Gun shows dodge bullet at Del Mar Fairgrounds board meeting

By Joe Tash

A Del Mar woman’s grass-roots bid to end future gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds prompted hundreds to sign an online petition, but appeared to miss hitting a bulls-eye with the appointed board that oversees the state-owned fairgrounds.

Rosanne Holliday generated enthusiasm and media attention when she posted a sign in her front yard urging an end to gun shows at the fairgrounds, following last month’s deadly rampage by a lone gunman at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

At the Jan. 8 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, Holliday and several other Del Mar residents asked the board not to approve any future contracts to hold gun shows at the fairgrounds. However, speakers in favor of the gun show ban were outnumbered about 2-1 by speakers in favor of continuing the shows.

And following the comments by member of the public, the board showed little inclination to put a stop to the gun shows.

Board president Adam Day said any board member can request consideration of a gun show ban on an upcoming board agenda, but so far he has received no such requests from fellow board members. Day said he does not intend to bring the matter forward for discussion, so the 22nd DAA will continue with its current practice of hosting four events each year, which generate $324,000 in annual income for the fairgrounds.

“California has the most stringent gun-control laws in the nation. These shows are heavily regulated,” said Day. He said he has spoken to law enforcement officials who believe that gun shows held on public property are likely safer than those held in private venues, in part because of a strong presence by uniformed and undercover officers to ensure compliance with local, state and federal gun laws.

The fairgrounds has a contract with Crossroads of the West, a family owned company which has held gun shows on the property for 22 years. The current contract runs for three more years, officials said.

Those in favor of prohibiting gun shows at the fairgrounds said they find the events – and their advertising, such as billboards – offensive, and also questioned whether a family- oriented venue such as the fairgrounds is an appropriate place to hold them.

“I see gun violence as a society-wide problem and glorification of guns is one important aspect of that problem,” said Del Mar resident Bud Emerson.

Banning the gun shows at the fairgrounds, said Emerson, would be “a small but important step at the local level to address the problem of gun violence.”

But supporters of the gun shows spoke with equal passion.

“I’m here to defend my God-given rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Thomas Stephan of Ramona. The Del Mar gun show is the best in the region, he said. “It’s where law-abiding citizens go to shop for the tools they need to defend themselves from the bad guys.”

The speakers included state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-East County, who urged the board to continue to allow gun shows to be held at the fairgrounds.

Bob Templeton, owner of Crossroads of the West, said additional gun restrictions aren’t needed in California, because the state already bans the sale of assault rifles and large capacity magazines such as the ones used by the Connecticut shooter. In addition, the state requires a 10-day waiting period and a background check for any gun purchase, whether at a gun show or a store. Private individuals must sell firearms through a licensed dealer.

Templeton said the rules are strictly enforced by law enforcement officials who attend the gun shows.

“There are no illegal activities that take place at any gun show,” he said.

Holliday said she was not discouraged by the 22nd DAA board’s response to her petition, which was signed by 750 people within the first 36 hours of its posting online. She said proponents of the gun show ban will continue to speak out and write to their elected representatives.

“I’m very encouraged. It’s really snowballed,” she said. “The response in such a short time was more than any of us could have imagined.”