Fair board to review gun show policies in September

The state agency that runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds will for the first time publicly debate—and possibly vote on—the future of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show this September.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association’s board of directors unanimously approved the move on April 24 after nearly four hours of impassioned, sometimes combative testimony at the DAA’s monthly meeting as activists made their case for protecting or banning Crossroads, which has been held at the fairgrounds several times a year since 1988. Its upcoming show at the fairgrounds takes place May 19 and 20.

Director Lee Haydu made the motion to put the gun show on the DAA’s September agenda in order to discuss the Crossroads contract, as well as pore through attendance and sales figures and consider a broader policy on gun shows.

Director David Watson seconded Haydu’s motion and further requested that DAA staff prepare a memo on how a policy to restrict gun shows could be consistent with the DAA’s state mandate to promote “products of every kind or nature of the state.” Watson also wants staff to answer whether the DAA can impose restrictions that go beyond state laws for gun shows, such as limiting the number of shows per year or imposing a different age limit. He also asked for an analysis of First Amendment rights regarding speech and assembly, as well as the legal fallout seen when gun shows have been banned elsewhere.

“If you do any internet search for litigation you will see that every time there’s been an attempt to limit or ban a gun show, it’s been immediately followed by litigation, most of which the NRA wins,” he said, pointing to multi-million-dollar settlements Los Angeles County paid out after enacting an ordinance in 1999 that banned the sale of guns and ammunition on county property.

Throughout Crossroads’ 30-year-history, surges of protest have followed mass shootings—for example, in 1999 after Columbine and in 2013 after Sandy Hook—but activists were never able to get the DAA to address the gun show in public. The DAA last discussed the gun show at its November 2016 meeting, but only as an informational item. Testimony was heard and the board took no action. This week’s motion made clear that the September discussion will be both an information item and action item, allowing the board to take a binding vote.

“The fact that this has been requested to be on the agenda should not be interpreted as the board or me or anyone else feeling one way or the other,” Watson said. “It has to be on the agenda as an information-action item for us to properly and thoroughly discuss it.”

By the time the board scheduled the September hearing, nearly all of the 200-plus gun owners and protesters who had poured into Surfside Race Place had long since left.

Spurred by the Parkland, Fla. shooting in February, students and activists mobilized into NeverAgainCA.org and helped compel the city councils of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas to enact broad but largely symbolic resolutions calling for tighter gun controls and a ban on gun shows at the fairgrounds.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom weighed in the day before the April 24 hearing, urging the DAA to enact a ban. Newsom, who is running for governor, pushed for a similar ban in Daly City—site of the Cow Palace arena—when he served as San Francisco’s mayor. Meanwhile, Assm. Todd Gloria tweeted that he was prepared to introduce legislation that would ban gun shows in Del Mar.

“People can get their guns. Stopping the gun show is not going to stop their ability to get guns,” said Del Mar resident Ira Sharp, one of several dozen orange-clad activists. “The use of a state-owned facility to glorify guns, that’s what we’re after.”

The abundance of orange, however, was vastly outnumbered by gun owners and Crossroads supporters, whose testimonies made repeated reference to the revolutionary spirit and accused protesters of using children as “shields” behind which to hide an anti-gun agenda. Several suggested that the protesters’ energy would be better spent railing against the far more harmful impacts of the alcohol and fried, sugary foods served at the county fair.

“Those who attempt to end the gun show are really attempting to suppress the civil rights of a major segment of the population of San Diego County,” said Crossroads owner Bob Templeton. “This fairgrounds serves not just the residents of Del Mar and Solana Beach, but it serves the entire population of San Diego County, and indeed a larger segment of the population throughout Southern California. The gun show itself is a protected First Amendment activity, we believe.”

Michael Schwartz, executive director of the political group San Diego County Gun Owners, said such efforts “are no different than” Jim Crow laws, school segregation and the jailing of members of the LGBT community.

He urged the board to resist "efforts to bully you into a position of intolerance and bigotry against the hundreds of thousands law-abiding gun owners here in San Diego."

"This is the beginning of a path of intolerance that I hope you reject," he said. "And the folks that showed up here today, this is the tip of the iceberg. We're going to make sure we're going to spend the summer being heard. We're going to make sure that you get the phone calls, you get the emails, you get the letters. Because it seems dangerously close to you guys making a decision that I don't think history will look kindly at.”

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