Sunday, June 25, 2006

BENNETT, Colo. — Colorado conservatives gathered yesterday to smoke cigars, drink adult beverages and wield firearms, all in the name of the Constitution.

The Independence Institute’s fourth annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gathering lived up to its billing as the “most politically incorrect party of the year” as revelers engaged in a series of highly regulated activities without permission or apology.

A gathering of Republicans may not be the obvious choice for a bacchanalian romp, but Jon Caldara, president of the free-market think tank, defended the event. He insisted there was nothing immoral about it.

“Individual freedom is moral and this day is all about individual freedom,” said Mr. Caldara, who shot clay pigeons along with about 100 guests at the Kiowa Creek Sporting Club.

“We’re doing this to celebrate individual freedom. And to hack off the left,” he added. “Whenever the left sees responsible adults having fun, they go into nanny shock.”

There was a certain urgency to this year’s event in the wake of the Colorado legislature’s recent passage of a statewide anti-smoking ban. The law, which prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, offices and even private clubs, goes into effect July 1.

A coalition of bar and restaurant owners filed a lawsuit to overturn the ban, but a federal judge Friday rejected an effort to halt the law from taking effect until the court case can be resolved.

Thirteen states and more than 100 cities now having anti-smoking laws in effect, despite what critics call inconclusive evidence on the effects of secondhand smoke.

The event’s keynote speaker was columnist Jay Ambrose, former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, who argued that government regulation in the name of keeping people safe often has the opposite effect.

“A lot of these interventions by government in our lives not only interfere with our lives, but they actually kill us,” Mr. Ambrose said.

One example, he cited, are government standards on fuel efficiency, which have forced automakers to produce lighter cars that get better gas mileage but also provide less protection for passengers.

“There have been thousands of deaths as a result of this law,” Mr. Ambrose said. “It’s a domestic Vietnam.”

Craig Green, a water-rights engineer who attended the event in cowboy regalia, said he came “to celebrate diversity.”

“People who do things other people find offensive have the right to do those things as long as they’re not hurting other people,” Mr. Green said.

A non-smoker, he nonetheless called the new smoking ban “terrible.”

Mr. Caldara said, “If we treated homosexuals the way we treat smokers, people would riot in the streets.”

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