Sean Masciandaro, a reptile specialist, was convicted of violating a ban on having a loaded gun in a car on national parkland in Virginia, reported the Washington Post.
He was discovered with the firearm when a Park Police officer noticed him parked illegally, and upon questioning Masciandaro, found that he had a knife under his seat and a loaded handgun in his trunk. Masciandaro claimed the gun was a means of protection from people, and was not intended to harm his animals, which travel separately.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions stated that the Second Amendment allows people the right to own guns unconnected to military service. But those developments may have been reinterpreted in lower courts, leading to a slight losing streak for gun activists.
Masciandaro was convicted and paid a fine, but filed a petition to the court, remarking, "If there is a Second Amendment right outside the home, it surely applies to law-abiding citizens carrying handguns for self-defense while traveling on public highways."
But the panel to which he pleaded his case included Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson III, who criticized the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller to let people own guns.
Wilkinson called the situation "serious business," and carefully noted, "We do not want to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights."
Alan Gura wrote Masciandaro's appeal. Gura said the case provides a chance to "clarify" for wayward lower courts that the Second Amendment can be applied outside of one's home.
Meanwhile, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence challenged Gura's viewpoint, stating, "Three years and more than 400 legal challenges later, courts - so far - have held that the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller was narrow and limited, and that the Second Amendment does not interfere with the peoples' right to enact legislation protecting families and communities from gun violence."
Regarding national parks specifically, the gun issue is a sensitive one. Gun control groups, park police organizations, and animal-rights activists alike have been in uproar over the idea of carrying firearms in such areas.
Author Ted Kerasote, a lover of animals and nature, commented at NYT Room for Debate, "Allowing visitors to carry loaded firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges will only make such poaching worse while making a ranger's job more risky.
"In a time when gun violence cuts down Americans in schools and malls, how wonderful it has been to have large tracts of our nation where guns had to be put away, where that edgy sense of personal risk from some gun-toting stranger, has faded. Granted, there are also bears, moose and bison in the parks, and they can be dangerous. But pepper spray is a far better deterrent than a .44 magnum, especially in the hands of the inexperienced. I've now used it to turn a charging moose, dissuade a cantankerous bison and send a bear scurrying. The animals had a coughing fit, and I a scare - a far better outcome than guns often produce."
Photo: Bike riders enjoying the Blue Ridge Parkway near Peaks of Otter, Va. (AP Photo/ Virginia Department of Tourism/AP)