Crossroads of the West Gun Show returned to the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Sept. 28-29. / Photo by Jesse Marx

The Crossroads of the West Gun Show returned to Del Mar last weekend with a rally, emboldened by a recent victory in court.

The state-appointed board that oversees the fairgrounds suspended Crossroads last year after receiving political pressure from residents and officials. The organizers sued, and a federal judge ruled in June that the gun show could continue to operate while the lawsuit proceeded — because Crossroads was likely to win its constitutional case.

During the celebration Saturday, Crossroads supporters and their politician pals took aim at gun control activists who’ve hounded the event for years.

“They don’t respect your rights, they want to shame you into choosing not to own a gun and they want others to condemn you for choosing to own the most effective self-defense tool there is,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, according to the Union-Tribune.

Any day now, Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a bill banning gun shows on the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Folks who attended Crossroads this weekend referred to it simply as “the Gloria bill” because it was written by San Diego Assemblyman Todd Gloria. Assemblywomen Tasha Boerner Horvath and Lorena Gonzalez later signed on as co-authors.

Tracy Olcott, a Utah resident and the president of Crossroads, told me that she and her allies will pursue every legal avenue, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, to keep the shows going.

I decided to skip the political theater Saturday and go see the controversy for myself Sunday, when things were quieter. Yes, it is a marketplace for firearms, but it is also a middle finger to progressive politics.

Right away, I counted four booths selling instructions and the necessary parts to assembly an AR-15 — the same military-style weapon used to kill a woman and wound others inside Chabad of Poway Synagogue in April. It’s a controversial gun in the wider world but it’s quite popular at Crossroads. The chief executive of Colt, a gun manufacturer, announced last month that it would suspend production of AR-15 rifles for consumers because the market already has an “adequate supply.”

In Del Mar, one vendor boasted that you could make your own AR-15 for under $500. Another vendor was selling gold-colored hand guards with “Trump” cut into the side.

Crossroads is undoubtedly a partisan event. There’s no political test to get through the door, of course, but several vendors were selling “Keep America Great” memorabilia. There was a signature drive to recall Newsom. There were stickers comparing California to the Soviet Union and T-shirts comparing liberals to apes. I spotted a sign in the corner of one tent listing the names of major Democratic Party figures — almost all Jews.

Will Howarth, a T-shirt seller from Phoenix, told me that an event like Crossroads is intended to counter the “pro-socialist, anti-gun” messaging that filters into the mainstream through the media. We got to talking about gun policy and he said he’s fine with stronger background checks — he’s just not convinced it’ll stop the mentally unstable from getting their hands on a weapon and doing harm.

“You can’t stop crazy wherever it shows up,” he said, shrugging.

I pointed him to research suggesting that gun shows — while the organizers may operate legally and in accordance with state and federal laws — are a source of illegally trafficked firearms in both the United States and Mexico. Violent criminals don’t appear to be purchasing guns at gun shows, but you could argue that gun shows are nevertheless an integral part of the black-market supply chain.

“That’s possible, but that’s obtuse,” he responded. “That’s like saying people will get hit by cars, so let’s ban cars.”

Crossroads sells itself as more than a trade show. When I asked volunteers to show me the educational displays, I was taken to a BB gun shooting range for children. Then I was pointed in the direction of a booth where I could obtain a firearm safety certificate, which is a prerequisite to buying a gun. Finally, I was told about a legal seminar that had taken place the day before.

I asked Olcott what she meant when she calls her event educational, and she said the vendors themselves are experts, ready to explain to customers why they need a weapon in the first place and what type of weapon will fit best in their hands.

Even some of the gun show’s supporters have raised concerns about the amount of ammunition being sold there. One table caught my attention because it contained bags of empty bullet casings. I asked Ken Hunt, another vendor who was browsing the merchandise himself, why anyone would buy such a thing, and he said making your own ammo saves you the hassle of filling out paperwork every time you buy some. He was teaching me about a loophole.

Starting July 1, California requires ammo buyers to undergo a background check to screen out felons, domestic abusers and others. The law was also championed by Newsom as part of a ballot measure in 2016, and it was intended to stop the sale of bullets over the Internet. When the initiative was being debated, gun shop owners warned that it could drive part of their industry underground.

“I got nothing to hide, but I feel like it’s none of [the government’s] business how much I shoot,” Hunt said. “Sometimes it’s nice to stock up with 500,000 rounds. Honestly that’s not a lot of ammunition.”

I cocked an eyebrow.

“It’s really not,” he said. “If you’ve got two or three guys going out to the range to go shooting, it’ll go up pretty fast.”

Most of the people I met Sunday weren’t even from California, let alone San Diego — they came all the way from Utah, Nevada and Arizona, states with more permissive gun laws. Newsom has been clear that he thinks firearms and ammunition sales on state-owned property ought to stop, because, he wrote in a letter last year, an event like that “only perpetuates America’s gun culture at a time when 73 percent of Californians support gun reform measures.”

The folks I met in Del Mar didn’t disagree. To them, Crossroads is a social gathering of the archconservative as much as anything else.

On my way out the door, I stopped by David Castillos’ table. He’s a teacher from Orange County and he was selling AK-47 magazines and other items. I asked him what he was doing here and why he continues to come. He said he likes meeting other veterans.

“They won’t buy anything, but they’ll come and talk to you and share their stories of what they’ve done,” he said. “Sometimes they’re just lonely and they just want to talk to somebody.”

Escondido Mayor: We Have No Choice But to Expand Roads

SANDAG approved a nearly $600 million transportation spending plan last week that pledges financial support for several long-promised highway projects and an ambitious new high-speed rail system plus new commuter trains to improve the frequency of Coaster service. But whether that plan complies with state laws to reduce greenhouse gases is still an open question.

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata has warned the North County and East County politicians who want to keep expanding roads that they’re opening themselves up to lawsuits. Since taking over the agency, Hasan has pushed elected officials to think more inclusively about the way current and future generations are going to move around.

“I will guarantee you that if we build these projects … this will increase vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gases,” he said.

Induced demand is a well-established phenomenon. For at least 50 years, traffic engineers have known that building more roads only leads to more traffic because it gives people an incentive not to get out of their cars. It’s a matter of economics: Increase the supply and people will want that thing even more.

Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara appears to be unfazed. He suggested at the meeting last week that cars idling in traffic were the real cause of emissions, not the cars themselves.

“So you want to reduce greenhouse gases, well, you gotta get the cars moving,” he told his colleagues. He also said, “I don’t think I’ll be alive when the public transportation system is finally complete and we don’t know if the county is going to pay for it.”

Transnet, a sales tax intended to pay for transportation improvements, is falling at least $10 billion short of expectations.

“We have to make some choices that I think are necessary evils,” McNamara said. “I’m with ya, I don’t want to build any more roads. I don’t want any more traffic either. But there’s not much of a choice here.”

  • A nonprofit working to reduce traffic fatalities has found that Valley Parkway in Escondido and the Coast Highway from Oceanside to Del Mar are the most hazardous corridors in North County for bicyclists and pedestrians. (Union-Tribune)

This Congressional Race Is One Big Troll

Now that his chances of being appointed to lead U.S. Trade and Development seem to be fading, former Rep. Darrell Issa is officially running for Rep. Duncan Hunter’s congressional seat. He told the world in 2018 that he wanted to retire, but clearly he sees an opening on the other side of the county as Hunter prepares to go on trial for campaign finance-related charges.

Radio talk show host Carl DeMaio crashed Issa’s announcement last week to bring attention back on his own campaign. Neither of them lives (at least full-time) in the 50th District, and we couldn’t help but notice that their dueling press conferences actually took place in the 53rd District.

The irony wasn’t lost on state Sen. Brian Jones either. He’s also running for the 50th District and invited both Issa and DeMaio on a Jeep tour. He name-dropped a shooting range and encouraged his challengers to leave their Sunday church shoes at home because things could get muddy.

There was so much sarcasm to go around that, like this dude at a corporate-sponsored rock festival, I don’t even know what sarcasm is anymore.

In Other News

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

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