STARTING next month, gun owners who have a permit to carry concealed weapons can tote those weapons into national parks . . . which of course includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Washington Square Park, one of the original squares established by city founder William Penn.

This is thanks to a rule pushed by the Bush administration, just codified by the Interior Department, that lets gun owners in states that allow concealed weapons in state parks to carry them into national parks. Of 125,000 public comments, most were opposed.

State lawmakers paved the way for this in October, when they passed a law allowing concealed weapons in Pennsylvania's parks.

It's hard to understand any rationale for this law other than to provide another gift to the National Rifle Association.

It's even harder to imagine how our local national-parks management - who unsuccessfully battled in 2006 to build a fence across Independence Square as part of stepped-up security - will handle the enforcement of this law. Though they didn't return our calls, we can't imagine they'll be too happy having to check the gun permits of every armed visitor who sets off the metal detector. *