NeverAgainCA gets 'cease & desist' letter from gun show operator

Operators of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds have sent a “cease-and-desist” letter ordering NeverAgainCA to stop making “defamatory” statements about the firearms festival and its owners.

NeverAgainCA formed in Del Mar as part of the national Never Again movement to stop gun violence after the Parkland, Fla., shootings that killed 17 high school students and staff members in February.

“The letter will not change anything we do,” said Rose Ann Sharp, the local group’s founder, when asked about it by email Nov. 15. “We have been very careful to be factual and accurate in everything we write and say.”

Members of the nonprofit have repeatedly called for the end of the Del Mar gun shows and demonstrated outside events at the state-owned fairgrounds this year. Their efforts contributed to a decision in September by the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which overseas the fairgrounds, to suspend the gun shows next year.

A website for the Long Beach-based law firm Michel & Associates P.C. that represents the gun show owners states that its clients include the National Rifle Association, firearms manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, shooting ranges and related interests.

“You have made and continue to make defamatory, disparaging and false statements about our clients,” states the Oct. 24 letter to NeverAgainCA from Tiffany D. Cheuvront, an attorney at Michel & Associates.

The letter refers to an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune, an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle and information posted on the NeverAgainCA website. The materials generally cite the past felony firearms convictions of gun show owner Bob Templeton and his son Jeff Templeton that would prevent them from operating the shows.

Cheuvront states that Bob and Jeff Templeton are no longer officers in the corporation, B&L Productions, that owns the gun show, and that makes the shows legal. Bob Templeton’s daughter, Tracy Olcott, who has no convictions, is the president and general manager of the company.

A call to Olcott’s phone Thursday, Nov. 15, was answered by a message stating her voice mail was full.

“There are no officers of the corporation that have federal firearms convictions,” states Cheuvront’s letter. “These comments paint the corporation in a false light in that it infers that the corporation has convicted felons running the guns shows.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties is backing NeverAgainCA.

“Your letter … is a baseless attempt to intimidate Never Again from exercising rights protected by the First Amendment,” states a response written this week by ACLU Legal Director David Loy.

“Any litigation you initiate based on the claims made in your letter would expose Crossroads to a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute and payment of costs and attorney fees incurred in litigating such a motion,” Loy states.

“Please refrain from filing any such meritless action,” Loy states.

Earlier this year, the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors asked the state Department of Justice to investigate the Templetons based on their past convictions and Bob Templeton’s continued involvement with the show. The Department of Justice has declined repeated requests to acknowledge or comment on any investigation.

The fairgrounds will host one final Crossroads show in December under a contract signed early in the year.

Thousands of people attend each gun show. Members of the San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee, have lobbied hard for the fairgrounds to continue the show.

The fairgrounds directors have asked employees to develop a policy that would allow informational gun shows but prohibit the sales or presence of firearms or ammunition at the fairgrounds.

So far, the fairgrounds has received no similar letter from Crossroads, fairgrounds communications officer Annie Pierce said Thursday.

Crossroads has held the weekend gun show five times annually for almost 30 years at Del Mar. It also holds the shows in other cities throughout California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

-- Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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