Gun Show Operators Say Del Mar Fair Board Off Target
'A gun show without guns and ammo? No. We’re looking at other venues, we're not going away.'
The Del Mar fairgrounds board voted in September to postpone gun shows there for up to a year, while it looks at hosting shows without guns or ammunition.
"A gun show without guns and ammo? No. We’re looking at other venues," said Tracy Olcott, president of Crossroads of the West. "We’re not going away. They can put a moratorium on us a year or whatever while they do their safety study without any input from us."
Crossroads of the West Gun Shows have been coming to Del Mar for more than 30 years.
"It’s a family-owned business," Olcott said. "I came here as a teenager, and now here we are with my teenagers helping me work."
Inside the show, customers are able to buy guns — handguns and rifles for sale. But there are other items, too. Namely gun accessories such as magazines, ammunition, targets and individual parts.
Every year there are five gun shows at the fairgrounds — but no shows are planned after this December.
"I think it’s people speaking against firearms don’t understand that we’re sporting people," Olcott said.
Fairgrounds Board President Steven Shewmaker supported holding off on scheduling gun shows. He said the gun shows weren’t safe — pointing out incidents reported by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department over the last few years that included petty theft, battery and possession of a controlled substance.
Shewmaker also said he spoke with the California Department of Justice about the gun shows.
"We’ve had actually two meetings with DOJ, and there have been a number of arrests," Shewmaker said in September. "Felons in possession here on the fairgrounds, sending in their wives and girlfriends in to buy ammunition and guns here at the fairgrounds. A number of arrests. In fact, I think he said one Saturday a year or two ago there was four such arrests in the parking lot — is that safe? I don’t think so."
The gun show operators do not deny there have been arrests at the shows.
"That’s why we have law enforcement here," Olcott said. "We pay for law enforcement to be here at the front door. We know DOJ is here. We send them a list every week before the show of who we know that going to be here selling firearms. And they inspect that list and let me know who is approved and who is not. And we know they’re here undercover and in uniform capacity, and we’re glad for that."
Olcott said safety at the shows is being unfairly portrayed.
"Has the fair had arrests? Mhm," Olcott said. "Did they have an arrest at a concert a couple of weeks ago? Mhm. Do concerts have arrests? Yeah, they do. So every event here, not just the gun show, have people here who break the law, and they get arrested."
KPBS did a comparison of arrests at fairgrounds events this year. According to the sheriff’s department, the San Diego County Fair had 13 arrests — ranging from drunk in public to spousal battery and DUI.
KAABOO's 2018 music festival had 16 arrests. Minors with alcohol, battery and possession of narcotics among them.
And through four gun shows this year, there has been one arrest by DOJ for a felon in possession of ammunition.
Arrests At Fairgrounds Events in 2018
San Diego County Fair (June 1 - July 4)
– 13 arrests ranging from drunk in public to spousal battery and DUI
KAABOO 2018 music festival (Sept. 13 - 15)
– 16 arrests ranging from battery and possession of narcotics
Crossroads of the West Gun Shows (March 17-18, May 19-20, July 14-15, Sept. 29-30)
– One arrest by DOJ for a felon in possession of ammunition
Before deciding to put the gun shows on hold the fairgrounds board listened to hours of public comment. It also received letters of support and opposition from elected officials. But the gun show said while fairgrounds staff talked with them, the board left them in the dark.
"There was no question in my mind that before the meeting was started, they had made their mind up," Olcott said. "They had to show that maybe they were going through the process, but they didn’t. They had made their decision and made their minds up. Anything we could have said wouldn’t have swayed them."
Patrick Kerins, the fairgrounds public safety director, said he attends the gun shows on a regular basis. It is his job to create a safety and security plan for the shows. Before the board voted on the issue, he sent them a letter that said in part, "As chief of security of the 22nd DAA for the last 17 years, the Crossroads of the West gun shows (5 per year) are in compliance with all local, state and federal regulatory statutes and have operated without violations of those laws."
As part of the board’s action in September, fairgrounds staff has until December 2019 to return with a proposal for gun shows that promote “safety and educational” purposes.
"So far, they haven’t contacted us to try and get our input or see what we can do to work with them," Olcott said. "I think they made the decision, and they aren’t willing to discuss it."
Olcott said Crossroads does not want to leave Del Mar, but will keep having gun shows in San Diego.
"We’re getting emails from people who attend the shows saying, 'what about this venue, what about this venue,' so we’ve got people who are looking out for us and want the gun shows to continue in their community," Olcott said. "So we’ll honor that and provide a gun show for them."