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New credit card law will allow concealed weapons on Arch grounds next year

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2009 - For now, as it has been for decades, it's illegal for visitors to the grounds of the Gateway Arch to pack a pistol.

But come February, that will change.

"In nine months, we will be following the law here, and people will be allowed to carry concealed weapons on the grounds," said deputy superintendent Frank Mares.

Firearms will still be banned from the Arch itself, the visitors center and the Old Courthouse, he added. Those buildings' screening devices to detect weapons also will remain.

The change was approved last week, when President Barack Obama signed into law a new credit-card measure that included a provision allowing people to carry firearms in national parks, if their state allows such weapons. The provision had been sought by gun-rights groups, and initially had been OKed by the Bush administration before the courts ruled that a change in federal law would be necessary.

Missouri has a concealed-weapons law that allows people with permits to carry firearms. So, when the new federal provision goes into effect in late February, that means guns will be legal on the 91 downtown acres that make up the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

From a practical standpoint, said Mares, not much will change.

"Today, there could have been 300 people on the grounds with the weapons and we wouldn't know," he said, explaining that people generally aren't searched unless they do something inappropriate that catches the attention of park security, or their weapon is detected by screening equipment.

The Arch grounds at times host large events, such as Live on the Levee and Fair St. Louis.  

Currently, people caught with firearms on the grounds or during screening can have their weapon confiscated. However, park officials "use discretion," Mares said, and sometimes allow visitors to take their weapons back to their car or store them elsewhere.

Once the new law goes into effect, security will focus only on keeping the weapons out of the Old Courthouse, the Arch and the visitors center. The Arch is among about a half-dozen national landmarks under park jurisdiction where visitors are screened for weapons.

"When we discover your weapons in nine months, it will be easy and we won't need discretion," Mares said. "It will be 'return it to your car.' "

"It won't be illegal for them to have the weapon on the grounds, as it is now," he added.

By next February, Mares said, signs will be changed on the Arch grounds, and in the parking garages, to reflect the change in the firearms restrictions.

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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