Jon Caldara (right) and friend at the Independence Institute's ATF bash.EXPAND
Jon Caldara (right) and friend at the Independence Institute's ATF bash.
Nancy Levine

Independence Institute's ATF Party: The Buck Stopped Here

"Why do we do this?" asked Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute and host of the annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Party, at the August 26 event. "Only one reason. To piss off people on the left."

Actually, there are many reasons why members and supporters of the Independence Institute have been gathering at the Kiowa Creek Sporting Club every year for over a decade: to shoot PETA-approved clay pigeons, drink spirits and beer (no recycling...unless it's Caldara's jokes), eat barbecue, smoke cigars, chat with like-minded folks, honor those who've stepped up for the Second Amendment (in this case, Laura Carno for her work on FASTER) and listen to speakers.

Among them is always Caldara himself, who's renowned for shooting from the lip...and unlike on the range, he usually hits his target at the mike. Caldara likes to blow things up real good.

In fact, Caldara was off hunting for firecrackers at the 2010 ATF event when Ken Buck, then the district attorney of Weld County who was challenging Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton in the Republican primary for U.S. senator, had to fill in at the mike. Off to the sides, I'd just asked Buck what he thought about Norton injecting gender into the race with a commercial asking whether he was "man enough" to be a senator, and Buck had told me that Norton had recently said the difference between the two candidates was that she "wears high heels."

And then, at the mike, when someone in the crowd asked why he should vote for Buck, the candidate said this: "Because I do not wear high heels."

A clip of that comment subsequently went viral, and Buck won the primary but lost the race to Michael Bennet. But Buck still wound up in Washington, D.C., as the representative of Colorado's 4th Congressional District. And he's been there long enough to know what he's talking about in Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption Is Worse Than You Think, observations he shared with the ATF group after a brief reference to that seven-year-old explosion...and Caldara's role in it.

"Everyone understands he lives in Boulder and pretends to be a conservative," Buck said of Caldara. "When I make people laugh, it becomes a commercial."

Still, Buck proceeded to let loose with plenty of zingers as he discussed what he's learned during his time in D.C. "Washington sucks," Buck said simply. For starters, he quickly discovered that if you want to be on one of the powerful committees, you need to pay $450,000 to a "private political organization." It's been going on so long, he said, that "you'd better shut up." But Buck didn't shut up. Instead, he wrote a book about it.

Guns, not gaffes: Ken Buck addresses the ATF crowd.
Guns, not gaffes: Ken Buck addresses the ATF crowd.
The Independence Institute

"I didn't go there to have friends, and I'm not going to leave with friends," he said.

Congress is supposed to have the power of the purse, he pointed out, but a good $500 billion never makes the general fund: Congress doesn't see money from IRS forfeitures or revenue collected by the National Parks, for example. "It's bipartisan bankruptcy," Buck said.

And when Congress has the power to do things, it often fails to do so. The Endangered Species Act is supposed to sunset every five years, but it was last reauthorized in 1978, Buck pointed out. It's still on the books.

And then there are the things that Congress does that the media never reports. The House passed 270 bills while reporters were busy chasing after tweets, Buck told the ATF audience, and paid little attention to Kate's Law, the Choice Act that repealed most of Dodd-Frank, or the measure authorizing $1.6 billion for a wall on the Southern border, which coincided with Trump's transgender tweet.

But the media didn't put Buck in D.C., and he's not there to make headlines. And he doesn't care if he shoots himself in his non-high-heeled foot.  "I'm in Washington fighting for liberty on the Constitution — the same values we celebrated today," Buck concluded. "I strongly support the Independence Institute's work to protect our Second Amendment rights."

Just as Caldara supports the right to do, well, just about everything...except perhaps recycle. “Every time a liberty lover lights up a cigar, a nannyist somewhere cries,” Caldara said, not for the first time. “This is what scares the left most: responsible adults having fun!”

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