Gun Owners Protest Owens in Fort Morgan
by Ari Armstrong, February 22, 2000
Last night (February 21) over 300 civil gun rights advocates congregated in Fort Morgan, Colorado to protest Governor Bill Owens at a Republican fund raiser.
Ralliers chanted, "You lied!" and "One-term Owens!" Owens won his 1998 race by a narrow margin with the support of the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment advocates. He has since supported a slew laws that would infringe the right to bear arms, including a bill to expand background checks conducted on honest citizens, a "guilty until proven innocent" provision with background checks conducted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and mandatory storage laws. Owens has also opposed pro-gun-owner laws, such as a provision which would overturn Unconstitutional local ordinances that discriminate against gun owners. Many feel Owens "stabbed gun owners in the back," earning him the nick-name, "Governor Gun Control."
Protesters drove to Fort Morgan from around the state, coming from Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs, as well as from the surrounding area. The fund raiser was held at the Quality Inn off of I-76 at Exit 75, about an hour north-east of Denver.
A grass-roots, loosely organized group called the Tyranny Response Team helped organize the event. Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Bob Glass of Paladin Arms also helped publicize the protest, and around a dozen Libertarian Party members joined the group.
Most of the civil rights advocates arrived by about 6:00 in the evening. Protesters initially lined the street in front of the hotel. Owens ran late, showing up just before 7:00, prompting protesters to gather near the hotel. Owens slipped in the back door of the hotel in order to avoid the protesters, which prompted the rally cry, "Back-door Owens!" Only Glass and a few others had been in back of the hotel to meet Owens.
The ralliers regrouped and led deafening protests until 7:30 by the back door Owens had entered. At that point, a regional Republican leader came out and said, "You god damn people disrupted our prayer." Brown replied, "You should have come out and told us, and we would have joined you." But the hotel managers had had enough: they requested the protesters to leave.
Ray Hickman, who handled security for RMGO, asked the protesters, out of respect for private property rights, to move down the street to the Loaf and Jug convenience store, which graciously extended its hours to accommodate the picketers. The crowd left peacefully to regroup.
Numerous participants noted the difference between this totally peaceful, respectful rally and the often violent protests conducted by leftist groups such as in Seattle. Several ralliers took the time to talk respectfully with Fort Morgan police officers, who were uniformly polite. One member of the Libertarian Party commented that the hotel had actually been quite accommodating in allowing protesters to meet on its property for about an hour and a half.
Many members left shortly after 7:30. No doubt this was largely due to the fact that many had brought children and driven long distances. Nonetheless, over 60 participants gathered in the parking lot of the Loaf and Jug to socialize and wait for Owens to come out. The line at the store for coffee and snacks went out the door.
The civil rights ralliers were blessed with beautiful weather. Scores shared stories, talked philosophy, and met with new friends for two hours as the fund raiser continued. One elderly gentlemen brought bagels to share and handed out copies of the U.S. Constitution.
Finally, around 9:40, the Republican gathering began to break up, which gave ralliers reason to renew their chants. Owens smiled and waved as his vehicle drove by and protesters shouted, "You lied!"
As the rally wound down, the air was charged with a spirit of camaraderie and victory. People glowed with smiles and expressions like, "That was great!" This probably has a lot to do with the fact that gun owners are so frequently demonized and attacked politically in our society that they enjoyed standing with like-minded friends and loudly proclaiming that they have rights, and that the practice of keeping and bearing arms is a noble endeavor rooted in the heritage of American freedom.
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Owens' response to the protest was to spin it as the actions of a "very, very, very small minority," as he told 9-News. "I think what I'm doing is backed by the vast majority of Coloradans, except for a few people outside tonight."
However, as Hickman pointed out, the ralliers were more numerous than those who attended the Republican fund raiser. Given the remote location of the event, its timing on a week day, and its lack of formal organization, the number of protesters was remarkably high.
More significantly, the ralliers expressed the sentiments shared by thousands of Coloradans across the state. Even though the NRA has not sanctioned the Tyranny Response Team's protests, many NRA leaders and members have spoken out against Owens. The NRA is widely regarded as the most willing to compromise of all the gun groups, so when its members oppose a politician they supported at the ballot box, that's a significant change. In addition, many gun owners from Grand Junction reportedly oppose Owens now, even though much of Owens' support came from the Western slope and the eastern plains in 1998.
Owens may learn the limitations of mass-polling the hard way. Sure, the majority of Coloradans support Owens' "gun control" package -- when pollsters skew the results by phrasing the questions in favor of an affirmative response. For instance, most people will answer "yes" to a question like, "Would you support a law requiring the safe storage of firearms?" However, that's not the actual result of such a law. Instead, the law would make it more difficult for gun owners to defend themselves against violent criminals. But that doesn't make its way into the polling questions.
In addition, many gun owners refuse to divulge personal information on such polls, which automatically skews the results. Of those who answer, most don't vote -- only about 40% of the potential vote shows up to cast a ballot in any given election. Most of the masses don't have firm political beliefs anyway. Only the smallest minority have actually conducted significant research on any of the gun proposals.
In elections, a small minority can decide the outcome. Owens won with the gun vote. Can he win without the gun vote in 2002? Sure, incumbents always have the advantage. But not only are Bill of Rights advocates not going to vote for Owens, they're going to actively campaign against him. And those who favor more controls on gun owners are still going to vote for the Democrat.
Owens also told 9-News, "It's not even a Republican issue -- these are people against any gun legislation."
Owens' statement simply isn't true. The ralliers generally support several categories of gun legislation: laws providing criminal penalties for the use of a gun to commit violence, laws providing penalties for the willful transfer of a gun to another who intends to use it for violence, and laws preventing the sale of a gun to a minor absent parental consent. So Owens' statement can be taken only as a calculated effort to marginalize the protesters.
If we limit consideration to new laws which further restrict the right to bear arms, it's strange of Owens to claim that Republicans do support such laws. Certainly many Republican legislators in the state side with the ralliers -- that's why Owens has been trying to strong-arm other Republicans into supporting his proposals. But then, with Owens relying on Democrats Ken Salazar and Aristedes Zavaras as his point-men on gun control, the governor may not be qualified to judge what is a "Republican issue."
Many gun owners have vowed that Owens will serve at most one term as governor. Owens seems to believe he can overcome that kind of opposition, but his Democratic friends and skewed polling data won't help him in November of 2002.