STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
“I’m glad my dad’s dead, and if he saw they called me a traitor ... ,” said state Rep. Mike McLachlan, choking up after a contentious town hall-style meeting Saturday at Durango Public Library.
The freshly minted state representative supported a measure passed by the House calling for background checks on private sales of firearms.
Democrat McLachlan, a former Marine who served in Vietnam, and Republican state Sen. Ellen Roberts were at the library for a “Legislative Lowdown” sponsored by the La Plata County League of Women Voters.
At least 400 people attended the event, with standing room only overflowing into the foyer outside the meeting room.
Moderator Stephanie Huss, league past president, kept the crowd in line, threatening to clear the room after an angry outburst by spectators who didn’t believe McLachlan when he said he came from a military family, was a veteran and supported the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. McLachlan’s father was a veteran of World War II.
In addition to local residents, there were gun-rights advocates from all over the state. They were encouraged to show up by a group calling itself Colorado Accountability. The group also circulated a petition purportedly seeking McLachlan’s recall.
In a post-event interview, Roberts said the petition represents the people’s right to express their wishes.
“It reflects the interests of the people’s feelings,” she said.
Both lawmakers praised the League of Women Voters for its organization and handling of the event. But both also noted that they didn’t get to talk in depth about some of the issues they wanted to.
Library and league representatives picked up dozens of index cards with questions, and Huss held up the relatively thin stack of those questions asked and the much thicker stack of the questions not asked. She noted that the questions would be given to Roberts and McLachlan in the near future.
One of the issues Roberts wanted to discuss more in-depth but didn’t have time for was wildfires and what the state could be doing to help mitigate them.
She said the state has rules for prescribed burns, but more can be done to reduce fuels in the forests and in neighborhoods. Where people and nature meet is called the Wildland Urban Interface, such as the areas affected by the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire.
One potential piece of legislation would provide some funding to help homeowners clear fuels, Roberts said. There also could be more outreach and communication, she said.
During the meeting, McLachlan said the gun legislation should be discussed by both parties so they can come to a mutual agreement.
“I’m a centrist,” he told the crowd, some of whom jeered at him. He explained that putting limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines was a good idea, and he would settle for 30-round magazines.
McLachlan said he supports the Second Amendment, but that no amendment is absolute. McLachlan, a lawyer and former prosecutor, said the U.S. Supreme Court has identified limits on many aspects of the Constitution. He especially cited conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote in a 2008 case that, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
McLachlan said during its history the Supreme Court has set limits on free speech (First Amendment), and the unreasonable Search and Seizures clause in the Fourth Amendment, among others. Again, a number of spectators loudly expressed disagreement.
Roberts, responding to her colleague’s suggestion of cooperation across the aisle, complained she had approached a Democratic leader in the state Senate and was told there was no interest. She also said it’s always that way, no matter which party is in power.
McLachlan said he agreed with Roberts’ concern that the minority party is being pushed aside. “It’s destructive of government,” he said in an interview.
Colorado Accountability, the group that put out a call on its website to get as many gun-rights advocates to Durango as possible.
Colorado Accountability claims nonpartisanship, and the group’s website uses common phrases often bandied about by the tea party and other conservative groups.
Another aspect of the group is that many of its online “articles” are signed with only the authors’ first names and have little or no factual information.
One of the articles is “Mike McLachlan is being RECALLED” by “Anthony.”
It begins: “This morning, hundreds of men and women descended on the Durango Public Library during Mike McLachlan’s Town Hall meeting and told him what they thought of him.” It was on the website before the meeting.
The article doesn’t take into the account the several dozen people who supported McLachlan and applauded him for his stances not just on firearm background checks but also other issues, such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
In addition, the “article” ends with, “Please come to our forums and sign up to help us RECALL THE TRAITOR MIKE MCLACHLAN!”
The recall petition was being signed by anyone who wanted to sign it. But Article XXI, Section 1, of the Colorado Constitution says: “Every elective public officer of the state of Colorado may be recalled from office at any time by the registered electors entitled to vote for a successor of such incumbent through the procedure. ... ”
STEVE LEWIS /Durango Herald