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Latest gun show could be fairground’s last

DEL MAR — Although the future of gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is still up in the air, attendees and vendors lamented a Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 event as the last of its kind at the venue.

The gun show hosted about 200 vendors selling largely guns, gun parts or gun-related items. Utah-based Crossroads of the West Gun Shows has hosted the event five times a year since 1988. They operate five other gun shows in the state.

In September, the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directions voted 8-1 to suspend gun show contracts for the duration of 2019, until they can come up with a viable solution that may involve holding gun shows for solely educative and safety training purposes.

The weekend event drew just under 6,000 people from across the county, varying in age from young children to seniors.

AR-15s and various semi-automatic assault rifle parts were on sale at the Del Mar Fairgrounds gun show. Photo by Lexy Brodt

Don Groh, who sells hand-crafted knives at several gun shows in the country, has been bringing his inventory to the Del Mar Fairgrounds event for about 20 years. He works for a family-owned company called Anza Knives, which is based out of El Cajon.

“This is kind of a sad day for me,” Groh said, comparing the other vendors to family. “It’s hard for me to talk about it.”

Local anti-gun advocates have been protesting the events for years, particularly as national concerns over gun violence continue to escalate. The shows drew increased ire after a Del Mar-based activist group aimed at ending gun violence, called NeverAgainCA, found an article detailing prior felony charges against Crossroads owner Bob Templeton. After the 22nd DAA board was informed of the allegations, it announced the undertaking of an investigation of Templeton with the Department of Justice.

NeverAgainCA has actively opposed the gun show since the group’s formation in early 2018, frequently speaking to the 22nd DAA board of directors at monthly meetings. Local students wearing NeverAgainCA T-shirts stood outside the fairgrounds in June, holding a banner reading “Make Our Fairgrounds Gun Free — Stop the Gun Shows Here.”

Public officials in neighboring communities — Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas — have also spoken out against the gun shows. For groups like NeverAgainCA, one of the biggest issues at stake is whether guns belong on state-owned property.

Jim Brown, a Vietnam War veteran who has spoken at several 22nd DAA board meetings, finds some the items sold at the event to be “very inappropriate for the general public.”

After having used an assault rifle in combat, he is particularly concerned with the semi-automatic assault rifles on sale, such as AR-15s.

“I think the assault rifles are killing weapons, they’re not designed for wholesome gun ownership or gun use,” Brown said.

Although local voices have made an impact on the 22nd DAA board, they seem to have had little effect on the enthusiasm of gun show attendees — many of whom came to show their support for the event in light of its possible dissolution.

Keith Mila, a former San Diego resident who now lives in Menifee, has attended almost every Del Mar Fairgrounds gun show for seven years, and is interested in the older rifles on sale that can’t be found at a typical gun shop.

“It’s worth the drive,” Mila said.

Mila lamented the show’s suspension, which he attributes to a general fear of guns.

“It’s a shame that people are so scared,” he said.

Although many came to simply check out the event for what could be its last iteration, others came to purchase ammunition in anticipation of various regulations that will go into place in 2019 under Proposition 63 — including a regulation requiring ammunition vendors to conduct a background check to verify a purchaser’s eligibility.

A representative with Surefire Manufacturing, an ammunition store out of San Fernando, said that he had a nonstop line of people for five hours on Dec. 8 — the first day of the event.

“I’m almost sold out,” he said, estimating that he came to the event with 200,000 rounds, and as of midday Sunday, had about 10,000.

Many attendees lined up for background checks at booths such as Ammo Brothers, where people can “shop” for guns but cannot leave the event with a firearm. Attendees must wait 10 days for the background check to be processed, at which time they can pick up their purchased firearm at the company’s shop.

Crossroads President Tracy Olcott said undercover Department of Justice officers are present at the event to ensure compliance with state law, and Crossroads hires its own law enforcement officers to monitor the event.

However, at a Dec. 11 22nd DAA Board meeting two days after the event, Director Frederick Schenk commented on the lack of law enforcement personnel he and Director Lee Haydu observed within the event hall when they attended the gun show — though they saw numerous officers outside the hall.

Schenk, who is chair of the ad hoc committee tasked with approaching the board’s new gun show policy, also expressed dismay with some of the items he saw on sale.

“It’s kind of surprising and disappointing to learn about some of the products that were available to be taken off the property,” Schenk said.

The majority of the booths sell either guns, ammunition, gun parts or gun-related products, such as targets or instructional books. However, other items on sale run the gamut from swords, axes and knives to clothing, jewelry, rare coins, pens and crystal balls. Several booths featured “Trump 2020” T-shirts and Make America Great Again hats.

Ediz Mor, who sells beef jerky, popcorn and art at similar events across the Western United States, said he decided to showcase his products at this event after hearing about the board’s decision.

“A lot of people do this as a living,” he said. “Ninety percent (of the gun show) is not guns.”

Olcott said the company is starting to look at other options in the San Diego area.

Although the board expects to hear a new proposed policy by December 2019, Olcott said Crossroads is unsure about the outcome, and referred to this gun show as “the last one” at the
Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“We don’t know what they’ll do,” she said.

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