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O.C. fairgrounds operators take aim at gun show ban, but their efforts could misfire

A Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego County in 2019 before such shows were banned.
A Crossroads of the West Gun Show at San Diego County’s Del Mar fairgrounds in 2019, before such shows were banned by a vote of the 22nd Agricultural Assn. Board. SB 264 would institute a ban at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(File Photo)

Even as a bill banning gun shows at the Orange County fairgrounds remains one gubernatorial signature away from becoming law, operators of the state-owned Costa Mesa property are considering how to stop it and the revenue loss it would cause.

However, their options could be limited, as suggestions seeking intersession from Gov. Gavin Newsom and a move to preemptively approve gun shows in 2022 were shot down in a special meeting Monday.

For the record:

4:39 p.m. Sept. 14, 2021A previous version of this story included an incorrect title for District Director Ash Alvandi.

OC Fair & Event Center Board of Directors sought to pen a letter urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto Senate Bill 264, authored by Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) and set to take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Customers wait in line for ammo during Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the O.C. fairgrounds in March.
Customers wait in line to buy ammo in March during a Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the O.C. fairgrounds. A bill before Gov. Gavin Newsom could end such shows at the state-owned site.
(File Photo)

“This prohibition unfairly and exclusively impacts [OCFEC],” the letter read. “Sen. Dave Min never consulted with the board … to determine if other non-legislative options existed to address his concerns. We request you veto this bill so [the senator] and the board of directors may discuss solutions.”

Ending gun shows, the letter continued, could result in a loss of up to $1 million annually and harm businesses that benefit from the roughly 70,000 visitors who come each year to local gun shows run by Crossroads of the West, a Utah company that’s operated at the O.C. fairgrounds for 26 years.

The board also sought to preapprove a 2022 contract with Crossroads to avoid the mandates of SB 264 and buy time for the show’s owners to find bookings elsewhere.

Their plans, however, hit a snag at Monday’s meeting.

Some speculated urging the governor to veto a bill passed by the state Assembly and Senate would essentially amount to taking a political stance — something the body, serving as California’s 32nd District Agricultural Assn. cannot do.

“Sen. Dave Min was elected by the people in this district, and this was a forefront issue for him,” said Director Ashleigh Aitken, who opposed acting against the bill. “The voters decided to put him into office, and this is one of the things I think people resoundingly supported him on.

Customers check out sporting rifles in March during a Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Gun enthusiasts check out sporting rifles in March during a Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(File Photo)

“I’m just uncomfortable sending this letter for those reasons,” she continued.

Board member Barbara Bagneris said she did not like how SB 264 seemed to target only one local district but said she also would not sign a letter urging its veto.

When it came to preapproving a 2022 contract with Crossroads of the West, Min said in a statement read Monday by District Director Ash Alvandi that it would essentially create a “bad faith contract intended to evade and thwart the purpose of this legislation.”

“If the board does engage in such action, I will explore all options to invalidate all contracts that are approved in this manner, including through litigation or through new legislation,” Min’s statement continued. “Members of the board who voted for such a measure may [also] be held personally liable.”

Min introduced SB 264 in January to ban gun and ammunition on all state-owned properties, including county fairgrounds. The bill was amended in August by the Assembly Appropriation Committee to apply only to the 32nd State Agricultural Assn., namely the O.C. fairgrounds.

Banning such shows one site at a time is not without precedent. Assembly Bill 893, passed in 2019, ended gun shows at San Diego’s Del Mar fairgrounds, operated by the 22nd District Agricultural Assn. Another bill sought to do the same at the Cow Palace (District 1-A) in San Mateo County but was withdrawn when board members instituted a local gun show ban.

Undercover operations at gun shows are critical to California’s efforts to keep weapons out of the wrong hands, proponents say.

OCFEC Chair Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia said Monday those situations did not establish precedent, as board members in both districts voted for such changes. By contrast, her board was not given an opportunity to weigh in on the matter before SB 264 was introduced.

“The board had not been addressed by Sen. Dave Min, as to look to various policies that we might be able to put in place that might make gun shows safer, at least in his eyes,” Rubalcava-Garcia said. “If this isn’t good for the entire state, how come it’s good for the 32nd DAA?”

Board members ultimately voted to redraft a letter to Newsom, referring only to the economic impacts of the bill, and tabled its approval — and discussion of a 2022 Crossroads contract — to Sept. 23.

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to veto SB 264. Otherwise, it will take effect Jan. 1. 2022.

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