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Rifle salutes legalized at Colorado military funerals; Memorial Day gunfire still forbidden

March 23, 2014 Updated: March 23, 2014 at 11:52 am
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Honor Guard members fire off a three-volley salute during graveside services in Duluth, Minn., in this 2005 photo. The Colorado General Assembly passed a law clarifying the legality of this military honor. (AP Photo/Julia Cheng)

Honoring fallen veterans with three volleys of rifle fire is now legal, officially.

The Colorado General Assembly passed a law clarifying the legality of the honor, reacting to the possibility that the gunfire could be seen as a breach of the peace and get the team rendering the salute handcuffed.

"Currently, firing blanks, even at military funerals where it is customary to carry out a 3-volley salute for fallen members of our armed forces was considered disorderly conduct," Rep. Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in an email.

Republican State Sen. Larry Crowder said the measure ensures that funerals for fallen troops won't be disrupted by police involvement if protesters, including those from the Westboro Baptist Church, famed for agitating at military funerals, call 911.

At first, Crowder said, he was skeptical that the law was necessary.

"I have been on the firing squad with the American Legion in Alamosa for about 25 years, and I have never seen a problem," said Crowder, a Vietnam veteran.

But a check of the laws now on the books shows that the state forbids gunfire in public places except for lawful target practice or hunting.

"There was the potential threat of a problem occurring," Crowder said.

The "three volleys" of seven rifle shots have been used to honor the dead since the "national salute of mourning" was adopted by the American government in 1841, the Department of Veterans Affairs says. The 21 shots represent the 21 states then in the union.

It's not to be confused with the 21-gun salute, which uses cannons.

In modern times, the gunfire is a traditional part of military funerals, with the volleys fired immediately before the playing of taps.

The bill legalizing the funeral rite was wildly popular.

"There was no objection in the House or the Senate," Crowder said.

But there's still more work to do. The measure, which has been signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and will take hold in July, only legalizes the shooting at veteran's funerals.

The three volleys are traditionally fired at other events honoring those who have served and died.

Crowder is hoping to push through another measure that will allow the salute at events including Veterans Day and Memorial Day gatherings.

"It's somewhat minor, but I could see a problem," Crowder said.

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