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Gun use spans generations and puts a spin on life

Durango Herald | August 15, 2005
By Chuck Slothower and Jesse Harlan Alderman

The morning after Easter in 1881, rival cattle gangs battled on the mesa east of Durango, leaving two wounded. Shots echoed throughout town, according to local historian Duane Smith's Rocky Mountain Boom Town.

Durango's fondness for guns today is a legacy of that Wild West. Guns are inextricably bound to La Plata County's culture, past as well as present.
Gun use spans generations and puts a spin on life. Durango, Colorado.
Three generations of Hendricks women stand on the family's ranch with guns drawn. From front, Judy, 63, Wendi, 38, Krii, 20, and Ashley Masters, 16. "I think every woman in America should own a gun," says Krii Hendricks.

Just ask Megan Westervelt, a recent graduate of Durango High School: "Our whole history is guns. We're here where we are because of guns."

Today, you'll find at least one gun in about 75 percent of all homes in the county, Sheriff Duke Schirard says.

Schirard handily won office in 1994 in an election decided partly over concealed weapons. Shortly after he took over, the sheriff issued the highest percentage of concealed-weapons permits in the state. Now, he tallies 675 permits countywide.

"We're just Second Amendment kind of people around here," Schirard says.

Guns figured in 58 percent of Colorado's murders in 2003, as well as in the town's one homicide this year: April's fatal shooting of Lori "Star" Sutherland.

But thousands of guns are employed for hunting elk, shooting skeet, blasting prairie dogs and warding off coyotes.

"Farmers and ranchers still view guns as just another tool they use," says state Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus.

Westerners grow up with firearms, trading BB guns for rifles as they reach adulthood. Fathers pass to sons, and now mothers pass to daughters, the art of shooting. Over time, firearms become family heirlooms.

Judy Hendricks, the matriarch of a family of gun aficionados, approves of the local gun culture. Yet she predicts change.

"We might see more opposition to guns," she says. "Durango is getting a little more cosmopolitan, which we don't like to see."



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