On the first day of Colorado's legislative session, dueling protests competed for the attention of passersby on either side of Lincoln Street. As the crowd at the Capitol for a pro-guns rally grew, an anti-fracking group remained small. Still, both shouted, sometimes at the Capitol and a few times directly at each other. Though the groups remained peaceful, they offered a glimpse at two contentious debates expected this year at the legislature.
By around 12:45 p.m. yesterday, after the House and Senate concluded a first day dominated by swearing-in ceremonies and introductory speeches, there were about a dozen protesters on either side of Lincoln. On the Capitol side, the anti-fracking group held up a big sign saying, "It's a crime to poison us." Aross the street, pro-gun folks waved flags praising the Second Amendment with phrases like "Guns stop crime," "More guns = less crime" and "It's about liberty, stupid."
Two young children ran in a circle waving large flags that read "Don't tread on me" as the anti-frackers, who also carried Occupy Denver signs, chanted in favor of fracking bans.
"This is our freedom -- and our kids enjoy shooting," said Latisha Antillon, thirty, a stay-at-home mother and the wife of Edgar Antillon, who runs the Guns for Everyone blog and organized the protest. "We take them target shooting. It's a family activity for us."
Her three children -- ages six, eight and ten -- held up signs at the protest and posed for photos. The rally drew a significant amount of press in the first half-hour or so.
"My husband is an NRA instructor, so they know all the rules. It's about education," says Antillon. "If you put an uneducated person behind a gun, that's an accident waiting to happen."
She says she recognizes that proposed gun control measures would probably not impact the kind of target shooting for sport that she does with her family -- but says they cannot budge on a fundamental right.
"This is freedom being taken away," she says. "People have worked hard and paid money for their guns. They should be able to keep them."
One of the first to arrive, Shawna Whitacre, forty, said she does not think terrible mass shootings should produce stricter laws around guns.
"It's cliche, but people kill people," said Whitacre, who works in insurance and held a sign reading, "Liberty or death."
She said, "It's important to show people that I'm not afraid. I'm gonna hold my ground."
Those who support stricter gun measures in Colorado and beyond argue that they have no intention of violating the Second Amendment and simply want commonsense solutions that put limits on military-style weapons and help keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. A wide range of gun-related bills are expected this session. Any new restrictions are intolerable, said Whitacre. "I get where they are coming from, I get what they are saying, but I interpret [any gun control] as taking away other people's freedoms one piece at a time."
At its peak, the pro-gun rally attracted several hundred supporters.
Continue for more from the protests and more photos. Ed Fielding, 63, and a member of the Centennial Gun Club and the NRA, said, "I want to pass my guns on down to my grandkids. I have them for home protection.... The other side needs to go after the guy that's crazy. They need to go after mentally ill people. And it's the bad movies and it's the games."
"Sorry, Ty," he added, gesturing to his grandson.
Next to him, George Makolondra, a retired Denver Police officer, said that gun control never works.
"Has prohibition against marijuana worked?" he asked, later adding, "How can you blame people...that are lawful people that follow the rules...and got their guns through legal means?"
He admitted frustration with the image of the NRA in the aftermath of terrible mass shootings.
"The NRA is always portrayed as this faceless lobby group, but it's average people," he said.
Cindy Lyons, a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, carried a sign that read, "A gun will stop a rape but a weaker gender will not!" She said she was trying to get more women and "feminists" to understand the importance of guns and the danger of gun control.
Guns are essential for protection, she said. "Women are the weaker sex -- not nearly as strong as men.... The only way to defend against a perpetrator is [with a gun].... You can't do that by throwing rocks or with hammers."
Some members of the anti-fracking rally, which numbered around twenty people, said their cause wasn't all that different from the one espoused by the pro-gun people.
"People have a right to drink clean water, and fracking is definitely infringing on that right," said Patrick Boyle, a technology specialist who was recently arrested at a fracking-related protest in Texas.
He added, "A lot of people here don't have an issue with the Second Amendment."
When he first got to the Capitol, he stopped on the wrong side of the street, he noted.
"I was standing there and I was like, 'Why have I never seen these people before?'"
On the corner of Lincoln and 14th Avenue, far removed from both protests, Lori Scott, 76 -- one of two people protesting the pro-gun crowd -- stood with a small sign that read, "Stop killing our children."
"I'm a grandmother and I'm concerned with the way this country is going," she said. "We are turning into armed camps. We've got to something about the guns.... It is baloney!
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