WESTCLIFFE - It was a day of guns, God and Old Glory Friday at Westcliffe's July 4 parade.
There were the usual cowhorses, rodeo queens, fire engines and political candidates waving to the delighted crowd.
But the largest group of participants - and the one that got some of the most enthusiastic response from the crowd - were the estimated 250 advocates, many clad in red, white and blue, marching openly with guns holstered on their hips or slung over their shoulders. They carried everything from old-fashioned flintlock rifles to semi-automatics to fake plastic guns carried by children.
"We call this the gun parade," said Nan Hassey, of Rye, while watching from the sidelines. "I own a gun and I'm pro-Second amendment.
"Just so everyone shows responsibility."
The Daughters of the American Revolution were there with their 1776 flag. And the Royal Gorge Tea Party carried a sign that said: Keep your gun in the right hands - yours.
The open-carry group walked behind the Southern Colorado Patriots Club banner. One of their floats featured a Statue of Liberty to emphasize the Second Amendment, which refers to the right to bear arms.
The Colorado state constitution allows open carry, that is carrying a firearms in public, though they cannot be brought into government buildings or businesses that do not want them.
But there has been much controversy since the legislature strengthened laws last year.
Among those marching were Ole Martin and his 10-year- old grandson, who the family named Samuel Colt after the gunmaker. Martin was carrying a 30-30, his grandson a fake replica.
Samuel said, "It's for protection and for food." His mother, who had a Glock in a holster said "His grandpa is teaching him hunting and I back that up."
Martin said carrying his weapon is a matter of patriotism
"It's great to express our rights," he said. "This needs to be made public so people understand that we do have gun rights."
Suzannah Rice, who lives in Colorado Springs, has a second home in the Westcliffe area. She brought her three kids to watch the parade. They loved the horses.
"I wasn't expecting there to be so many (pro-gun marchers)," Rice said. "But that's what the West was built on, and we have that freedom if we do it in a a safe way."
Last year, was the first time the Westcliffe parade allowed people to "open carry unloaded firearms,
Several volunteer members of the Custer County Sheriff's Office who stood along the parade route reported that this year, like last year's show of firepower, went off without a problem.
There was nervousness last year among some of the area's 4,000 residents. Some didn't want the guns to be on display, but things were talked out, said Custer County Sheriff Fred Jobe, who's had the job for 28 years.
Mike Hess, who helped organize the patriots' entry, made sure the marchers knew that this was a responsible showing of arms.
"We are not marching with insurrection in mind," he said before the parade started. "Nothing could be more wrong. We are law-abiding citizens marching not to intimidate, but to exercise our rights to assembly, speak and have firearms."
One speaker was Mike Vanderboegh, whose blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars is used as a political forum.
From Alabama, Vanderboegh travels the country talking up gun rights. He refers to himself as a Christian libertarian and noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center has called calls him an insurrectionist.
He told the holiday crowd that both Democrats and Republicans were ruining the country.
"Let us prepare for the storm coming," he said. "We have liberty to protect. They aren't asking for safe laws, they are asking for confiscation."
But others in the crowd seemed to be more attuned to the long-time sheriff, who encouraged exercising their voting rights and legal avenues to protect gun rights.
Jobe talked about the lawsuit that 30 organizations, including sheriffs, gun shops and firing ranges had filed in an attempt to overturn the state's new gun laws that mandate background checks and ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds.