The Ten Commandments
1. Thou shalt be careful in the big city.
Early Saturday morning, the mall shuttle fills quickly as it passes through LoDo and heads toward Broadway. There are grandmotherly women who've bused down from Boulder, bleary-eyed hipsters clutching their Starbucks cups and anti-gun leaflets, families with babies in backpacks. "Let's not get separated," warns one mom. "We're in the city now." The city, as opposed to the safe, quiet suburbs of Jefferson County.
The bus passes the Adam's Mark hotel, where the National Rifle Association's annual meeting will begin at 10 a.m. "I'm so glad it's cloudy," says one woman. "They can't see our mountains. The NRA came, but they cannot have our mountains."
2. Thou shalt kill gun legislation.
Just three weeks earlier, a few dozen gun-control activists gathered on these same Capitol steps, decrying the concealed-carry proposal then passing through the legislature faster than a speeding bullet. But now, in the wake of the Columbine shootings, waves of protesters wash up the hill. Some are seasoned hands at protests; others look like they're headed to the People's Fair, pushing kids in strollers and holding dogs on leashes. They come saddened by the killings, enraged by the NRA's presence a few blocks away, hoping that something, anything, can be done to stop the violence. And they keep coming until the police estimate the crowd at over 10,000.
Some people hold professionally made placards. Many, many more carry homemade signs whose messages--"Little Peckers Carry Big Guns," "Say Nay to the NRA," "Arms Are for Hugging," "Moses, Go Home"--form the backdrop for the speakers. One Columbine mother vows to watch the politicians: "If they do what is best for our children, we will support them. If they don't, we will put them out of office." And then another Columbine parent--this one the father of a student who died that day--steps up. "There are many reasonable gun owners," Tom Mauser says. "But a semi-automatic, a TEC-9 used to kill my son, is not used to kill deer, Mr. Heston."
3. Thou shalt fight for thy rights.
Just down the hill, the Adam's Mark is overwhelmed by the NRA turnout. No babies here, no dogs, no signs. This crowd is suited, pantyhosed, flag-waving and occasionally flag-wearing. In the lobby, a long line snakes toward the credentials desk; inside the ballroom, the 2,600 seats are already filled. Initially this gathering was to be held at the convention center, but that was before Columbine, before the NRA decided to cancel its expositions, its seminars, its "festive ceremonies," and instead simply hold the annual meeting.
While the hotel scrambles to set up a sound system in the lobby, members can peruse the NRA's annual report, as well as the convention edition of the unfortunately named Colorado Shooting, the newsletter of the state NRA association. The group has been "extremely busy" at the legislature, writes its president, fighting for a "preemption law" that would override municipal codes, for "a law prohibiting local governments from trying to destroy our firearm freedoms by suing them in court for frivolous reasons," and for a concealed-carry law. "The City of Denver and Bill Clinton's puppet, Mayor Webb, have been fighting us tooth and nail on every front. They have resorted to lies and misinformation to paint images of gun battles at football games. They have portrayed us as crazed lunatics waiting for a chance to carry guns into schools to hold second-graders hostage... They have been successful and have scared the general public but, with God's help, we will have increased the levels of security and liberty by the time you get this newsletter."
Instead, by the time members get this news-
letter, crazed lunatics have carried guns into schools, and all gun proposals have been pulled from this legislative session.
4. Thou shalt practice diplomacy.
"Puppet" Webb, who earlier this spring was loud in his opposition to the gun proposals (and generous, buying two anti-gun ads with taxpayer money) meets the press just before the NRA gathering. "This is where I agree with the NRA: Guns are manmade objects, and they by themselves don't shoot people," the mayor says. "But the more accessible these guns are, people take them and do away with other people's lives."
Here is where Webb disagrees with the NRA: The "classy thing to do" would have been to cancel the annual meeting, too, and two days after the Columbine shootings, he sent a letter to the NRA suggesting just that. He's still received no response. "Another time, another place," he says, "I'd love to debate Moses."
5. Thou shalt not mess with a movie star.
Moses finally comes down from the mountain a half-hour late, after the overflow NRA crowd is accommodated. "I applaud your courage in coming here today," says NRA president Charlton Heston, who is wearing a Columbine ribbon. "Wellington Webb, the mayor of Denver, sent me a message: 'Don't come here. We don't want you here.' They say we'll create political distraction. But it has not been the NRA pressing for political advantage, calling press conferences to propose vast packages of new legislation...'Don't come here?' We are already here. This community is our home. Every community is our home. We are a 128-year-old fixture of mainstream America."
6. Thou shalt honor whoever shows up to honor you.
Heston gives a warm welcome to the Colorado politician who's asked to greet the NRA, a fighter against youth and gang violence...Vikki Buckley? Colorado's secretary of state is definitely in the double minority--there are relatively few women here and just a handful of black faces--but "I am not a hyphenated American, I'm an American," Buckley says. "Shame on you," she chastises those who asked the NRA to stay away. "This is a state where some of us believe strongly in the entire Constitution of these United States, including the Second Amendment." Buckley is speaking not just as an elected official, but also as "one who has worked closely with the family of Isaiah Shoels"--and his family agrees that "guns are not the issue. New-age hate crimes" are the problem.
Buckley receives several standing ovations.
7. Thou shalt not steal someone else's thunder.
Jamin Spitzer, aide for Representative Diana DeGette, circles the back of the ballroom, inviting reporters to a press conference condemning the NRA's legislative agenda after Heston's speech.
8. Thou shalt stick to thy guns.
After NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre lays out the NRA's agenda, tossing out statistic after statistic to show how the Clinton administration has not enforced the laws already on the books, Moses again comes down from the mountain. "If you like your freedoms of speech and of religion, freedom from search and seizure, freedom of the press and of privacy, to assemble and to redress grievances," Heston intones, "then you'd better give them that eternal bodyguard called the Second Amendment."
9. Thou shalt strike while the irony is hot.
Two days after Heston's speech, Jeffco authorities will arrest a 22-year-old Columbine alum who'd sold a gun to the killers; his mother belongs to a gun-control group. The Shoelses announce they will be filing suit not just against the Harris and Klebold families, but against Columbine itself; their lawyer says a suit against the gunmakers may be forthcoming. On the same day, NRA boardmembers approve a resolution strongly opposing lawsuits against gun manufacturers, "an egregious attempt at back-door gun control." They also re-elect Heston.
10. Thou shalt love thy neighbor.
While Heston speaks Saturday, the wave of anti-gun sentiment pours down from the Capitol, past Cinco de Mayo celebrants who shout their support. A human chain of protesters surrounds the Adam's Mark, linking up once, almost twice.
The gulf is as wide as the parting of the Red Sea.
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