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Del Mar Gun Show Draws Record Crowd

Video by Katie Euphrat

More than 12,000 people descended on the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the Gun Show this weekend - the biggest turn out ever. KPBS North County bureau chief Alison St John says a staggering amount of ammunition was snapped up and hauled away.

The lines to get into the Del Mar gun show stretched on and on, and freeway exits into Del Mar backed up for hours.

But satisfied customers leaving the gun show carried away heavy back packs, while others needed dollies to cart away piles of boxes of ammunition. Well-muscled men had trouble heaving boxes of bullets onto the trolley that sped them back to the parking lot, where their pick-ups were waiting.

More than 12,000 people descended on Del Mar for the gun show over the weekend. It was the biggest turn out ever. A staggering amount of ammunition was snapped up and hauled away.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Lifting boxes of ammunition bought at the Del Mar Gun Show, March 9th 2013

Tom Gildesleeve, a young Marine who hailed from Northern Maine, grew up with guns.

“I had my first weapon before I was one year old,” he said, “ It was a :22 long rifle. I didn’t shoot it until I was three, but my parents taught me well.”

Gildesleeve said he can’t find the ammo he needs for target practice in the store any more, and he doesn’t feel comfortable mail ordering it into California in case it makes him a target of suspicion.

“They want to take my guns and my ammo from me,” he said.” What am I supposed to do but stock pile it?”

Jim Van Vleck of Coronado, a retired merchant Marine, said he got in line about 7:30 a.m., but met others who’d been in line since before dawn.

“California’s really cracking down on ammunition,” he said. “You can’t buy them in stores. I just ordered an M14, a mini 14, can’t get ammo for it yet. I just got my first shotgun, there are shotgun shells - 9 mm- you can’t hardly get it anywhere, you get to the stores and they’re sold out in a matter of hours.”

A bill to require background checks for ammunition in California was struck down by the courts in January as unconstitutionally vague, days before it went into effect.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Box of bullets, Del Mar Gun Show, March 9th 2013

But a Field Poll released in February shows 75 percent of Californians favor background checks for people buying ammunition.

Standing a little to one side, John Rippo, a former gun dealer, stood watching the crowd, leaning on his metal cane.

“This is different, “ he said. “I’ve never seen people come to a show like this to cart away dollies of ammunition. Just a moment ago there was a fellow who walked away with six wooden crates of 762 by 39 millimeter ball, the kind of cartridge that commonly fit in AK 47, that’s 1,000 rounds per crate. Must have weighed as much as a refrigerator.”

Rippo is no stranger to gun culture, in fact he is part of it.

“I grew up with them, I grew up coming to this show for 30 plus years,” he said “I was in the trade 17 years. This is different from what it was. The culture has morphed, it’s changed. “

He blames the NRA for stirring up paranoia for its own political purposes.

“Mongering fear is a bad thing to do,” he said, “and some of the people who are here today, I would argue, are victims of that fear.”

Near the entrance to the show, a man, who would only give his name as Bill, hands out lime green leaflets. They advertise “Build Parties,” where people can put together their own AR 14s.

“They do it themselves and have the experience and chose the color and the forging that they want,” he said. “It’s only 80 percent complete, which is what the government allows you to do.”

That’s a short step away from skirting the law, Rippo said.

“If you make your own,” he said, “you run the risk of severe federal penalties and state penalties if you do not register those pieces of machinery.”

The event was run by Crossroads of the West, and though the site is on state property, media with cameras were not allowed into the event. Adam Day, president of the Fair Board, said that didn’t sit well with him but there was nothing he could do.

“It is frustrating to me,” he said. “It is a public facility and we’re public officials. I try to work with the operator, but unfortunately we have a contract, and its critical. We can’t have cameras or videos allowed inside.”

The reason given, Day said, is to protect the identity of undercover law enforcement officers working inside.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Carrying home the ammo, Del Mar Gun Show, March 9th 2013

There was plenty of opportunity to talk to people waiting in the long lines to the ticket booth. For some, the Del Mar gun show is a family affair, and many came with babies in strollers or held up toddlers to be admired.

Bud Emerson, a founding member of the group, “Stop The Del Mar Gun Shows,” finds this offensive.

“The message that we send to our kids is that guns are fun - it’s a Show,” Emerson said. “The statistics are very clear. The Center for Disease Control counted over 6,000 kids killed in 2010. That’s seven kids between one and 19 every single day. The culture has got to change. Guns are not fun, they’re lethal weapons.”

Emerson said the Del Mar Fairground is a family focused venue. He wants the gun shows there stopped.

The fair hosts five gun shows a year. One revenue producing aspect of the event for the fair is the parking, which, at $10 a vehicle, raises tens of thousands. But Fair Board President Adam Day said the contract to rent the space to Crossroads isn’t vital to their annual budget. He said it’s not about the money, but it is about rights.

“We generate roughly $300,000 a year from these five gun shows,” he said. “Our annual budget is over $90 million. It’s quite insignificant in fact, but as a public facility we have to allow anyone who has a legal right to operate to hold their shows here.”

Emerson sees it differently.

“It’s not about gun rights,” he said. "It’s about the glorification of guns. I think we’re all implicated when it’s on public property.”

California legislation introduced this month would prohibit gun shows at San Francisco’s state fairground, the Cow Palace, unless it has the local approval of their county supervisors.

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