Judge approves settlement reached by Del Mar Fairgrounds and gun show operator

Alice McNally, right, Jane Stro, second from right, and Jill Cooper wave as motorists pass by outside the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in December.

Crossroads awarded more than $500,000, right to continue events this year

A settlement filed Thursday, April 30, in federal court of the lawsuit by Crossroads of the West Gun Shows against the Del Mar Fairgrounds awards the event’s owners more than $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs, and allows the shows to continue the rest of this year.

However, the shows planned for March and May have been canceled because of the precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it’s unclear when any such large gatherings might resume. Also, a new state law effective in 2021 bans the sales of firearms and ammunition at the fairgrounds.

“We are a little disappointed that with COVID-19 we have limited time,” said Tracy Olcott, president of Crossroads of the West and its owner, B&L Productions. “Our victory is not worth much right now because we can’t even do shows.”

The financial award will enable the company to continue its legal fight to overturn the legislation that takes effect next year, she said.

“It’s not over,” Olcott said. “We’ve been in Del Mar for 30 years. Someone else’s personal preferences should not take precedence over our Second Amendment rights.”

The state-owned fairgrounds is run by the 22nd District Agricultural Association and its nine-member board of directors appointed by the governor.

“The settlement maintains the status quo at the fairgrounds regarding gun shows through the end of the year,” board President Richard Valdez said by email Thursday, April 30.

Until last year, Crossroads held five gun shows annually at Del Mar, and a total of more than 60 shows each year across Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. The Del Mar shows attracted thousands of visitors each day of the weekend event.

Opposition to the Del Mar gun shows has surfaced occasionally over the years, but grew stronger with the formation of the locally based group NeverAgainCA after the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February 2018.

As a result of the increasing public pressure, the fair board voted Sept. 11, 2018, to suspend the Crossroads shows Jan. 1, 2019, until the board could approve a policy written by staff members that would prohibit the sale or possession of firearms and ammunition on the fairgrounds.

Crossroads filed a lawsuit to overturn the board’s suspension, and last June federal Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo in San Diego granted an injunction that allowed the shows to continue, stating that the gun show owner was “likely to suffer irreparable harm” without the events.

On a separate front, state Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 893 that was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year to prohibit the sale of guns and ammunition at the state-owned fairgrounds.

“Residents in the communities around the Del Mar Fairgrounds ... have stated unequivocally that they do not want guns or ammunition sold on this public, state-owned property,” Gloria said in a news release at the time.

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