Gun show
A gun show similar to Crossroads of the West in Del Mar. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A federal judge ruled that gun shows can continue at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, at least for now, as the court considers a lawsuit against a state agency’s decision to effectively suspend the shows, the California Rifle and Pistol Association announced Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo in San Diego issued a preliminary injunction Monday, ruling that the state must allow gun shows at the fairgrounds to continue while the court rules on the legality of the suspension.

As such, guns shows like the Crossroads of the West will be allowed to reserve dates and hold shows at the fairgrounds for the first time since last December.

In an order signed Tuesday, the judge said: “Upon request by Plaintiff B&L Productions Inc., d/b/a Crossroads of the West (“B&L”), the District must make available the next available date for a gun show and allow B&L to reserve dates for gun show events (and to hold such events) at the Fairgrounds as the District would any other show promoters who have previously held events at the Fairgrounds.”

The state’s 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds, voted last September to temporarily ban the sale of guns and ammunition at the fairgrounds until state legislators could iron out concerns about on-site purchases.

Judge's order on gun shows at Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Judge’s order on gun shows at Del Mar Fairgrounds. (PDF)

The vote effectively suspended gun shows at the fairgrounds as of Jan. 1, prompting the CRPA to file suit against the state of California. The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation are also supporting the CRPA in its grievance.

“We’re thankful Judge Bencivengo sees the constitutional problem with banning these safe, perfectly legal events and is allowing the show to go on while we continue to fight,” said Tiffany Cheuvront, attorney for the CRPA and B&L Productions, which runs the Crossroads of the West gun show. “We’re confident that as this case progresses, law-abiding Americans’ civil rights will not be unjustly violated and that we will prevail.”

Gun control activist groups like Never Again California, a group of Del Mar residents and the cities of Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach called for an end to gun shows at the fairgrounds last year in response to mass shootings and instances of gun violence around the country.

Original complaint against the 22nd District Agricultural Association.
Original complaint against the 22nd District Agricultural Association. (PDF)

State officials also came out against hosting gun shows at the fairgrounds and state-owned land in general, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Assembly members Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas.

In February, Gloria and Boerner Horvath introduced Assembly Bill 893, which would ban the sale of guns and ammunition at the fairgrounds wholesale beginning in 2021. The Assembly approved the bill by a 48-16 vote in April and it’s now being vetted in the state Senate. However, the court’s eventual ruling on CRPA’s case may put the bill’s future in jeopardy.

“While the ruling is disappointing, AB 893 will continue to move forward,” Assemblyman Gloria said in a statement. “This injunction ignores the will of residents in the communities around the Del Mar Fairgrounds who have stated unequivocally that they do not want guns or ammunition sold on this public, state-owned property.”

He said lawmakers would continue to persist with legislation to prohibit gun and ammunition sales on the fairgrounds, “and I hope the Del Mar Fair Board chooses to appeal this misguided decision.”

If passed and signed into law, AB 893 would prohibit the sales of guns and ammunition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds starting January 1, 2021. The bill has already passed the State Assembly and earned the key approval of the State Senate Public Safety Committee last week.

Boerner Horvath’s office had no immediate comment on the ruling by the judge named by President Obama in 2012.

The original lawsuit, filed Jan. 21, came four months after the fairgrounds board voted 8-1 to halt any contracts for gun shows beyond Dec. 31, 2018.

Five individual plaintiffs were named:

  • El Cajon resident Barry Bardack, a part-time flight instructor who regularly attended the Del Mar gun shows “where he purchases ammunition for his target shooting hobby and volunteers at the CRPA booth to talk to others about their rights, the importance of membership in the CRPA, and the Second Amendment.” The suit says a ban would make the closest vendor for bulk ammunition two hours from his home.
  • Alpine residents Ronald J. Diaz Sr., a retired federal contractor who attended the shows to buy reloading supplies, and John Dupree, who works for the federal government and is a competitive shooter who need to purchase bulk ammunition in order to compete.
  • Carlsbad resident Christopher Paul Irick, self-employed, who “enjoys going to the shows for good prices on firearms and accessories, as well as the variety of merchandise available at the events.”
  • And Lawrence Michael Walsh, owner of Wholesale Ammunition whose business does not have a physical store but sells only at gun shows across the state.

“Mr. Walsh’s business also supplies ammunition to many of the law enforcement agencies and officers in the state, some of which purchase their ammunition from him at the gun shows because of the amount available, the cost, and the variety they can find,” the complaint said.

A ban “would be devastating to Mr. Walsh’s business and his ability to reach a large number of people would be greatly diminished.”

The case is expected to continue into the fall, according to Cheuvront. If the Senate passes AB 893 and Newsom signs the bill into law prior to the case’s completion, the gun show organizers would likely file a second lawsuit to have the ban struck down.

The judge set an Aug. 16 deadline for discovery. Motions for summary judgment must be filed by Aug. 29. A hearing on any motions for summary judgment is set for 10 a.m. Sept. 26 in downtown San Diego federal court.

Updated at 1:50 a.m. June 20, 2019

— City News Service and staff reports