the University of Northern Iowa as part of a debate of the merits and pitfalls of allowing loaded firearms in parks.
Andrew Miller, a Waterloo native and political science major, handled the opposing side of the argument.
He said more guns in parks would compromise safety.
"What do we feel we need protection from?" Miller said.
The debate was part of the American Democracy Project, and organizer Gerri Perreault, an associate professor, said they chose the subject because firearms are usually a controversial topic.
Federal lawmakers voted to allow firearms in the national parks in May as part of a bill that reorganized credit card regulation.
The measure will allow residents visiting national parks and wildlife refuges to carry loaded and concealed guns consistent with state laws where the parks are located. In Iowa, that means a resident will need a have a permit to carry concealed weapons, which is issued by county sheriffs at their discretion.
The law won't start until February 22, 2010.
When the federal law changes, it will have little effect on Iowa residents.
Iowa doesn't have any national parks. It does have a national monument - Effigy Mounds in Harpers Ferry - and a national historic site - the Herbert Hoover Birthplace in West Branch.
The rules will apply to these areas although there will be some restrictions, said David Barna, Chief of Pubic Affairs for the National Park Service.
"We can prohibit guns from federal facilities, places where employees work on a regular basis. So we will prohibit them in visitor centers and in some historic buildings, but they will be allowed in campgrounds," Barna said.
Out-of-state visitors won't be able to pack pistols because of Iowa's concealed carry law doesn't recognize weapons permits from other states, park officials note.
When it comes to state parks, the laws on carrying weapons are somewhat conflicting, said Kevin Baskins, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
He said DNR officials are working with the Iowa Attorney General's Office on the issue, but the department currently honors concealed carry permits as long as the resident is within the bounds of the permit.