Federal appeals court upholds gun sales ban on state lands, re-holstering fairground shows

Customers wait during Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the OC Fair & Event Center.
Customers wait to buy ammunition during the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa in 2021.
(File Photo)
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A federal appeals court this week upheld legislation banning the sale of firearms and ammunition on state-owned properties in California, holstering plans for future gun shows at venues like Costa Mesa’s Orange County fairgrounds.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion Tuesday dismissed claims made by gun show operators and proponents that such prohibitions violated the 1st and 2nd amendment rights of merchants and customers.

They concluded the legislation being challenged — Senate Bill 264, which banned such gun sales in Orange County starting in 2022, and SB915, which enacted a statewide ban one year later — restricted only the contracted sale of firearms, not any rights protected by the Constitution.


“B&L fails to establish that the challenged statutes regulate any speech cognizable under the First Amendment,” wrote Judge Richard R. Clifton. “A ‘celebration of gun culture,’ in the words of one of B&L’s briefs, can still take place on state property, as long as that celebration does not involve contracts for the sale of guns.”

The panel further maintained the laws did not conflict with 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, in that they only curtailed an individual’s ability to agree to buy firearms while physically present at the events.

“The plain text of the Second Amendment does not cover B&L’s proposed conduct — namely, contracting for the sale of firearms and ammunition on state property,” judges wrote.

State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) authored the bills to effectively close what he calls a gun show loophole that allows the sales of illegal unregistered ghost guns, straw sales and the theft of guns from unwitting vendors. He called Tuesday’s decision a win-win for Orange County and California families “sick and tired of senseless gun violence.”

“I hope that in my lifetime, we will return to being a society where people’s lives are valued more than guns, and where gun violence incidents are rare and shocking rather than commonplace as they are today,” Min said in a statement following the court decision.

Gun advocates led by Utah-based B&L Productions, Inc., doing business as Crossroads of the West, first took aim at the two bills in a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court on Aug. 12, 2022.

They sought to end all bans on commercial transactions involving guns and firearms, contending they prevent law-abiding citizens from making legal purchases while learning about firearm safety, laws and their constitutional rights.

Siding with plaintiffs in an Oct. 30 ruling, U.S District Court Judge John W. Holcomb said California’s legislation was too broad and appeared to be an attempt to ban “gun culture.”

After a two-year state prohibition, a gun show organized by Utah-based Crossroads of the West returns to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds this weekend.

Jan. 18, 2024

“California’s interest in stopping crimes committed with illegal weapons, as important as it is, cannot justify prohibiting the complete sale of lawful firearms at gun shows, especially when those same firearms are available for purchase at regular gun stores,” he wrote in his opinion.

Holcomb’s ruling granted a preliminary injunction halting the bans and calling upon operators of California’s county fairgrounds to immediately resume scheduling legal gun shows.

Locally, officials with the Orange County Fair & Event Center, which operates as the state’s 32nd District Agricultural Assn., complied, booking multiple Crossroads of the West gun shows at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds in January, March and November.

The first two shows this year brought in a combined $371,096 in revenue, including rental agreements, parking and food and beverage commissions, according to OCFEF spokeswoman Terry Moore.

Moore said OCFEC Chief Executive Director Michele Richards had been notified of the outcome of the federal appeal but was unclear about next steps and had reached out to the center’s legal team for advice regarding future Crossroads of the West bookings.

Crossroads of the West operators did not respond to a request for comment, but on Tuesday members of the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. said they were disappointed in the ruling and will “continue to pursue all avenues to restore and protect gun shows in California.”

“[We] will continue to protect the despised gun culture and fight back against an overreaching government that seeks to limit disfavored fundamental rights and discriminate against certain groups of people on state property,” the organization said Tuesday. “CRPA looks forward to seeing this misguided decision reversed in short order.“

In his statement Tuesday, Min said he was saddened to see the resumed pace of gun shows appear to increase, both in Orange County and statewide, in the months following Holcomb’s District Court ruling in October, but he was hopeful about the appellate opinion.

“Today’s ruling is a step in the right direction,” he said.