DEL MAR – A recent order issued by the United States District Court ensured that gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds will continue for at least the time being, with some community members feeling “stunned” at the outcome.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors – the Fairground’s governing body – voted 8-1 to put a one-year moratorium on the event in September 2018. In the interim, the District’s board planned to draft a policy that would consider holding gun shows for educational purposes, without the sale of firearms and ammunition.
In a recently-released memorandum opinion, District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo called the District’s ban on the event “presumptively unconstitutional.”
She referred to the moratorium as “a content-based restriction of speech on its face,” and further wrote that such restrictions are “rarely upheld.”
“Here, it is difficult to conceive of the Moratorium on gun shows as anything other than a restriction of speech with a pro-gun or pro-second amendment viewpoint,” the opinion read.
The injunction, which was issued in mid-June, has generated a polarized response.
The San Diego County Gun Owners PAC lauded the decision in a recent release. Crossroads President Tracy Olcott called the injunction “really exciting.”
“I think the judge was wise to listen to both sides, and understand that it’s a free speech issue,” she said. “If you don’t want to come to the gun shows, don’t…we should have the opportunity to gather and have the commercial right to do that.”
With gun shows now mandated by the court, Tracy Olcott said the company is working with Fairgrounds staff to come up with two potential dates for 2019. The show has typically taken place five times per year – the last show was held in December 2018.
Rose Ann Sharp, Del Mar resident and founder of anti-gun show organization NeverAgainCA, said members of her group “thought they had made their communities a little bit safer” when the moratorium was placed, and were “stunned” and “in disbelief” when the injunction essentially dissolved the Board’s decision.
Sharp said she and her group will continue to protest the shows as they commence, likely in September.
Kelly Harless, a Solana Beach city councilwoman who has long spoken against the event, said she was “horrified” by the court’s decision.
Solana Beach, as well as Del Mar and Encinitas, has passed resolutions opposing the event. Harless said Solana Beach will continue to take that position as the gun shows continue.
“We represent the community, and they’ve made it clear that’s what they want,” she said.
Harless said she is “confident that when the judge hears the evidence and hears what the Fair Board has to say about protecting the health and well-being of our community, she will rule the right way.”
“That’s my hope,” she said.
The gun shows, which involve the sale of firearms, ammunition and gun-related products, have drawn mounting criticism over the years from neighboring cities and local gun-control advocates – with opposition reaching a fever pitch in early 2018, after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Utah-based company Crossroads of the West has operated the show for about thirty years.
Due largely to community concerns, the Fairground’s board opted to set a year-long moratorium on the event throughout 2019 until an appointed ad-hoc committee could come up with a new policy regarding the event.
Crossroads, in conjunction with several other plaintiffs who either conduct business at the gun shows or advocate for the event, filed a lawsuit against the Board in January. The complaint alleges first amendment violations of free speech, the right to assembly, and equal protection under the 14th amendment.
The judge called the preliminary injunction a “middle ground” until the District gathers discovery on “how the (moratorium) serves the compelling government interest of protecting public safety.”
In her memorandum opinion, Judge Bencivengo stated that a “general fear that people attending gun shows will violate state and local laws about gun possession or even commit acts of gun violence in the community upon leaving the show cannot justify the Moratorium.”
“…That the District enacted the Moratorium without any evidence of actual public safety concerns caused by the speech that takes place at gun shows (as opposed to general gun violence in the community) makes it exceedingly likely that the District will not be able to satisfy its burden of demonstrating the existence of a compelling state interest for the Moratorium” the opinion reads.
The District has until August 16 to gather evidence for Discovery.
As the case ensues, an assembly bill aiming to ban the sale of guns and ammunition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is making its way through the senate. The bill, which was introduced by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), could go into effect by January 2021 if passed.
Dwight Worden, a city councilman in Del Mar and former attorney, said he believes the bill will render the lawsuit’s outcome moot.
“Todd’s bill is probably going to resolve it once and for all,” he said.
Photo caption: Kirk Redman, with firearm supply store Ammo Brothers, displays an array of guns at the Del Mar Fairgrounds gun show in December 2018. Photo by Lexy Brodt