A group of San Diego gun owners, worried that the Del Mar Fairgrounds might not renew its controversial gun shows, issued a challenge Friday, July 13, to anyone who can prove illegal sales have taken place there.
The San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee with more than 1,000 members, offered to donate $10,000 to a favorite charity of anyone who can prove someone at the shows has violated state laws requiring background checks, a 10-day waiting period or prohibiting the sale of automatic weapons.
Opponents of the show said the challenge is a stunt.
“We believe that (Gun Owners Executive Director Michael) Schwartz’s $10,000 challenge is a disingenuous, fundraising scam,” said Rose Ann Sharp, a Del Mar resident and organizer of the group NeverAgainCa.
“Schwartz knows that none of the allegations he claims to refute was ever made and therefore no reward will ever be won,” Sharp said in an emailed response to questions. “Instead, like the NRA, he is trying to incite his membership to donate out of fear and anger to this faux challenge.”
Asked about the allegations July 13, Schwartz said opponents of the shows have made the claims about lawbreaking often since the shows began almost 30 years ago, but he gave no specific examples.
A nationwide string of recent mass shootings at schools, nightclubs and public events has rekindled opposition to the shows. Crossroads of the West hosts five two-day gun shows annually at the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds, including one this weekend, and at dozens of other large public venues in states across the Southwest.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which oversees activities at the fairgrounds, has said it will discuss the gun show contracts for next year at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Crossroads has signed contracts through the end of this year. However. Schwartz said the board already has added new restrictions, and he fears that the contracts might not be renewed for next year.
The show scheduled Saturday, July 14, and Sunday,July 15, at the fairgrounds will have metal detectors at the entrances for the first time, an inconvenience Schwartz said could prevent some people from attending.
He’s also expressed concerns that the board might add age restrictions or other new conditions for attendance. Presently, children ages 12 and younger are admitted free with a guardian.
He initially planned to hold a news conference at the fairgrounds to announce the $10,000 challenge, Schwartz said. However, he said fairgrounds officials refused the request.
Fairgrounds general manager Tim Fennell said July 13 there would have been no reason to deny the request, even though this is a busy time at the fairgrounds, if Schwartz had followed the procedures required to schedule an event there. But he did not.
“We do, however, think that offering a $10K bounty to attempt to successfully purchase an assault rifle, and thereby break the law, is ill advised and continues to polarize people on both sides of the debate,” Fennell said in an email.
Fennell said that the decision to add metal detectors was made in consultation with the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Justice to make the show “as safe as possible,” and that the costs will be split between the fairgrounds and the show’s producers.
Instead, he scheduled the media event at a gun shop called Gunfire Tactical on Miramar Road.
The store’s website emphasizes the position of its owners as “gun enthusiasts and raging 2nd Amendment supporters.”
“We feel that selling guns is not a business, but a calling,” states the Gunfire Tactical website. “This is not just a business for us. This is religion.”
About a dozen gun rights supporters stood with Schwartz at his news conference. One, San Diego resident Sheri Graham, spoke to reporters about the pleasure her family gets from recreational shooting.
“I am 100 percent against gun violence, and fully understand that banning the gun show will not stop bad people,” Graham said. “It’s a safe and informative family environment.”
Members of the group NeverAgainCa, which is leading the Del Mar protests, alleged the shows should be shut down because the patriarch of the company, Robert (Bob) Templeton, and his son, Jeff, both have firearms violations. Bob Templeton has said the shows are legal because they are run by his daughter, Tracy Olcott.
“I grew up attending gun shows, and have worked full-time for Crossroads of the West for 22 years,” Olcott said by email July 13.
“Gun shows provide a legal forum for families, professionals and regular folks like you and me to gather and transact business related to shooting sports, hunting, gun safety and training and other gun-related activities,” Orcutt said.
A few vocal opponents are trying to restrict the legal rights of gun owners, she said.
--Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune