A month after gun show opponents Ira and Rose Ann Sharp and their advocacy group helped convince the Del Mar Fairgrounds board that public land was no place for a gun show, Ms. Sharp received a letter from a Los Angeles law firm. The letter, written in legalese, detailed why she should stop saying things about the gun show operators and demanded that she remove a number of entries and documents on the group’s NeverAgainCA website.
If the Sharps did not comply, according to the last paragraph of the three page letter, “we will not hesitate to pursue formal legal remedies.”
“It was scary at first, it chilled our activities for three days,” Ms. Sharp said. “And then we contacted the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and they said they would help us.”
So the ACLU’s legal director David Loy wrote a six-page response to the letter that outlines how the Sharps will be able to defeat formal legal remedies using a combination of First Amendment free speech rights and laws about publicly available official documents like the court cases quoted by the Sharps.
Loy introduced those ideas by explaining that a lawsuit over Crossroads Gun Show of the West’s list of grievances could be easily defeated. Then he pointed out the defense’s best strategy rests under California’s Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law – which would allow the Sharps to make Crossroads pay their legal fees.
Crossroads and the law firm have not responded to Loy’s letter. “It is an outrageous attempt to harass and intimidate people into censoring themselves,” Loy said. “It is terribly intimidating to get a letter threatening a lawsuit.”
“For many people, the process is the punishment,” Loy said. “That is exactly what the anti-SLAPP law is meant to counter: it stays (the normal court processes) early and causes the plaintiff to come forward and lay out their case so the court can see if it has merit. If it doesn’t, the court can act before people are silenced.”
The Utah-based company did not respond to requests for comment.
So the Sharps and NeverAgainCA continue to pursue getting gun shows out of public venues, now turning toward the Ventura gun shows. They didn’t take down or change anything on their website.
Ms. Sharp says she was inspired by the raw courage of the kids who survived the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Her group’s first protest was one to support the kids who walked out of Torrey Pines High School during the national student walkout on March 14 organized by the Parkland survivors.
“We were up the street holding signs with the names of the kids who were killed at Parkland,” she said. “Many of our members are teachers who have to train kids on active shooter drills – and have the horrible job of explaining to children what an active shooter drill is for.”
Ms. Sharp's grandson asked her why she was involved in the protests and she told him that she wants kids everywhere to be able to believe they’re safe – that she is trying to keep him safe.
With a child’s certainty, he responded “I don’t think you can.”
But she could at least keep gun shows off of public land, she decided. The state shouldn’t be endorsing and profiting from gun shows where one dealer has AR-15s and another one sells the kits to make them into rapid-fire weapons.
As the Sharps started researching Crossroads, they found court cases and newspaper articles that stunned them. Crossroads Robert Templeton, his son Jeff and Jeff’s wife Collett all have gun-related federal criminal convictions. In the early 1980s, Robert Templeton was convicted of running guns to Mormons in South Africa during the apartheid trade embargo. He stepped down from an appointment to Utah’s task force exploring gun control measures in 1994 when the conviction became public knowledge.
In a federal forfeiture action against Jeff Templeton filed in 2002, the Utah U.S. Attorney noted that Jeff Templeton had admitted he was addicted to a controlled substance and could not lawfully possess the guns. At some point, his father tried to get his 58 guns back but did not. The civil suit ended in 2004, and the government won.
That was their last case in the federal courts, according to the court records.
One of the show's vendors – Crossroads is not responsible or liable for this – ended up supplying more than 700 rounds of ‘tracer’ ammunition to the killer who shot up the Route 81 Harvest festival, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds, according to federal court documents.
Just a week after the massacre, Templeton decided to go ahead with the Crossroads gun show in Orange County.
Their research, in court filings and news articles, were enough to raise serious questions about who is running the gun shows and NeverAgainCA was able to persuade the Del Mar Fairground board to take a closer look at the gun shows. In September, the fair board voted to suspend its contract with Crossroads for 2019. NBC reported that the fairgrounds received about $60,000 from the shows.
Crossroad’s last gun show at Del Mar – for now – was Dec. 8-9.
“What our movement really did was that we took on the NRA and prevailed,” Ms. Sharp says. “I hope this gives other people the courage to do that.”