Jun 28, 2013 8:30 PM by Andy Koen
CUSTER COUNTY - The town of Westcliffe has become the latest battleground in the war over gun control in our state. During the Memorial Day Parade, members of the local Tea Party Patriots passed out flyers encouraging gun owners to join them in July, openly carrying their firearms in the Independence Day Parade.
"This has been tradition in America in every town I've every grown up in, there's always been weapons carried in Fourth of July Parades," explained Mike Hess, leader of the Southern Colorado Patriots Club of Westcliffe.
Hess said his group wanted to show solidarity with county sheriffs in the state who have joined in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the new gun laws.
Local democrats worried having 500 armed people in one place wouldn't be safe.
"And we also did not want to have a vision of our community as just a bunch of gun toting people," explained Roland Williams, Chairman of the Custer County Democratic Party.
Fearing a withdrawal of sponsors, and feeling pressure from an online petition, the Chamber of Commerce called off the parade. Last week, the town trustees stepped in.
"Fourth of July is the biggest day for our merchants all year and we have a very short season up here," explained Mayor Christy Veltrie.
"We have a long winter and so to take that day away, to take away the tourists from those merchants would be really bad."
Their board meeting was the stuff of legend. Veltrie says at most trustee meetings, there may be one or two people in the audience. Enough people who wanted to speak about the parade that the meeting was moved to a larger conference room at the local bowling alley.
A compromise was struck and the patriots agreed to march with unloaded guns under the supervision of local deputies. The democrats also decided to join the parade to pass out American flags and red, white and blue carnations.
"We are a great community, we will get through this," Veltrie said.
The parade begins at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. There will also be a fireworks display over Lake DeWeese just after sunset.
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