The line began to form Saturday, March 17, well before the 9 a.m. opening of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, despite the morning rain that left huge swaths of the parking lot a virtual lake.
Gun buyers, weapons enthusiasts, young, old, families, parents with children in strollers — all walked past the National Rifle Association table, past the firearms check table, and into a sprawling display in the fairgrounds’ O’Brien Hall.
Just across the huge parking lot and up the street at the corner of Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard, another group formed their own line. Clad in bright orange T-shirts, they carried signs denouncing the show, signs against gun violence and signs with the name of each of the 17 people killed in the latest eruption of mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., last month.
It was a scene that captured the national division over guns — and one that has played out before at the fairgrounds, where protesters want the governing board of the facility to stop holding the event, one of the biggest gun shows around.
This year the gun show and protest had added urgency because of the fallout in the weeks after the Parkland massacre, with renewed calls for more stringent gun control on the federal level. Rose Ann Sharp, a Del Mar resident and protest organizer, said that this year there is something different in the aftermath of another mass shooting.
“What’s different this time is the students are telling the adults, ‘You have not done enough,’” she said. “Sometimes as adults we get so wrapped up in the law, and what is politically correct, and these kids are instead saying, ‘Where is the morality?’”
Throughout the two-hour long demonstration the protesters were greeted with frequent honks of support from passing motorists. In all about 80 protesters gathered, a number less than Sharp hoped for and which she attributed in part to the rainy weather.
The number of protesters was far outweighed by the number of people who would attend the show. Gun show owner Bob Templeton said he expected between 8,000 and 10,000 people to plunk down the $16 for a ticket to attend.
That’s slightly more than in previous years, Templeton said, attributing it to the roiling debate in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
“It’s a little stronger crowd than we usually get,” he said. “It seems like every time guns are in the news and there is the threat of more legislation, people come out in bigger numbers.”
Gun purchases at gun shows in California require the buyer to go through a mandatory background check and a 10-day waiting period, same as if they were buying the weapon at a store.
Templeton was aware of the protest and the efforts to pressure the fairground board to halt the shows but did not seem bothered by it. “I think people who would like to end the shows are beating that drum because they disagree with our Second Amendment rights,” he said. “I think if the people came into the shows they would feel differently about it.”
Inside the show thousands milled about tables selling everything from long guns, holsters, knives, ammunition, Tasers and other weapons, as well as jewelry, clothing and used books. Several vendors were selling paper shooting targets with a picture of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the bullseye directly in his forehead.
The show ended Sunday, March 18, at 5 p.m.
--Greg Moran is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune