Judge orders Del Mar Fairgrounds to reinstate gun shows

Members of NeverAgainCa protest outside the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in March 2018.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego-Union-Tribune)

A federal judge in San Diego has ordered the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds to allow the Crossroads of the West Gun Show to continue after the fair board suspended the events there last year.

The preliminary injunction issued Tuesday, June 18, by Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo states that the gun show owner, B&L Productions, Inc., is “likely to suffer irreparable harm” without the events and that the company’s lawsuit against the 22nd District Agricultural Association, operator of the fairgrounds, is likely to succeed.

“The district must make available the next available date for a gun show and allow B&L to reserve dates for gun show events (and to hold such events) at the fairgrounds,” the ruling states.

The fair board voted Sept. 11, 2018, to suspend the Crossroads shows Jan. 1 until the board can approve a policy written by staff members that would prohibit the sale or possession of firearms and ammunition on the fairgrounds. Board members suggested the policy should allow the shows to continue, allowing education, information and some sales, but no guns.

The family-owned company had been operating the gun shows in Del Mar for more than 30 years.

“We’re thankful Judge Bencivengo sees the Constitutional problem with banning these safe, perfectly-legal events and is allowing the show to go on while we continue to fight,” said Tiffany Cheuvront, attorney for the Crossroads of the West show, in a news release issued by The California Rifle and Pistol Association, which is a party to the suit. “We’re confident that as this case progresses, law-abiding Americans’ civil rights will not be unjustly violated and that we will prevail.”

Crossroads has five gun shows annually at Del Mar, and a total of more than 60 shows each year across Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. The largest California show is in Costa Mesa, and the largest of them all is in Phoenix. It held its last show at Del Mar in December. It attracted thousands of visitors each day of the event.

Directors of the Cow Palace, the state fairgrounds near San Francisco, followed Del Mar and unanimously voted in April to ban gun shows there beginning next year.

State Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, who has introduced legislation to prohibit the sale of guns and ammunition at the state-owned fairgrounds, said the ruling is disappointing.

“This injunction ignores the will of residents in the communities around the Del Mar Fairgrounds who have stated unequivocally that they do not want guns or ammunition sold on this public, state-owned property,” Gloria said in a news release.

“We will continue to persist with our legislation to prohibit gun and ammunition sales on the fairgrounds and I hope the Del Mar Fair Board chooses to appeal this misguided decision,” Gloria said.

Assembly Bill 893 has passed the Assembly and earned the approval of the state Senate Public Safety Committee last week. If signed into law, it would be effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Fairgrounds public information officer Annie Pierce said Wednesday, June 19, that officials there were unable to comment because of the pending litigation.

Opposition to the Del Mar shows has surfaced occasionally over the years, but grew strong with the formation of the locally-based group NeverAgainCA after the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February 2018.

NeverAgainCA members repeatedly demonstrated outside all the Del Mar shows after the Parkland shootings, and have spoken against the shows at many fair board meetings. They also raised the issue that Crossroads owner Bob Templeton and his son, Jeff Templeton, both have past felony convictions for federal firearms violations that prevent them from operating the shows. To avoid that, Bob Templeton has ceded control of the show to his daughter, Tracy Olcott, who has no record.

As a result, the fair board wrote a letter asking the state Department of Justice to investigate the Templetons. Justice Department officials have not confirmed any investigation related to the shows.

Some opponents of the shows have alleged that illegal activities occurred at the shows, such as the sale of automatic weapons or armor-piercing ammunition, things supporters repeatedly deny.

At the urging of NeverAgainCA, city councils in Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach approved resolutions calling for the fair board to end the shows.

NeverAgainCA founder Rose Ann Sharp, a Del Mar resident, also declined to comment on the ruling.

Members of the political action group San Diego County Gun Owners have advocated loudly for continuing the shows.

“Although the decision is not final, gun owners are happy with the judge’s decision to stop bans on gun shows while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts,” Michael Schwartz, president of the group, said Wednesday, June 19. “There is nothing reasonable about a total ban.”

In addition to the California Rifle and Pistol Association, other backers of the gun show lawsuit include The Second Amendment Foundation, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, and a number of gun dealers and private citizens.

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