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Area members of Congress downplay their vote on guns in national parks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 22, 2009 - On a day when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill imposing more restrictions on credit-card companies, most Missouri members of Congress in both parties emphasized their support for the popular measure -- while generally sidestepping their stance on one aspect of the bill.

That provision permits people to carry concealed weapons in national parks.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., touched off a little local controversy when she voted against the proposal earlier this month. She says she did so because she opposed putting an unrelated gun proposal into a bill about credit cards, and her staff cited earlier pro-gun votes.

This week, it was the U.S. House's turn -- but few area congressmen made any public mention of their stance on the gun provision when they announced their vote on the credit-card bill. The gun provision passed the House, 279-147.

Those voting in favor included U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth; Todd Akin, R-Town and Country, and Ike Skelton, D-Lexington.

Those voting "no'' included Reps. Russ Carnahan, and Lacy Clay, both D-St. Louis.

We know the breakdown because of various vote-recording Web sites and the Missouri Republican Party, which sent out a pro-gun release blasting those who'd voted against the provision.

So far, none of the area members of Congress issued a statement, although Luetkemeyer posted his stance on his Web site.

The lack of emphasis is notable, because every area member of Congress has been flooding the media with e-mails this week -- right before a holiday weekend -- emphasizing their latest votes and actions regarding other, less controversial issues of interest to their constituents.

The Missouri Republican Party did play up the votes this week, jabbing at the Democrats who voted against the provision allowing concealed weapons in national parks. The GOP also circulated earlier statements by McCaskill in 2006 that indicated her support for banning firearms in national parks.

McCaskill replied in a statement: “I didn't have a big problem with the amendment since it was really about state's rights. My problem was they put it on the bill going after credit card abuses. Wrong place, wrong time. I didn't want to take a chance that it would slow down a desperately needed bill."

She noted that she did vote for the final version of the credit-card bill, with the gun provision.

For various reasons, area members of Congress in both parties -- particularly those in the U.S. House -- have an interest in playing down their votes on gun-related issues.

For Democrats, the fallout felt by McCaskill is typical of the heat they receive from gun-rights supporters, who have influenced the general drift of rural voters away from Democrats.  Republicans in urban and suburban areas, meanwhile, are somewhat mindful that voters in the St. Louis area tend to be wary of concealed weapons.

In 1999, it was strong St. Louis area opposition -- in some districts by 70 percent -- that killed the statewide proposal to allow concealed-weapons. Four years later, gun-rights supporters overturned that vote by persuading the Missouri Legislature to approve a similar measure allowing concealed weapons.

When it comes to this latest showdown over guns, it'll be interesting to see how both sides react if it turns out the new gun law will affect the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial -- also known as the Gateway Arch.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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