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Gun show operators file lawsuit against board that oversees state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds

The family-owned company that operates the Crossroads of the West gun show filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, Jan. 22, against the Del Mar Fairgrounds, challenging its suspension of the weekend event that has been held there for more than 30 years.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which oversees activities at the state-owned fairgrounds, voted to stop the shows after December until staff members develop a policy that could ban the sale and possession of firearms on the property.

Any decision in the case is likely to take years and have far-reaching effects.

Gun-show owners Russell and Ann Sallie Nordyke filed suit against Alameda County after it banned weapons from the public fairgrounds there in 1999. That case went on for more than 12 years and cost millions of dollars in legal fees before a settlement reached through mediation allowed guns if they were secured to exhibit tables with wire cables.

Crossroads holds its shows at more than a dozen large locations in four western states, all on public or city-owned property. It stages the two-day gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds five times annually.

The Crossroads lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego alleges that the moratorium violates the plaintiffs’ First and Second Amendment rights, their civil rights, the right to commercial speech,and the right to assembly.

“Regardless of how you feel about guns, we operate within compliance of the law,” said Tracy Olcott, president and general manager of B&L Productions, the owner of Crossroads of the West.

“We are heavily regulated, and gun shows in particular are more heavily regulated than brick-and-mortar stores,” Olcott said Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell and board President Steve Shewmaker were unavailable for comment Tuesday, Jan. 22.

One of the leading opponents of the show is Del Mar resident Rose Ann Sharp.

Sharp founded the local nonprofit NeverAgainCA as part of the national Never Again movement to stop gun violence after the Parkland, Fla., shootings that killed 17 high school students and staff members last year on Valentine’s Day.

Sharp said Tuesday, Jan. 22, the lawsuit is premature because the fair board is still working on a study that will determine whether, and in what form, the gun shows might continue.

“The board did not, as Crossroads alleges, ban gun shows,” Sharp said. “It directed fairgrounds management not to consider any contracts with producers of gun shows beyond Dec. 31 until .. the district has put into place a more thorough policy regarding the conduct of gun shows.”

Sharp and others say events such as gun shows promote a culture of unnecessary weapons, resulting in a country with more firearms than residents and where violence is common. Supporters of the shows say they offer a place for like-minded people to gather safely, exchange ideas and learn more about their shared hobbies.

Members of NeverAgainCA demonstrated repeatedly outside the Del Mar gun shows last year and attended fair board meetings to call for an end to the shows.

Crossroads sent a “cease-and-desist” letter in October to NeverAgainCA ordering the nonprofit to stop making “defamatory” statements about the firearms festival and its owners.

In response, ACLU Legal Director David Loy sent a reply calling the Crossroads letter “a baseless attempt to intimidate Never Again from exercising rights protected by the First Amendment” and threatening to file a response under the state’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute.

“The lawsuit Ignores … that there is no harm to individual rights to buy guns because of the ready availability of gun stores, including at the numerous gun shows throughout the state on private property,” Sharp said in an email.

NeverAgainCA members are helping local efforts to stop Crossroads shows in Orange County, Ventura, and San Francisco, but so far no other city or fair board has cancelled the shows.

Among the issues raised by NeverAgainCa were the past felony firearms convictions of gun show owner Bob Templeton and his son, Jeff Templeton, that would prevent them from operating the shows. However, Bob Templeton passed control of the show to his daughter, Olcott, and his son has not been involved with it for years.

The fair board sent a letter to the state Justice Department last year requesting an investigation of Crossroads. State officials have declined to confirm any investigation, and Olcott said recently they never contacted her about it.

Thousands of firearms enthusiasts attend each Del Mar gun show. Members of the San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee, have lobbied hard for the fairgrounds to continue the show.

The shows are a significant source of income for gun and ammunition dealers, and some of them are included as plaintiffs in the Crossroads lawsuit.

Plaintiffs include Barry Bardack, an El Cajon resident who says he buys bulk ammunition at the show for target shooting; Ronald J. Diaz, Sr., an Alpine resident who says he buys reloading supplies at the shows; Alpine resident and competitive shooter John Dupree; Carlsbad resident Christopher PaulIrick, who says he shops for bargains on firearms and accessories at the show; and Lawrence Michael Walsh, owner of Wholesale Ammunition, who has no physical store but who says he sells ammo to law enforcement officers and their agencies at gun shows across the state.

Other plaintiffs include the California Rifle & Pistol Association, South Bay Rod and Gun Club, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

Olcott said she hopes to find another venue in the San Diego area to continue the shows, but so far she’s been unable to find anything that has the space that’s available at the fairgrounds.

-- Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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