The controversial head of a national gun-rights group is coming to Durango on Wednesday for a fundraiser in support of the recall against Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango.
Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, will speak at a $50 per ticket event at CJ’s Diner, and later will give a free speech at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
Gun Owners of America bills itself as the most strident gun-rights lobby in the country, and Pratt criticizes the National Rifle Association as too soft and compromising.
Pratt’s controversial statements have kept him in the news for 20 years.
Days after the Aurora movie theater shooting last July, he insinuated it was a setup to drum up support for the United Nations Small Arms Treaty, which deals with international trade in weapons.
In a July 27, 2012, interview with the online video site Infowars.com, Pratt said mass shootings are common in American history. But federal authorities’ involvement in a gun-trafficking operation called Fast and Furious, which led to many murders in Mexico, raised the specter of a government setup in Aurora.
“This is what human beings are capable of. Now, we have to admit that maybe this is something our government is capable of,” Pratt said.
Lasamoa Cross was sitting next to her boyfriend, AJ Boik, when he and 11 others were shot to death at the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” last July.
“At the time, pundits like Larry Pratt rushed in to do media tours claiming that the shooting was some kind of United Nations conspiracy. Now a bunch of fringe gun groups are bringing him into Colorado for a fundraiser. This is not only an insult to me, but shows how completely out of touch these guys are,” Cross said in an email forwarded by allies of McLachlan.
Dave Saleh, an organizer of the recall, defended Pratt.
“I’ve known Larry for 25 years, and he articulates the Second Amendment like nobody you’ve ever known,” Saleh said. “I appreciate the fact that he’s controversial, but that’s because he kicks anybody’s (butt) he gets into a debate with.”
Saleh dismissed the idea that the Aurora shooting was planned by anyone other than the alleged shooter. But he said mass shootings almost always involve psychotic people who were overlooked by the country’s poor mental-health system. Politicians such as President Barack Obama use the shootings to further their gun-control agenda, while foresaking mental-health care, Saleh said.
“There isn’t any reasonable person who can deny that these guys grandstand on the bodies of dead kids,” Saleh said. “It’s shameless.”
Pratt has been in the news before. He worked on Pat Buchanan’s insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for president in 1996. He had to leave the campaign after Buchanan’s opponents called media attention to Pratt’s appearances on stage in the 1990s along with white supremacist and militia leaders, speaking at gatherings that also featured officials from the Aryan Nations, Christian Identity movement on militia leaders.
Pratt, at the time, said the media was practicing guilt by association.
“Let’s be fair, to speak to a group does not mean you sign up for their agenda,” Pratt wrote in a rebuttal to his critics posted on the Gun Owners of America website.
McLachlan is recovering at home after suffering complications from surgery on his lower intestine. He was away from the Legislature all week, but is expected back at the Capitol on Monday.
The recall campaign needs to get signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 election, which adds up to 10,587 signatures from registered voters in House District 59.
Democrats are gearing up to defend McLachlan. They registered a campaign committee – Citizens for Mike McLachlan – and the Colorado Democratic Party contributed $1,000 to the effort.
Tickets to the Pratt event at CJ’s Diner, 810 E. College Dr., cost $50, and proceeds will go to the San Juan Freedom Defense Fund, the campaign that is working to recall McLachlan. Tickets are available through Saleh at Dave@recallmikemclachlan.com. After the 4:30 p.m. dinner, Pratt will speak at the rec center at 6:30 p.m.
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald