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Gun Show Is Leaving Pomona for Las Vegas

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Blaming a recently passed ordinance banning firearm sales on county property, officials of the Great Western Gun Show said Thursday that they are leaving Los Angeles and moving to Las Vegas.

Los Angeles County has been home to the gigantic gun show, one of the nation’s largest, for 31 years--22 of which were at the Fairplex in Pomona.

The decision is the culmination of a heated gun control controversy that took front-burner status after the rash of mass gun assaults across the country, particularly the August shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills that wounded three young children, a camp counselor and a receptionist.

The move to the Las Vegas Convention Center will cost Fairplex $600,000 a year, about one-third of its annual earnings.

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“Even though we are highly enthusiastic about this move and look forward to new relationships in the ‘entertainment capital of the world,’ we would never have considered leaving the fairgrounds had it not been for the ill-advised and, we believe, illegal ordinance passed last September by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors,” said Karl Amelang, president of Great Western Shows Inc.

“This entire situation was orchestrated by one supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, to further his political ambitions,” he said.

Yaroslavsky spearheaded the drive for the new law, which passed on a 3-2 vote, but it has been held in abeyance through a court injunction pending outcome of a suit by Great Western. The injunction will allow a show scheduled for this weekend--the last in Pomona, organizers say.

Citing that injunction, Yaroslavsky refused to accept the blame for the show’s departure. “Spare me the crocodile tears,” he said.

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He said the injunction would have allowed the events to continue at least until the suit was resolved. Still, he said, he isn’t sorry to see the shows go.

“I’m surprised, but I can’t say I’m sorry that we won’t have guns and ammo at our fairgrounds,” he said. “Our ordinance would not have prohibited them from having a gun show, because it only would have prevented them from selling guns.”

The show runs four times a year, commonly drawing about 35,000 people to each of its largest exhibitions--in April and October. The October show, coming on the heels of widespread news coverage about the county ordinance, attracted a record 40,000 people.

Thursday’s announcement caught Fairplex President Jim Henwood by surprise. Saying he did not know about the move until informed of it by The Times, Henwood said it will “leave us in a very precarious position.”

Fairplex leases the fairgrounds from the county for $750,000 a year, Henwood said. It conducts the annual Los Angeles County Fair as well as a host of consumer shows, trade shows and other exhibitions.

But, aside from the fair, the gun show was the largest.

Henwood said the county should make up the money until he can find a replacement for the gun show.

“We are being deprived of our rights to operate a business,” he said. “I’m hoping the county will recognize and support our need for replacement funding until we can replace Great Western, which will be a very challenging task.”

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Yaroslavsky conceded the impact of Great Western’s departure and said the county has been negotiating with Fairplex over “how to mitigate the economic impact.”

In passing the ordinance, county supervisors said the gun shows had become shopping centers for the illegal sale of weapons.

Shortly before the ban’s passage, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, along with Pomona police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, made contact with a gun show exhibitor who allegedly sold undercover officers six machine guns and later tried to deliver 10 other automatic weapons. That case is pending.


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