Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Talk Strategy, Going Broke and Dudley Brown

Gun Rights

That’s the current battle cry for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which bills itself as the state’s “only no-compromise gun-rights organization.”

“This could be a major make-or-break year for gun owners,” says RMGO Executive Director Taylor Rhodes, noting that Democrats are gearing up for an anti-gun push in the Colorado Legislature, even as his organization is filing challenges to laws past and present.

In addition to watchdogging legislative action, the RMGO is fighting an “assault weapons” ban in Boulder County, Superior and Louisville; a three-day minimum waiting period that’s being appealed in Colorado’s 10th Circuit; a 21-and-older purchasing requirement that’s being fought in U.S. District Court; and a magazine ban passed into law in 2013 that RMGO filed suit against in 2022. Last month, RMGO also filed a legal challenge of Colorado’s “Ghost Gun” ban prohibiting the transport and possession of unserialized firearms.

“I mean, you’d have to be blind to not realize gun owners are under attack,” Rhodes says. “They have made it extremely clear, the Democrats, that they do not want gun owners in Colorado. They’re actively passing legislation to make it harder to acquire guns. They’re making it harder for gun shops to do business.”

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On February 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the “first of many gun control hearings” for the year, according to RMGO, with discussion of SB24-003, a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Sullivan that centers onthe Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s authority to investigate firearms crimes. Sullivan, who could not be reached for comment, is also sponsoring what RMGO calls a “back door gun registration bill” that will be heard by the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee today, February 8.

That bill, SB24-066, calls for the enforcement of a firearms merchant category code, which would require a merchant acquirer or a payment card network to track the purchases of firearms and ammunition using the new merchant category code (MCC) intended to help identify “suspicious activities” and gun traffickers.

“This bill is extremely dangerous and will be the beginning of many radical gun control bills that the Dems want to pass this session,” RMGO warned in a February 5 email to members.

The gun rights group has the support of 200,000 people in Colorado, according to Rhodes; 35,000 of them are full dues-paying members.

Founded in 1996, RMGO was first led by conservative firebrand Dudley Brown, who stepped into a presidential role with the group’s parent organization, the National Association for Gun Rights, in 2020; now it’s Rhodes who brings the Patton-like approach to RMGO and its gun crusade in the Centennial State.

“We’re going to fight like hell, until our last dying breath,” he says.

The University of Southern Mississippi grad joined RMGO in 2018, serving as a lobbyist for the organization before taking over the role of executive director. He’s credited with leading successful efforts to block the 2020 School Shooter Protection Act, the 2020 Required Reporting of Lost/Stolen Firearms bill and Mandatory Firearm Storage Requirements.

Brown’s controversial exit in 2020 came after a string of losses for RMGO-backed political candidates and years of Brown ruffling even Republicans’ feathers with his no-holds-barred tactics, such as campaigning to get GOP state Representative Cole Wist ousted from his seat in 2018, after he co-sponsored a bill that gave judges the authority to issue extreme risk protection orders, allowing cops to confiscate firearms from people who are determined to be risks to themselves or others.

According to Rhodes, it was Brown’s decision to step away from the executive director role at RMGO and go with Rhodes as a replacement. “In the fall of 2019, he asked me if I would be interested in taking a leadership role,” Rhodes remembers. “I did not know what that really meant until about February [2020]. He comes back and says, ‘Look, NAGR needs me to take a more hands-on approach. I don’t have the bandwidth to lead RMGO and NAGR at the same time. Would you be okay with running the group?’ So we didn’t want to shake things up in the middle of an election cycle. I think it was in July or August of 2020, but I was essentially running things from that February on.”

Describing Brown as “a mentor,” Rhodes says he hasn’t strayed far from the founder’s original plans for RMGO.

“I joked early on when I took over, ‘Well, the board didn’t like him because he wasn’t conservative enough,'” Rhodes says. “Obviously, anyone who knows Dudley, they’re like, ‘That’s a load of shit. Not even close to true.’ The reality is our parent organization — the National Association for Gun Rights — is growing extremely rapidly. We are the second-largest gun rights organization in America behind the NRA. And because of that, Dudley has taken more of a hands-on leadership approach with the national organization and has handed off the reins to Colorado to me.”

“A lot of the things I am doing are derived from the strategy that he has used forever,” Rhodes continues. ”We approach things with a no-compromise position.”

click to enlarge Dudley Brown and Taylor Rhodes speaking on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners via YouTube.

Dudley Brown and Taylor Rhodes leading things for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

YouTube/Rocky Mountain Gun Owners

Some of the carry-over tactics from Brown’s tenure include firing off barrages of legal complaints regarding recently passed gun legislation and pouring money into court cases rather than the legislative season.

Since RMGO is a non-profit organization under section 501(c)4 of the IRS code, Rhodes is able to continue Brown’s approach of moving money legally from the group to the Super PAC in order to “hold bad politicians accountable” through court filings.

“We have done it for years,” Rhodes says. “What they haven’t taken in consideration, and really where our legal strategy lies is, there’s a code in our law that says if I sue over civil rights violations — which we are suing over — and I win, the state and the government will then be responsible for paying for my legal fees if we motion for that, and we certainly will. I can then legally transfer that money, which at some point, hopefully, we’re talking about several million dollars, I can transfer half of that money into my Super PAC and go after these bastards and make them pay for what they’ve done for us on our second amendment freedoms.”

Still, the RMGO director admits that mounting legal fees led to tough financial times last year that prevented the group from taking on the ghost gun ban at first.

“Right around December, our bank account was looking very sad,” Rhodes confesses. “We had legal bills out the wazoo related to our five active lawsuits. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to pay the staff right before Christmas. We had a legal bill due, and our members stepped up in a huge way and began supporting us. We didn’t miss payroll, we didn’t miss the attorney fees that we had to pay. Our members really killed it for us and I couldn’t be more thankful for their support.”

RMGO has “won” a handful of cases in the past, Rhodes notes, including one related to an attempt in 2010 by Colorado State University to ban Concealed Weapons Permit holders from carrying on campus. CSU later dropped the ban and the lawsuit was dropped. The group is still in the early stages of its other lawsuits.

“What we’re doing right now is going to change the trajectory of Colorado and gun rights as a whole across America,” Rhodes says.

While Dudley is still “highly involved” in RMGO operations and many of the tactics remain the same, Rhodes acknowledges that the group has tried to take a different approach toward “certain things” in recent years.

“We certainly changed some of the stuff we are doing,” Rhodes says, though he declines to reveal what exactly, telling Westword he can’t reveal the group’s “entire political strategy.”

“I’m making 90 percent of the decisions,” he explains. “The other 10 percent I am running by [Brown].”

David Kopel, a Second Amendment expert and research director of the Independence Institute, notes that since RMGO has strayed from Brown’s confrontational style, it’s more accepted in the political realm.

“I see a lot less of them going out of their way to cause trouble with other gun groups and screwing up good legislation in other states, which is something Dudley was doing a lot of,” Kopel tells Westword. “I think you can be very strong on the issues without getting into all the antics that Dudley did.”

One thing in particular stands out about RMGO today, he adds. “They’re doing a good job of getting people to come testify on bills…a necessary thing,” he says. “It’s always important to have groups that defend civil liberties, whether that’s the right to arms or freedom of speech or due process in the courts.”

click to enlarge Someone shooting a rifle.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners plan to take on multiple bills this year related to gun control.

YouTube/Rocky Mountain Gun Owners

But not everyone agrees.

“We will not let a fringe group’s lawsuits against the good work of this body deter us from saving lives,” said House Speaker Julie McCluskie during her opening remarks to the 74th General Assembly last month.

While Rhodes tells Westword he wears the “fringe group” moniker “as a badge of honor,” he acknowledges that many members don’t feel the same way.

“We are simply fighting for the constitutional freedoms of peaceable Coloradans,” Rhodes says. “But we do know how people feel about this stuff.”

He describes the legislation that RMGO will be fighting for the rest of the year as being “unconstitutional,” since it seeks to “ban semi-automatic guns, mandatory registration of guns, background checks for ammo purchases and even limiting the number of guns a citizen can purchase,” he says.

“I know if an assault weapons ban passes, we’ve talked to literally dozens, if not hundreds of gun shops, that say, ‘Look, we can’t do business here anymore, we’re gonna pack up and go to Wyoming or Kansas or Utah, or somewhere that will not hinder our business, where we can earn a living and put food on our table,” Rhodes tells Westword. “This is our Alamo. This is our last stand.”

It’s a fight that could take years — maybe even decades, Rhodes says.

“Right now, it’s a waiting game. We’re in it for the long haul. Whether it takes us four or five years to repeal one of these laws, so be it. We’ll go all twelve rounds if we have to. I can’t promise that we’re gonna win, but I can promise you that we aren’t going to die lying down.”

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