The Crossroads of the West gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds / Image courtesy of NBC San Diego

San Diego progressives have long wanted to abolish gun shows on public property. With a new governor, their years of activism may finally pay off.

Assembly members Todd Gloria and Tasha Boerner Horvath are carrying a bill that would prohibit gun sales at the Del Mar Fairground beginning in 2021. Gloria told the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which advanced the bill this week, that he wanted “to offer more than thoughts and prayers. We are here for action.”

He and others made the case that California shouldn’t be in the business of promoting firearms for profit — gun buyers have plenty of other options.

“A gun show on a state-owned property is overkill — literally,” said Rose Ann Sharp, founder of Never Again CA, a gun control group based in Del Mar. “The presence of gun shows at the fairgrounds normalizes their use. It says guns are OK here.”

Gloria also pointed to studies showing that gun shows are a source of illegally trafficked firearms.

Naturally, the folks who run Crossroads of the West on the Del Mar Fairgrounds dispute the implication that they’re making the world a more violent place or breaking any laws.

At this week’s public safety hearing, Kathy Lynch, a representative for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other pro-gun groups, argued that gun shows like the one in Del Mar help keep firearm transactions from going underground. The shows also comply with state and federal firearm regulations, including wait times, she said.

Still, some local officials have long considered the gun show to be an inappropriate use of public property and they’ve pressured the state board overseeing the fairgrounds.

Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden described the gun show as “a festering sore in our community for decades, driven by the irony that the Del Mar Fairgrounds is in our city, but it’s state-owned property run by a state agency, so we don’t have much regulatory control.”

The cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas are all supporters of AB 893.

The tide changed when Never Again CA, according to the Union-Tribune, uncovered evidence that the patriarch of the family that operates the gun show had a past felony firearms conviction and avoided legal conflicts by ceding responsibility for the event to his daughter.

After protesters began gathering outside Crossroads of the West last year, California’s 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the Del Mar Fairgrounds, voted 8-1 to suspend the contract with the event show for 2019. That decision led to a constitutional challenge that is still pending in the courts.

Similar attempts to ban gun sales on state-owned property in the Bay Area have been vetoed by previous governors, including Jerry Brown, as recently as October. His successor, Gavin Newsom, is not likely to do the same.

“Permitting the sale of firearms and ammunition on state-owned property only perpetuates America’s gun culture at a time when 73 percent of Californians support gun reform measures,” Newsom wrote to the fairgrounds while he was lieutenant governor.

As the state’s top executive, Newsom appoints the members of the agricultural association board to four-year terms and has been using that power to reshape government in his image, according to the Los Angeles Times. In October, several weeks after he cast the lone no-vote on the gun show contract, Russ Penniman, a retired rear admiral, lost his spot. Newsom replaced Penniman but kept two other board members alone.

Several board members, according to the U-T, cited concerns about large quantities of ammunition being sold by the wagon and about kits allowing people to make their own potentially illegal weapons. Penniman acknowledged that the Crossroads of the West had “some issues,” but told his colleagues that the show should be allowed to continue while addressing the problems.

Penniman didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did the governor’s office.

Still, some local officials saw Penniman’s departure as punishment for his gun show vote.

“You don’t take a shot at the king and miss,” Worden said.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.