San Diego On Saturday, July 7, dozens of people were waiting outside the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Del Mar Fair-grounds for the 9:00 a.m. opening. Inside, Crossroads owner Bob Templeton had gathered key vendors to impart important news.
"Make absolutely sure you do the paperwork on every sale," he stressed, pointing out that the media was on the prowl (me and a crew from Channel 51) and that it was necessary to avoid incidents. "Paperwork" means that all guns must be registered in accordance with California law and that there be a ten-day waiting period before the buyer could claim them.
Templeton also told the assembled dealers that the gun- show trade association needed their financial support because two pieces of pending legislation, one state and one federal, would be lethal to the existence of gun shows. He cited AB 295, introduced in the California Assembly by Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), and in Washington an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Bill, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), which passed the Senate and was being considered by the House.
"Even if a gun was sold legally at a gun show," Templeton had earlier told me, "the show promoter could be held responsible for anything that happened down the line with the gun. Ellen Corbett won't even sit down with the gun-show industry about our concerns. She's very intransigent."
Inside the exhibit hall, Escondido gun-shop owner Mike Murphy was setting up his display. He's only had his shop three years and hits the Del Mar show mainly to get the word out about his business to the North County gun aficionados. As to show promoters like Templeton being held liable for criminal use of a firearm purchased at one of the shows, Murphy erupts: "That's bullshit. Think about it. The State of California approved the sale. Why would they hold him responsible when they approved the sale?" (Spokesmen for both Corbett and Lautenberg denied that their respective legislation would hold gun-show promoters liable for a later misuse of a weapon sold at a show.)
Do dealers ever sell guns at the shows under the table, to avoid the paperwork? Murphy shook his head, disgusted. "You'd have to be fucking stupid, excuse my language. It could be a setup. I'm not going to jeopardize my license for a few dollars."
Setups and stings were on the minds of the vendors at the Crossroads show. Several months prior, at the huge Great Western Gun Show at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona (probably the biggest gun show in the country) plainclothes agents of the California Department of Justice had pulled off a sting, purchasing a number of illegal weapons and observing some dealers who were skipping the "paperwork." Four arrests were made.
Some at the Del Mar show hinted at entrapment and suggested that the justice department had inflated the numbers to make the sting appear worse than it was. "Gun shows," says Gordon Groomer, 55, of Orange County, "are currently being badly beaten up, being demonized because of the acts of a few people. It's because of the barrage of malarkey being thrown at us by the news media, which is obviously very biased against us. They should leave gun-loving folks alone, because it's the criminals, not us, who are causing the problem."
Groomer tours the California circuit with Crossroads, the only traveling show to hit San Diego. He's on disability and to supplement his income sells guns and operates the safety certification booth at the show. In California, the law requires any first-time handgun buyer (except honorably discharged veterans) to be certified on firearms safety. To this end, the buyer pays $20 either to watch a two-hour video on the topic or to take a l5-minute test. Groomer says that 95 percent opt for the test.
"The news media and extreme left," he continues, "infuriate people by tying the word 'gun' to 'crime,' and I for one am extremely upset. The gun laws are being used to eventually eliminate guns." If shows like Crossroads were to be legislated out of existence, he states, "It will make for an extremely large black market. The black market is already there, and it would expand. Just like when they prohibited alcohol."
Standing before a rack of rifles, Larry Plank of L&G Weaponry proclaimed, "I'm a dealer in the so-called assault weapons. They're still legal, but Gestapo Gray Davis is doing his best to make these things go away."
Plank, who operates from his home/office in Orange County, sells knock-offs of the famed Colt AR-l5, which he puts together himself from parts. His rifles, which sell for $700 and up, are legal in California but may be affected by a bill signed into law on July l9 that expands the definition of "assault rifles."
About 40 percent of his business derives from gun shows and another 40 percent off Internet sales. A weapon sold on the Net must be shipped to a federally licensed dealer near the buyer, who must comply with all the laws of that state.
Plank was at the Great Western show in Pomona at the time of the Department of Justice foray. He did notice a dealer with a "rocket-propelled grenade" but assumed it was inert. "That violates so many laws, the guy would have to be an idiot to bring something like that." (The justice department press release stated that one weapon seized at the show was an "illegal rocket-launcher with projectile.")
The government, Plank is certain, wants to end both gun shows and the Internet sale of firearms. "I don't trust them. I don't trust any of them. They'll take one or two incidents where someone was allegedly doing an illegal transfer and blow it all out of proportion. The news media hypes the piss out of anything that goes wrong. It would be interesting to see if the reporter could come back six or nine months later to see the results of the trial and what really happened."