The board that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds has approved the return of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in March, despite new concerns raised by firearms safety advocates.
NeverAgainCA founders Ira and Rose Ann Sharp of Del Mar told the fair board at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 11, that an increasing number of sales at the show are “ghost gun” kits that can be purchased and taken home the same day.
The kits are not considered firearms for legal purposes because they are incomplete and require assembly, so most California firearms laws don’t apply to them. Also, the weapons don’t have a serial number, which can be used to track sales.
“Crossroads sells Saturday night specials on steroids,” Ira Sharp told the board, and he asked the board not to renew the Crossroads contract. However, the board approved the show without comment along with dozens of other events planned for March at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Crossroads President Tracy Olcott defended sales of the kits in a phone call Thursday, Feb. 13.
“They are 100 percent legal to buy and to own,” she said. “If you are into firearms, the kits are fun to assemble. It’s a craft, a project.”
Assembling the kits usually requires some drilling and machining of plastic or metal, so there’s a certain level of skill involved, and sometimes the weapons can be customized by the builder.
Sales of the so-called ghost guns are increasing because they are less regulated than regular firearms, Olcott said. California has a mandatory background check and 10-day waiting period to take home a newly purchased firearm, but those rules don’t apply to the kits.
Modern technology has contributed to the proliferation of ghost guns, which also can be made with 3D printers.
“These guns pose a grave threat to public safety, and people who are legally prohibited from owning firearms are able to create them without consequences in most states,” according to information posted by the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center on its website.
A California law passed in 2016 and effective in 2018 requires the owner of a self-assembled firearm to obtain a unique serial number from the state Department of Justice and affix the number to the weapon on a piece of metal large enough to be detected by a metal detector. The number and the owner’s identity must be reported to the Department of Justice as soon as the gun is assembled.
A 16-year-old boy used a .45-caliber pistol made from a kit in a Nov. 14 shooting that killed two classmates and injured three others before killing himself at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles. The gun may have belonged to the boy’s father.
Sharp displayed for the fair board a handgun, similar to a Glock 9mm, that a NeverAgainCA shopper bought for $400 cash and took home the same day at a recent Crossroads show elsewhere in Southern California. The gun is mostly plastic, with two halves that can be screwed together, a metal barrel and a few other small metal parts.
Cash purchases make sales more difficult to trace and can lead to tax violations, the Sharps said. Also, the vendor declined to provide a receipt for the sale.
They declined to reveal the name of the shopper, who they said has visited a number of Crossroads shows and prefers to remain anonymous.
The Sharps also presented to the fair board court documents to show that one of the Crossroads vendors, Shawn Nealon, pleaded guilty in 2010 to federal firearms violations and that as a result Nealon is not allowed to sell firearms. He was fined $10,000 plus a $100 assessment for selling four rifles to an out-of-state resident.
Nealon continues to work at Crossroads shows, but does not sell firearms, Olcott said. His company, The Tactical Medic, sells a variety of first aid and trauma kits, medical supplies, flashlights and survival gear.
“He’s just a dude trying to make a living,” Olcott said.
Cash purchases are acceptable at the gun shows, as they would be almost anywhere else, but the buyer should get a receipt, she added.
Crossroads has about 200 vendors at the Del Mar show and about 10 percent of them sell firearms, Olcott said. Some of the vendors have returned for many years, but every show includes a few new ones.
NeverAgainCa formed after the mass shooting that killed 17 people two years ago at a Parkland, Fla., high school. The group has consistently pushed for gun safety and to end the sales of firearms and ammunition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and other state-owned properties.
Activities at the state-owned fairgrounds are overseen by the 22nd District Agricultural Association and its board of nine members appointed by the governor.
Crossroads has held the weekend firearms festivals at the fairgrounds five weekends annually for more than 30 years. The company has been in business 44 years and holds dozens of shows annually in four western states.
The fair board voted in September 2018 to suspend the shows in 2019 until a policy could be written to end the sales of guns and ammunition at the fairgrounds, which would essentially ban the shows there. However, Crossroads and its family-run owner B&L Productions sued, and a federal judge issued an injunction that orders the shows be allowed to resume last fall.
Meanwhile, state legislation by Assemblyman Todd Gloria was passed to ban firearms sales at the fairgrounds beginning in 2021.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune