Rural Colorado gun owners

Guns become a way of life for many in rural Colorado

by Kurtis Lee, The Denver Post  |  published on March 6, 2013

Mac Holder takes a seat on the bench of a weathered wooden shooting table roughly 50 yards in front of a silver beer can impaled upright by a stake. Here at the firing range of his family’s pheasant and quail ranch on the outskirts of Rocky Ford, dozens of spent shotgun shells litter the parched ground around him. But on this recent afternoon, in his grip is a black Rock River AR-15 outfitted with a 30-round ammunition magazine. Holder pulls back and releases the charging handle, pushing a round into the chamber. He then tucks the butt of the semiautomatic gun into his left shoulder and leans forward, staring down the scope mounted on top. Nine ear-splitting shots pierce the gentle breeze.

“It’s a fun gun. It has low recoil. If you just like to shoot for practice, it’s a great gun,” says Holder, 28, after firing the weapon. “I’ve had it for nine years, keep it locked up and never had any problems with it.”

Far from the gold dome of the state Capitol, and the state’s more populated Front Range, generations of Colorado families like Holder’s have grown up with firearms.

Whether for hunting, trapshooting or staving off troublesome packs of coyotes, knowing how to handle a gun — including the widely popular AR-15 rifle — from a young age can be an essential part of life in rural parts of the state.

It’s a tradition that transcends politics, gender and ethnicity. And as Democratic lawmakers — who control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office — work toward passing some of the strictest gun laws in the Mountain West, it’s a tradition many in rural Colorado feel is threatened.

County Sheriffs of Colorado, most of whom are from rural areas, have expressed concern about gun-control measures now under the dome, calling the proposals a gut-level reaction to a December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. They especially oppose the magazine limit.

Others argue that new gun laws are an egregious infringement on Second Amendment rights.

“Any gun is what you do with it. … People shouldn’t fear guns. Yeah, they’re lethal weapons. I’ve never had to use one to protect myself, and I never hope to have to,” said Holder, a Republican who is a former mayor of Rocky Ford. “If you have a car, you don’t want people placing stipulations on every little thing that has to do with the car.”

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