July 4 parade nearly nixed over tea party plans to bring unloaded guns

The small Colorado town of Westcliffe nearly had to go without the annual Independence Day Parade after its longtime sponsor cancelled when it learned that a local tea party group wanted to march in it carrying unloaded rifles and handguns.

The Southern Colorado Patriots Club put out a flier calling for Second Amendment supporters to bring their firearms — “especially the evil black ones” that resemble military rifles — to the July 4 parade.

“Celebrate and Defend our Constitution,” the flier reads. “Use it or Lose it! March with your fellow Patriots and make a statement that WE still believe in our Constitution and that we want it RESTORED in Colorado.”

In response, the Custer County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the parade, cancelled it.

“It has polarized this community in a week,” chamber president Donna Hood told the Denver Post.

Hood abstained from voting on the issue.

“I’m sure safety was an interest with everybody,” she said, “but I don’t really believe that the Tea Partyers were gonna draw attention to themselves by shooting people going down our small town road.”

The parade will go on, thanks to the town of Westcliffe picking up the tab.

Marchers are instructed to bring their weapons unloaded, with the safety on and with no magazines inserted into rifles. Rifles should be slung and handguns holstered, with the flier warning marchers, “No handling of weapons during the parade.”

In a letter to supporters, Tea Party member Mike Hess said that although there is no legal reason to have the weapons unloaded, it’s being done as “a gesture of respect and as a small assurance to the courageous leaders of this community that so strongly and wholeheartedly supported us.”

The letter, posted on the group’s blog, went on to say that the purpose of the march is to show support for 55 Colorado sheriffs who are suing the state to overturn two new gun control laws set to go into effect on July 1, one that bans magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition and one requiring universal background checks for gun transfers.

“We have seen some Internet postings suggesting that we are marching with civil disobedience or civil insurrection in mind,” Hess wrote. “NOTHING could be more wrong. We are law-abiding citizens and patriots that love our constitution and our country and are marching not to intimidate our fellow citizens, but rather as a lawful, peaceful and non-intimidating exercise of our rights to assemble, speak and do so with UNLOADED Open Carry firearms.”

The Post notes that about 10 percent of Custer County’s 4,000 citizens have concealed carry permits and about 30 percent of those who live in Westcliffe are retired military. About 300 patriot club members are expected to participate, along with several of the sheriffs involved in the lawsuit.

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