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About 100 gun enthusiasts gather before the Del Mar gun show to applaud its return after nine months on hiatus. The show was temporarily banned last year by the state agency that operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Photo by Lexy Brodt.
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Controversial gun show returns to Del Mar Fairgrounds

DEL MAR — The Del Mar gun show is back, and with no shortage of fanfare.

“We’re here for the next year anyway, but the battle isn’t over,” said Bob Templeton, founder of Crossroads of the West Gun Shows, as he addressed a crowd of impassioned gun owners gathered to commemorate the show’s return.

Crossroads operated a gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds five times a year for 30 years, a streak that came to an end in 2019 after the fairground’s board voted to put a one-year moratorium on the event.

But said moratorium has since been lifted — by court order. After nine months on hiatus, the weekend-long show returned to the state-owned property on Sept. 28. The event will also run on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15 and continue through 2020.

As gun owners from across the county cheered the event’s return before the doors opened at 9 a.m., a group of local residents about a half a mile away readied their signs for protest.

Dressed in their signature bright orange garb, about 120 members or supporters of local grassroots organization NeverAgainCA came together at the busy Via de la Valle intersection on the outskirts of the fairgrounds. The honks started rolling in just after 10 a.m., accompanied by plenty of thumbs-ups, thumbs-downs, and a few other unmentionable hand gestures.

Local residents with NeverAgainCA gather outside the Del Mar Fairgrounds to protest the return of a longstanding gun show. The group has been actively opposing the event since the Parkland, Florida high school shooting in early 2018. Photo by Lexy Brodt.

“We definitely gotta get people thinking,” said Dave Patterson with Veterans for Peace, an organization that frequently joins NeverAgainCA for such protests.

Some protestors called the gun shows “upsetting,” particularly in light of a series of mass shootings over the summer. Others said the show simply shouldn’t take place “in our backyard.”

Although a small group of nearby residents has spoken out against the event for years, local opposition spiked after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting in early 2018. NeverAgainCA and officials from Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas urged the fairgrounds’ 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA) Board to end the show, prompting the board to put a one-year ban on the event until they could find a long-term solution.

But the board was soon hit with a lawsuit — Crossroads, a few of its vendors and some Second Amendment advocacy groups banded together to sue the state agency for violating its first amendment rights.

Before long, a federal judge filed a preliminary injunction to allow the show to continue, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

In the midst of the litigation, Assemblyman Todd Gloria opted to put forth a bill to ban gun and ammo sales at the Del Mar Fairgrounds — a move that would effectively end the gun show by 2021.

His bill — AB 893 — is currently on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, awaiting a final signature.

But gun show advocates at the rally made it clear their efforts have just begun.

“As far as litigation goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Chuck Michel, Michel & Associates senior partner and California Rifle & Pistol Association president.

Attorney Tiffany Cheuvront, also with Michel & Associates, told The Coast News that the bill may be “brought into the current litigation.”

“We just don’t know yet,” she said. “But either way, we are prepared for additional legal battles.”

The show’s early morning rally brought together about 100 gun aficionados, dressed in bright-red California Rifle & Pistol Association T-shirts to support the event. About 6,000 more would attend the show throughout the weekend.

The gun shows bring together hundreds of vendors — many of whom sell guns and ammunition, but also gun-related accessories and parts, war memorabilia, jewelry, and political T-shirts.

Several attendees at the rally described the gun shows as an outlet for gun enthusiasts to share their beliefs and learn about gun laws and restrictions in the state. Some called the fair board’s ban “unfair,” and lamented that mass shootings were being attributed to events such as these.

Mike Barranco, an Irvine resident and longtime supporter of gun shows throughout the region, said the fairgrounds’ board shouldn’t be dictating the use of grounds that are “owned by me and you.”

“It’s supposed to be a venue for people to have public assembly,” he said.

But gun show opponents disagree — asserting that the state should not be in the business of supporting the sale of guns and ammunition.

“This is about commerce,” said NeverAgainCA Founder Rose Ann Sharp. “The Fairboard has the right to restrict this property.”

In an email to The Coast News, Sharp highlighted prior actions the board has made to restrict certain commercial activity, such as a prohibition on the sale of cannabis products above a certain THC level.

“Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or laws confers a greater right to gun advocates to sell firearms there,” she wrote. “Board policy and AB 893 allow them to assemble and to speak, but not to sell firearms.”

The protestors were joined by Congressman Mike Levin, who voiced his support for NeverAgainCA’s efforts as well as Gloria’s bill. Levin, like many of the protestors, expressed his disapproval of the semi-automatic weapons being sold at the events — regardless of the 10-day waiting period imposed on those purchases.

“We certainly don’t need weapons of war like the AR-15 on our streets — whether they be purchased at a gun show or a gun store or any other way,” Levin said. “… Frankly the overwhelming number of people I speak to in Del Mar and the surrounding community do not want to see this gun show here.”