DEL MAR — Efforts to stop gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds seem to have, for lack of a better word, backfired, as the first of five such events scheduled at the facility this year drew record crowds March 9 and March 10. Between 15,000 and 16,000 people attended the two-day event, the most ever at the fairgrounds, said Robert Templeton, owner of Crossroads of the West, which has been producing shows at the venue for 22 years.On day one, about a dozen cars were lined up outside the fairgrounds at 4:15 a.m., and more than 5,000 people were in line before the doors opened at 9 a.m.The $12 ticket to enter the event could be prepurchased, eliminating one line for attendees. Those who didn’t plan ahead had to wait in one long queue to buy tickets and another to get in.
“It’s not worth the wait,” Art Tobiason III said to people as he and his father were on their way out.
The Tobiasons, who live in Ramona, said they have come to the show nearly every year for the past two decades. They waited about two hours to get in and spent around 90 minutes checking out the event.
“It seems like it’s a lot smaller,” they said. “There’s more people and less product.”
While it’s true the crowds were larger, the venue was actually expanded. Anticipating a good turnout based on other recent shows, the event was, for the first time, held in both O’Brien and Bing Crosby halls.
Two tents were also set up in the parking area between the two buildings, accommodating about 8,000 people at a time.
Wait times didn’t seem to deter anyone. At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, the lines still hadn’t let up, with less than three hours remaining before the show closed for the day.
Most people were there to buy ammunition, which has been in short supply since the federal government began talking about adopting stricter gun laws.
That conversation was sparked by a Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which Adam Lanza gunned down 20 students, six staff members, his mother and himself.
Shortly after the tragedy, Del Mar resident Rosanne Holliday put a handmade sign in front of her house that read, “Stop Del Mar Gun Show and Sale.” A resulting petition garnered about 1,300 signatures seeking to do just that.
On Jan. 14, Del Mar City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the fairgrounds, to not renew its contract with Crossroads of the West and eliminate the city name in any advertising associated with the events.
Speakers on both sides of the issue have addressed the 22nd DAA board during its meetings over the past few months. Board President Adam Day said he would add the topic to a future meeting agenda at the request of one of his colleagues, but no one has asked.
Not everyone at the gun show was there to make a purchase. Poway resident Sean Schuster said he brought his two young sons for the “historical significance.”
“We went to a gun show in Orange County and saw muskets, guns from World War I, World War II,” said Schuster, who doesn’t own a gun. “It was interesting to see the progress in technology. Guns are part of our history. They’ve been an important part of our culture.”
Linda Zweig, fairgrounds spokeswoman, said the show also featured items such as plates, jewelry and clothing.
“It’s not just about guns,” she said.
Despite the large crowds and long waits, no problems were reported either day.
“There weren’t any protesters, but we didn’t expect any,” she said. “And I didn’t get any negative calls or emails.”
Besides the annual fair, horse races and horse show, the gun show is one of the largest events held at the fairgrounds, Zweig said.
During the last two Crossroads of the West shows in 2012, attendance was 8,000 and 12,000. The show is scheduled to return to the fairgrounds May 18 and 19.
Templeton said he is working to manage the crowds a little better for future shows, perhaps by splitting up the ammunition stands.
“It’s difficult because the demand exceeds the supply right now,” he said.