Prohibited by state meeting laws to respond to three hours of public comment about gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the board of directors that governs the state-owned facility agreed to discuss the topic Sept. 4.
Director Lee Haydu, who made the request at the April 24 meeting, said the dialogue should include event income and expenses and possibly the creation of a policy for the shows, which are held about four times annually at the fairgrounds.
Director David Watson was skeptical the board could legally restrict, limit or stop the shows.
He asked how the fairgrounds could devise a policy consistent with California Department of Food and Agriculture codes, which state district agricultural associations are to hold “fairs, expositions and exhibitions for the purpose of exhibiting all of the industries and industrial enterprises, resources and products of every kind or nature of the state with a view toward improving, exploiting, encouraging, and stimulating them.”
“I would like to know how we can have a policy that would possibly restrict or limit gun shows consistent with that statutory mandate,” said Watson, who asked for an analysis regarding the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly implicated by the gun shows.
“I would also like an analysis of the current state of litigation regarding gun shows in … California,” he added. “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 (National Rifle Association) wins.”
He referenced a case, cited by speaker Alice McNally, in which Los Angeles County banned gun shows but paid millions of dollars in attorney fees as a result.
Watson said he would also like to know whether an agricultural district can impose restrictions that exceed state law requirements for gun shows, such as limiting their frequency or increasing the age limit for attendees, as some have requested.
“In addition to written analysis from our own staff, I would invite written analysis and comments from anyone and any attorneys representing parties for or against the gun shows so that we have a thorough discussion at our September meeting,” he added.
Additionally, his colleagues said they want to know if other agricultural districts and public fairgrounds have set restrictions on the events and, if so, what the results were.
Approximately 200 people attended the April meeting, which was moved to Surfside Race Place to accommodate the anticipated large crowd.
Because the topic wasn’t on the posted agenda, directors could only sit and listen as 57 people urged them to continue the events and 20 asked that they be stopped.
About 75 attendees wore orange T-Shirts to show support for NeverAgainCA, a local organization created after a Florida high school shooting in February took the lives of 17 people.
The group’s goals include ending gun violence and the Crossroads of the West gun shows that have been held at the fairgrounds since 1988.
Event opponents, some of them local students, said the event doesn’t reflect the values of the nearby communities, including Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas, which recently adopted resolutions seeking to ban the shows.
“It is not in the best interest of student safety to have guns sold in our backyard,” said Vicki King, a member of the Solana Beach school board.
“I’m confused why, with everything that’s happening in our country — school shootings for a major example — why you’re hosting something that is down the road from multiple different schools that has to do with guns,” said student Oliver Wheatley. “We go through lockdown drills … if someone does come on campus with a weapon.
“And it’s not something that I want to be growing up doing,” he added.
“I don’t feel comfortable having this gun show down the street from me,” 14-year-old Robbie Glatts said. “Having gun shows at the same place I go to the fair just doesn’t make sense.”
“How sweet it would be if the board got on the right side of this issue,” Solana Beach resident Kelly Harless said.
Proponents said show attendees are law-abiding citizens and efforts to stop the events are “misguided and misinformed.” Several speakers said they have attended the shows for years and never bought a firearm there. They did, however, purchase a variety of other items, from security equipment to sandals.
They also said the shows provide education and an opportunity for like-minded people to gather.
Jon Wickham said if the goal is to lower the death rate, the fairgrounds should stop holding events such as the fair and horse races that sell fried food and liquor that can contribute to obesity and alcoholism.
“How many shows are you willing to shut down because their items are involved in homicides?” asked Dalton Edge, who listed car, fishing, hunting and antique events as examples.
The meeting was at least the fourth in five years during which community members have spoken about the gun shows. There was a similar effort to stop them after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
In November 2016, the board discussed the shows but none of the directors sought to end them.
The event prohibits the sale of assault weapons and hyper-fast magazine devices like those used in Florida, Connecticut and at a movie theater in Colorado in 2012.
Law enforcement officers are on-site to monitor the crowd for parole violators, suspicious activity and people not authorized to buy guns. They also roam the parking lot to ensure illegal transactions don’t take place there.
Anyone buying a firearm must go through a background check and wait 10 days before picking the gun up at an authorized dealer because state law prohibits actual transfers of firearms from occurring at a gun show.
In addition to the 77 speakers, the fairgrounds received 93 phone calls, with all but one urging board members to continue the shows.