NUCLA — The Venus Stylin' beauty salon is one of the few businesses in this town where the heads of hunted animals don't stare glassy-eyed from the walls. But that doesn't mean that this is a zone free of the gun-rights fervor that grips Nucla.
"We should all have guns, lots of them," opined stylist Traciena Johannsen as she painted highlights on the hair of a client who spoke up from beneath the tent of foil on her head to say she has two guns. In fact, she shot a wild turkey with one of them last week.
Guns have put Nucla in the national Second Amendment spotlight since the Nucla Town Board on May 8 passed the first — and only — municipal ordinance in Colorado requiring heads of households to have guns, and ammunition, "in order to provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the town and its inhabitants."
In truth, guns were ingrained in the culture of this out-of-the-way western Colorado town before the current gun-rights movement and before anyone had dreamed up what is being called the Family Protection Order.
A visitor is hard-pressed to find anyone who didn't already own guns — many guns — before the ordinance passed.
Johannsen and her husband have eight. One is a hot-pink BB gun she bought for her 4-year-old daughter. Her husband never leaves for work without grabbing a gun, she said.
Valarie Naslund, who owns the liquor store next door, has one under the counter and "a lady .357" she carries. Neither prevented thieves from breaking into her store a couple of months ago and making off with $800 worth of booze while Naslund wasn't there.
One vote against
Bill Long, the only town board member to vote against the gun ordinance because he doesn't want more government rules, owns — and loves — multiple guns. A BB gun propped inside his front door is the first thing a visitor sees. It's to scare away deer.
An elderly woman who was lunching on meatloaf and mashed potatoes at the West End Senior Center, said she keeps a pistol by her bed and has for 60 years. She didn't want to give her name, she said with a wink, because she didn't want to make any of the other gun-toting citizens of this town mad.
Don Colcord, the pharmacist at the Apothecary Shoppe and one of the few Democrats in town, has all types of guns. He likes to go out with his grandson and shoot up hardboiled Easter eggs — year around. He is still proud of the fact that he was seventh in the nation on the University of Colorado rifle team in the early 1970s.
So why did the Nucla town board feel the need to pass an ordinance mandating guns for every household except those headed by felons, the mentally disabled, "paupers," or those whose religion or other beliefs don't line up with gun owning?
"We more or less kind of wanted to give criminals a heads
Craig initially proposed the ordinance that he said was also designed to send a message to the state and federal governments that Nucla is serious about defending the right of its 750 or so residents to bear arms: The federal government will have quite a fight on its hands if it tries to take away any guns here.
Not the "outside world"
This isn't the first time that Nucla has taken a weapons-related stance that outpaces, confounds or runs counter to what Craig calls "the outside world."
Nucla, tucked away in the far west part of the state off any well-traveled highways, was originally developed in 1904 as a utopian community. It's name came from the fact it was the nucleus of the surrounding farming and mining area. It later became a key supplier of nuclear fuel during the Cold War era. While many places shudder at such a prospect, Nucla would like to see uranium mining and milling come back.
Nucla made headlines in 1990 for hosting what then Gov. Roy Romer called a "slaughter fest." The first Top Dog World Championship Prairie Dog Shoot attracted sport shooters who blew away nearly 3,000 prairie dogs. It also brought in scads of protesting animal rights activists. Nucla's moment of infamy in Time Magazine was headlined, "High Noon in Nucla."
Longtimers in Nucla still chuckle about that. Shooting at critters is as much a way of life as cheering for the Mustangs football team or supporting the Barnyard Buddies 4-H Club.
"If you went to school without your gun you were some kind of nut because you were always going to shoot something on your way," said Nucla Town Board member Les Mahana, who attended high school in Nucla in the 1970s.
Shootings between humans is rare here. The last shooting in the area was a murder/suicide precipitated by a love triangle.
But most crimes don't involve guns. They tend to be thefts and juvenile stunts like spray painting traffic signs to make 30 mph look like 80.
A month's worth of Montrose County Sheriff's Department blotter reports in the San Miguel Basin Forum Newspaper includes items like "parking problem," "school zone patrol," "911 hang up," and "driver with a defective taillight."
Still, in an area that has seen an increase in meth use and a growing problem of "dogs and children-at-large," crime reduction is mentioned as one reason for the new gun ordinance.
Nucla modeled its ordinance on one passed in Kennesaw, Ga., in 1982. Nucla Town Board members like to cite an article in a local paper in that part of Georgia reporting that crime dropped more than 50 percent in the two decades after the ordinance passed.
Long, a software developer who said he ran for the town board position to get his foot in the door of politics and eventually run for the U.S. Senate, said he is all for guns, but "we have bigger fish to fry."
Researching and publishing an ordinance that is really only symbolic cost precious dollars for a town with less than $30,000 in its general fund. Money is so tight the town recently scraped up the crumbling pavement on a subdivision road and turned it back into dirt because there was no money to repave it.
The gun stockpiles may be growing, but the population is shrinking. There is no doctor here, no dentist and no bar. The closest hospitals are two hours away. It's not possible to buy a new pair of pants or shoes, a Big Mac or, certainly not, a MacBook.
Ruth Phippeny, who sells candy at Ruth's Toffee Coffee Shop, points out that, ironically, you can't even buy a gun in Nucla.
There is no bowling alley or golf course. Townspeople have taken the latter in good humor, like they do many things, by staging an annual West End Cow Patty Classic golf tournament in a pasture.
And that's how many Nucla residents tend to view "The Family Protection Order" — a little tongue-in-cheek because law enforcement won't be going door-to-door to enforce such a thing — but with a serious message for the outside world.
No one has yet advocated adding a line about guns to the faded and outdated "Welcome to Nucla" sign that states, "Home to 1,000 friendly people and one grouch."
"But people should know that if you try a home invasion here," said retired miner James Bishop, "the first thing you are going to meet is a shotgun."