A year ago this month, the small western slope town of Nucla thrust itself into the Second Amendment spotlight, requiring all households to own a gun and ammunition. While the law has its supporters, others say the measure has not helped the town’s image.
Nucla, which has a population of 711, passed its gun law after state lawmakers approved gun control measures after the Aurora and Newtown shootings.
“Once in a while, we tease about it: ‘Remember you’re in Nucla, we all have guns,’” Richard Craig, a Nucla town trustee who proposed the gun requirement, says.
Craig sports a long gray beard that’s earned him the nickname “Father Time.” His ordinance passed overwhelmingly last May.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time; everybody in town is armed anyway,” Craig says. “And the ones that aren’t we gave them an out.”
There are waivers for poverty, mental disability, or personal and religious belief. The gun requirement was modeled on an ordinance passed in Kennesaw, Ga., more than 30 years ago.
A year since Nucla’s law passed, Craig says no one has been cited for not having a gun, and probably never will because the town has no law enforcement. The town marshal resigned, leaving those duties to the Montrose County Sheriff, but deputies are usually a two-hour drive away.
Bill Long, another Nucla town trustee, was the lone no vote on the ordinance. Long, who says he has plans to run for U.S. Senate someday, and has a distinctive scorpion tattoo on his left hand, says there’s no denying guns are a part of the town’s culture.
“From the time you’re this tall, they put a gun in your hand. One of the defining points in your life is when you kill your first buck,” Long says.
Long didn’t vote against the gun requirement, because he’s against guns. He supports the ordinance because he’s against government encroachment.
“Telling people they have to own a gun is no different than telling people they can’t own a gun,” Long says.
Long says he was approached by the Brady Campaign based in Washington, D.C., which supports gun restrictions, wanting to sue the town over the ordinance. He agreed to be a part of the lawsuit, but says the Brady Campaign dropped the suit after discovering he too owns guns.
The Brady Campaign says they haven’t ruled out a lawsuit in the future. Last summer, they forced the small town of Nelson, GA, with a similar ordinance, to exempt anyone who did not own a gun.
In fact, good luck trying to find someone that doesn’t own a gun in Nucla. Even one of the few Democrats, Don Colcord, the town pharmacist, says he owns 30 guns.
“I bet if you ask half the men in this town, most of them have well over 10 or 15 guns,” Colcord says.
Colcord says some guns were passed down, some are collector items and others are for different types of hunting.
“It’s really amazing,” Colcord says. “I don’t know that people really know...people do still have to eat game meat to survive in small towns like this where they don’t have a lot of money.”
Outside the pharmacy, Jonathan Dobbs takes a break from work at the town’s only grocery store. He says, like everyone else in town, he has a gun to hunt and to shoot for fun.
Nucla resident Betty Tero doesn’t mind the reputation Nucla has gained, especially from any would-be criminals.
“I guess if everybody knows you’re sitting there with a loaded gun, it’ll make 'em think twice,” Tero says.
But that gun-loving image worries town trustee Long. He says Nucla’s economy is suffering, and opportunities are few in this town.
“I bet the town has lost more than half its population in the last 20-30 years,” Long says. “We’re kind of like a mini-Detroit.”
The town has hopes for a planned uranium mill, but it’s been on hold since last fall, until uranium prices go back up.
Long says the town needs all the help it can get to convince families to move here.
“And I don’t think requiring people to have guns helps that very much,” Long adds.