Spirited crowd lauds county’s resolution protecting gun rights

Every seat of the public hearing room was filled Monday morning, with most folks attending the regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners in support of a resolution reaffirming the board’s commitment to the Constitutional right to bear arms.

Hoots and hollers from the crowd, along with nearly a roomwide standing ovation, followed Commissioner Rose Pugliese’s introduction of the resolution, which aims to “preserve and defend the Second Amendment” and “nullify any statutes, executive orders or other regulations and proclamations that infringe on the right of an individual to keep and bear arms.”

All three commissioners voted to pass the resolution — but not until dozens of county residents took their opportunity to address the open forum, mostly in support of the commissioners’ action.

Commissioner John Justman, new to the board this January along with Pugliese, recalled a teacher he had many years ago in school, as context.

“(She) got up in front of us, and said, ‘The United States is a great country because our citizens can own guns.’ ... Today, I think they’d call the SWAT team on her,” Justman told the crowd. “That’s how much our country has changed.”

He repeated a quote often attributed — many say incorrectly — to Thomas Jefferson: “Those that turn their weapons into plowshares will be plowing for those who didn’t.”

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca prefaced his support for the resolution saying, “Here in Mesa County, hunting and firearm ownership for self-defense are great traditions that are held in very high value.”

A spirited public comment period included many appreciative words for commissioners, threats of coming federal mandates and regulations, personal stories of firearms reliance, 
affirmations that the rights of the Constitution come from a higher power — even calls for organizing a formal local militia.

Resident Kevin King said it was clear that “the Second Amendment is under attack,” and, “It’s time, on a local basis, to stand up against our government of tyranny.”

Palisade’s Diane Cox said, “I want you to tell you how deeply we appreciate elected officials who really believe the oath they swear — to uphold our Constitution.”

Kim Heidel, a nearly 70-year-old county resident who lives alone “out in the sticks,” said she can’t rely on calling police, who are at least an hour away from her home.

She referred to the fugitive currently being sought in California and said, “I appreciate having the right to defend myself if that man comes to my door.”

Not everyone who participated in the public comment period supported the commissioners’ resolution, as you might expect.

Harry Andrews, a former combat Marine and law enforcement official, called himself a “fly in the ointment” of the mostly pro-gun-rights proceedings.

“I have seen a lot more harm that has been done by guns than I have seen good,” he testified before the board.

At times residents needed to be reined back toward the topic at hand — after diverting to topics as wide-ranging as domestic violence, the culture war, the Bolsheviks, commissioners’ recent dismissal of County Administrator Chantal Unfug, and even water collection atop Grand Mesa.

Other times, the hearing room broke out into tinny, cable-channel type-arguments, with folks shouting over one another, and board Chairman Acquafresca banging his gavel to maintain order.

And on the more extreme end of the spectrum, a number of residents pitched dire warnings as reasons for supporting the county’s resolution.

“A gun is a piece of property. And if they take that property away from us, what comes next?” asked Lisa Binse. “If we don’t have a right to private property, we do not have any liberty.”

Steve Bittle, a farmer and rancher from Loma, who said he “literally (carries) a gun with me every single day of my life,” also said the Second Amendment was put in place to defend against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

“Right now, I think domestic is our biggest fear,” Bittle said. “If we continue down this path, we are done as country. If we let the Second Amendment fall, the rest will follow suit — and we will have no rights left in this country.”

Commissioner Pugliese, who put forth the resolution for board consideration, addressed some of the feedback she had received, which was that commissioners should be more focused on economic, rather than constitutional, issues,

“The two really do go hand in hand. We really don’t need over-regulation, and we really need to be looking to protect our businesses here in Mesa County,” she said.

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