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6/27/2013 Westcliffe takes on sponsorship of July 4th parade

Chamber of Commerce cancelled parade due to gun controversy; now it’s on with no restrictions

The Westcliffe Town Board met last Friday, June 21, to consider sponsoring the 4th of July Parade which had been cancelled earlier in the week by the Chamber of Commerce. The board voted unanimously to accept sponsorship of the parade this year and in coming years.

Nearly 120 people attended the meeting.

The Custer County Chamber of Commerce announced last Wednesday that it was cancelling the parade due to “town dissention” brought on by the local Southern Colorado Patriots organization which has said that as many as 500 marchers, bearing firearms, would be marching in the parade as a show of support for 2nd Amendment rights.

Donna Hood, President of the Chamber, announced at the meeting that the Chamber’s Visitor Center had to be closed for the first time due to threats by those opposed to the parade cancellation.

“The Fourth of July is one of the most important days in this nation,” Forrest Gompf, WWII veteran, explained. “It needs to be celebrated.”

As the meeting started, tension divided the conference room between the Southern Colorado Patriot’s Club and those concerned about the large number of marchers expected to be carrying weapons. Mayor Christie Veltrie ordered everyone in attendance be respectful. She said if anyone booed or hissed they would be escorted out, but that rule wasn’t obeyed: Ann Relph of the Jones Theater was booed when she expressed her opinions about the parade.

An online petition, created by Mick Backsen of Westcliffe, circulated to ban the carrying of guns in the parade. Almost 200 signatures had been acquired.

Town trustee Joe Cascarelli pointed out that there were people who signed it from Hawaii and Massachusetts, as well as other states. Backsen said that some of those people have land here.

The main Patriot’s flyer that advertised the 2nd Amendment Rally for the parade reportedly has been dispersed throughout numerous counties and into other states.

Veltrie was confused about one line in the flyer, which stated, “All rifles welcome especially the evil black ones.”

Mike Hess of the Southern Colorado Patriot’s Club, later told the Tribune that the flyer did not come from the Club. He said that it had been created by an independent citizen, though Hess’s contact information was listed on the flyer.

At the meeting, former trustee Twila Giroux and a member of the Patriots Club said the sentence about bringing evil black guns was in reference to assault rifles.

“We’ve had guns at every one of our parades in Westcliffe,” Bob Thomason said at the meeting. “I am a gun owner, and I trust all of you with guns. It’s the 500 nonresidents who I’m worried about.”

“It’s naive of any of us to guarantee that nothing will happen,” Joanie Liebman said. Lisa Frank countered by saying, “It’s irresponsible to make guarantees that something will happen.”

“My concern is for the businesses in town,” Ann Relph, owner of the Jones Theater, said. “I’m scared someone will show up wanting to get their name in the news for popping someone’s head [with a gun].”

As Relph spoke, she was interrupted five times by boos and jeers.

From the Patriot’s Club, George Brown announced that there will be 15 experienced armed professionals who will inspect the firearms before the parade to make sure no bullets or magazines are present.

As a representative of the Custer County Democratic Central Committee, Brent Bruser stood to make his statement, people from the Patriot’s Club told him to sit down, and that he was wasting his time. The Mayor’s warning to throw disruptive people out went unheeded.

Bruser said that he is a gun owner, believes in the Amendments and is a full-time property owner in town since 1997. He said that most of the petition signatures were from local business owners.

The main concern for the gun rally, he expressed, is public safety. This statement was followed by laughter from the Patriot Club.

Giroux stood for the Club and said that they have the legal right to carry guns. The guns at the parade will be holstered or strapped over backs, will be unloaded, and there will not be intimidating gestures, she said. She went on to say that children should not be afraid.

Sheriff Fred Jobe said the issue surrounding the 2nd Amendment Rally began because 55 sheriffs have filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado which recently enacted more stringent gun regulations.

“If we made a motion against carrying guns in the parade right now,” Mayor Veltrie said, “it would look like discrimination.”

 A motion was first made, as a joke, that no one should wear thongs at the parade.

 A second motion was made that the town of Westcliffe take over running the parade now and in the future. A third motion was made for the Board to revisit parade rules on guns. All were approved unanimously.

 Sheriff Jobe said that the Southern Colorado Patriot’s Club will have two peace officers following behind them as they march in this year’s parade on July 4next week. There will also be two in flank, and the Sheriff will lead with another officer in front. Also, there will be additional deputies present, and a posse member at every intersection.

Sheriff Jobe later remarked that he doubts 500 nonresidents will show up for the parade because people usually stay in their own counties for the 4th.

Regardless of how many will be there, “my job,” he said, “is to make you feel safe.”

-J.E. Ward