DEL MAR — One month after the shooting at a Florida high school took the lives of 17 people, North County residents were again trying to ban gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Anticipating a larger-than-normal crowd based on emails, phone messages and comments on social media, the 22nd District Agricultural Association moved its March 13 meeting to a bigger onsite venue.
But of the approximately 40 people who gathered in Surfside Race Place, only 10 addressed the gun shows, and just one opposed them.
“We are asking that you reconsider hosting a gun show at the fairgrounds,” 15-year-old Ash Langan said. “In light of the violence in our society today, and the inaction of our government, I feel that the youth of America are going to have to be the catalyst for change.
“Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, there have been many companies stepping up and making changes simply because they feel that it’s right,” she added. “I ask you to join their ranks and make a statement that this community will not stand for a symbol of violence, that we will not let the almighty dollar control us, that we will be putting the safety of our children before anything else.
“I hope you will take what I’ve said to heart and consider the safety of us like you would your own children,” she said.
It’s at least the third time in five years community members urged the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds, to stop hosting the shows at the state-owned facility.
After the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 first-graders and six adults dead, a Del Mar resident put a handmade sign in front of her house that read, “Stop Del Mar Gun Show and Sale.”
More than 1,300 people signed a petition supporting the request. The following month, the fair board meeting was moved to a bigger venue to accommodate an expected overflow crowd but only about 15 people — five opposing the gun shows — addressed the board during public comment.
Because the topic wasn’t on the posted agenda, board members couldn’t take action on or discuss the issue. The board president at the time said he would add it to a future agenda if one of his colleagues asked him to do so. None did.
In November 2016, with several new members, the board did discuss the annual gun shows but none of the directors sought to end them.
Crossroads of the West has been hosting several annual gun shows at the fairgrounds for about 30 years. The company paid approximately $105,000 in facility rental fees for six shows last year.
Parking revenue and other miscellaneous funds also go to the fairgrounds.
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, some in uniform, 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, show multiple proofs of residency, pass a gun safety test, purchase a gun lock and demonstrate safe handling procedures. Because there is a 10-day wait period, no actual transfers of firearms occur at a gun show.
“We’re sane, trained, law-abiding citizens of California and we’re determined to do the right thing (and) work within the system,” said Michael Schwartz, executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners.
“We cannot allow the censoring of a lawful activity just because a small number of people oppose it,” John Dillon said. “There’s a simple solution for those who do not like the gun show. Do not attend.”
Michael Johnson said gun show opponents are “pushing an agenda that’s based on misinformation, fear and outright bigotry toward anyone who does not agree with their nonsense that they call common.”
“They use talking points based on self-serving polls and research that has practically no basis in scientific method,” added Johnson, executive director of SDMust, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, represents people who “believe it is their right to be free from the tyranny and unjust regulation of responsible law-abiding citizens.”
John Ellis said the shooting in Florida was not the failure of the gun show, gun shops or gun owners.
“It was a complete failure of the system that he obtained that firearm,” he said. “And now people want the gun owners, gun shops, gun owners to pay the price for someone else’s mistake. And this just isn’t fair.”
Because the topic was not on the posted agenda, board members again could not comment and no board member asked that it be discussed at a future meeting.
But efforts to end the shows did not stop there. The following night, at the Solana Beach City Council meeting, residents asked their elected officials to take a stand.
“Add your voice to reasonable gun laws here in California and nationwide,” Kelly Harless said. “Speak out and stop that gun show from occurring every year here in our backyard. I don’t want it here.”
Three days later about 100 people gathered outside the fairgrounds to protest the gun show that was occurring there over the weekend.
Fair board President Stephen Shewmaker said he attended the rally as an observer for about five minutes.
“I then visited the show itself, as I’d never been before, just to get a sense of it all,” he said. “The rally was very peaceful, as was the show itself.”
On March 19, Del Mar City Council members adopted a resolution addressing gun regulations and safety. As part of the action they are asking the 22nd DAA to discontinue the shows.
“It does not reflect our community values and we want them to stop it,” Mayor Dwight Worden said. “If you want to have a gun and use it for hunting, fine. If you want to have a gun and use it for self-protection at home, fine. You want an AR-15 with an extended magazine, I’m sorry, but no.”
In response to prohibiting a legal activity such as a gun show on public property, Worden cited pornography and smoking, saying residents would protest shows for those activities.
“Not everything that is legal is a good idea,” he said.
Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said if the 22nd DAA doesn’t eliminate the shows, the city should work toward reducing their frequency or increasing the age of entry to 21.
“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” she said. “I think we should continue to try to make progress, with the goal eventually to have them gone from the fairgrounds.
“If we’re told no then let’s continue to push for anything we can do to try to reduce the exposure of these gun shows to children,” she added.
The resolution also includes asking for support from state legislators.