Posted: 06/27/2013 05:28:05 PM MDT
Updated: 06/28/2013 12:10:45 AM MDT
For some, bearing arms is as patriotic as the Fourth of July.
But on the eve of Colorado’s new gun laws, the small town of Westcliffe is deeply divided over whether one political group should carry unloaded weapons in the town’s beloved Independence Day parade.
The Custer County Chamber of Commerce, the parade’s longtime sponsor, canceled this year’s mile-long march through town after the Southern Colorado Patriots Club announced it would be carrying guns.
The Tea Party group’s recruiting flier, encouraging fellow Patriots to show up “and make a statement that we still believe in our Constitution” with unloaded rifles, “especially the evil black ones,” slung over the shoulder, sparked political controversy.
A petition to stop the group from carrying guns was circulated. Arguments were had — at town board meetings, among chamber members, on street corners.
The Town of Westcliffe saved the holiday, picking up sponsorship of the parade, but the rift remains.
“It has polarized this community in a week,” said chamber president Donna Hood, who abstained from voting to cancel the parade. “I’m sure safety was an interest with everybody, 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 Patriots Club has marched in past parades carrying weapons, although the guns were sometimes concealed, said club member and Westcliffe town trustee Joe Cascarelli .
But this year is different.