Where Guns Are A Way Of Life

Things don't change much in Meeker, Colorado, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Ranchers have been raising sheep for a hundred years. And every summer, Gus Halandras drives his herd high up the mountain to cool, green meadows, just like his father did. Like the old-timers, he depends on his dog and his rifle.

"Guns are a part of life! They're a tool. They're incredible," Halandras said.

As protection from predators, Halandras's shepherd uses a gun often. "Yeah, for coyote," explained Mauricio, the Spanish-speaking shepherd.

"Since the first of May, we've taken two mountain lions, two brown bear, eight coyotes," Halandras said. "We've lost probably 50 sheep in this whole warfare."

There have been years predators killed 20 percent of his herd.

"If I lose 10 percent of 5,000, that's 500 animals. At $100 a head, that's $50,000," Halandras said. "So a rifle fits into the scheme of things for me."

If guns fit into Gus's life, they define his son John.

"Guns are one of the most important things I have," said John Halandras. "I just love 'em. I have a passion for them. I collect them."

Like the town of Meeker, John earns his living partly off ranching, mostly off the Rockies' abundant wildlife. Hordes of hunters with guns and money hire John as a guide each season.

"We have to have guns . . . to exist," John said.

Guns are a fact of life here, where old West and new West blur, where cowboy culture and gun culture rule. Every year Meeker commemorates an 1896 gunfight when townsfolk killed robbers from the Butch Cassidy gang. There's been no crime to speak of since. Paul "Buckshot" Sheridan is third generation. He owns 15 guns and will teach his children to shoot.

Historical reenactment of Old West gunfight.
"The people at Columbine, I don't think those kids had a clue about right or wrong. And you know that caused a lot of stink about guns," Sheriden said.

Littleton, Colorado, is hundreds of miles from here, but the Columbine shooting still is reverberating through Meeker. People here, of course, shared the nation's shock and grief, but now a sense of fear is setting in of a post-Columbine backlash, of an assault on their guns.

"I knew when Columbine happened that the world was changing. Look at the groundswell in emotion that it's caused. Now we're knee-jerking, we're tear-jerking, we're trying to find the answer. I don't think my guns are the problem. If you take my guns, you haven't helped that problem, but you have hurt me," said Gus Halandras.

To an outsider, the heated national debate over guns seems a world away from these mountains, but to people here it's a menacing intruder threatening to force change where none is wantd.

Part 3 of this special series on The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather airs Thursday. For a preview, click below.

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