Exactly a week ago, Citizens Project, along with 18 other community groups, sponsored a public forum designed to give the supporters and opponents a chance to debate their positions on the six Colorado initiatives on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The event was held at Centennial Hall, in downtown Colorado Springs, a large venue that seats 300.
Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition members, who oppose Amendment 22, showed up in force, many sporting armbands that read "PPFC."
Arnie Grossman, the president of SAFE Colorado, which is pushing the amendment that would close the gun-show loophole, traveled from Denver to Colorado Springs to argue why his group believes the law is necessary. Bernie Herpin, an officer of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, presented the opposing side.
That particular portion of the debate included a media panel made up of Gazette reporter Ovetta Sampson, Channel 11's anchor reporter Jeff Ryder, and Dave Rose, the news director at Channel 13.
When he spoke, Grossman was heckled and flipped off. One man sitting in the third row gave him the finger so many times that Grossman finally asked the man to please, stop it. On two occasions, Grossman politely asked the audience to treat him with courtesy and with civility.
After his presentation, Grossman walked alone through the audience toward the exit doors. When he got to the top of the stairs, Grossman was accosted by a man who had been handing out Pat Buchanan for President fliers. (The same guy appeared at a candidates' forum a week earlier to hand out leaflets claiming the Holocaust never happened.)
The man didn't introduce himself. But, there were plenty of people sporting Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition armbands who were in the immediate vicinity. This is what happened, in Grossman's own words:
"[The man] aggressively got in my face and said, 'You're Grossman?'
"I said, 'Yes, how can I help you?' He sneered at me and said, 'Are you Jewish?' I said, 'What difference does my religion make?'
"He said, 'Well, you are a Jew, aren't you?' I said, 'Yes, are you an anti-Semite?'
"He said, 'Yes, I am. I hate you and I hate all Jews.'
Then the guy said, 'The gun control movement is just a bunch of liberal Jews.'" Grossman told the man, "I have nothing more to say to you."
Shocked, Grossman walked away. Not one person in the vicinity -- whether or not they sported PPFC armbands -- spoke up.
"No one objected to his tirade, and as I left the room, [the Buchanan supporter] started spouting some quasi-religious rant about how the Jews broke God's covenant," Grossman said.
Scared now, the SAFE Colorado president walked out into the lobby of the county building where he found a small group of Amendment 22 supporters.
Gazette reporter Sampson was chatting with the group and an armed security guard was standing just a couple feet away, well within hearing distance.
Grossman recounted to the group what had just happened to him. One seasoned Colorado Springs Amendment 22 supporter made an offhand comment that he "wasn't surprised" by the exchange. Another advised Grossman to seek the advice of the nearby officer. But when he turned toward the armed guard for assistance, the officer turned his back and walked away.
Grossman said he urged The Gazette's Sampson to report what had happened. (The incident was never mentioned in the daily newspaper.)
Accompanied only by a campaign supporter, Grossman walked out into the dark night to his car and made the long drive home. It's not the first time that Grossman has been accosted by pro-gun radicals during the campaign, but his Colorado Springs experience is by far the scariest.
"I've had anonymous phone calls at my house. I've been approached at rallies with slurs," Grossman said. High-profile Amendment 22 proponents like Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General Ken Salazar are not Jewish, Grossman pointed out. Nor should it matter.
"Plain and simple, it is hate, that's all," Grossman said. The man who accosted him does a disservice to law-abiding, well-intentioned people who oppose Amendment 22, Grossman said. "He hurts them more than he hates me."
For the debacle that occurred last week, Arnie Grossman deserves a multitude of apologies:
From the Buchanan for President campaign, for allowing a loose cannon to represent Buchanan.
From the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, whose members were rude and callous.
From El Paso County, whose security force failed to protect him.
From the people of Colorado Springs, where the incident occurred.
And from the Gazette, which determined the hate incident was not even worthy of mention.
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