By John Barrick
A deep, unspoken truth guides California political leaders’ efforts to outlaw gun shows at fairgrounds — and the truth has nothing to do with the reasons they offer.
Career politicians will tell you they are trying to outlaw gun shows at fairgrounds in response to cries from the public to eliminate gun violence. Not coincidentally, legislation for such bans often occurs during an election cycle. For example, state assemblymember Steve Bennett, who co-authored Assembly Bill 1769 (AB 1769) with state senator Monique Limon, is up for reelection. AB 1769, if passed, would ban gun shows at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. A bill like this would likely excite assemblymember Bennett’s base group of voters, who are often proponents of significant gun control legislation.
This is why State Senator David Min from Irvine introduced Senate Bill 915 (SB 915), which would eliminate gun shows at every fairground in the state, some 73 shows in all. However, the fact is these politicians are not interested in preventing gun violence, as is evident in their voting records pertaining to criminal justice reform laws. What they are really targeting is the perception of the type of person who legally buys, sells and uses firearms. Let me explain.
There are around 5,000 gun shows annually across the country, and they typically generate large crowds. Most gun shows span a weekend and can draw anywhere from 2,000 to as many as 15,000 attendees during that time. Needless to say, with these types of crowds, gun shows are big business. Fairgrounds that host them make money from parking fees, admission fees and vendor fees.
For example, in the recently concluded Crossroads of the West Gun Show that took place at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, a patron was expected to pay $8 for parking and another $14 to enter. If just 2,000 patrons attended, the fairground would make $30,000 to $40,000 before anyone actually stepped inside the gates. With this kind of revenue stream, why would California political leaders, who have never met a fee they didn’t like, be so interested in stopping this?
Their answer: gun violence. Without a doubt, gun violence is a serious problem in the United States. Mass shootings have become regular occurrences. In 2019-2020, violent crime rose 5.8 percent nationwide, and murders increased 29.4 percent. Firearms deaths have increased 43 percent between 2010-2020. While more than half of those deaths were the result of suicide, a whopping 43 percent of the total gun deaths during that time were homicides. Given these numbers, any political leader’s attempts to limit gun-related deaths should be applauded.
However, this is where fallacies in the narrative begin to show. Chief among them, there is no evidence that links gun violence to gun shows. There is no evidence that links mass shootings to gun shows. Numerous regulations ensure that lawful gun transfers take place at gun shows. This is important. A recent study by the National Institute of Justice concluded that the vast number of violent gun crimes were perpetrated by individuals who had obtained their firearms illegally.
You would think gun shows would be encouraged to help eliminate the unlawful transfer of firearms and, thus, gun violence. Why outlaw gun shows if banning them will not reduce violent gun crime?
The voting records of Assemblymember Bennett and Senators Limon and Min offer an obvious clue. Over the past several years, California political leaders have dived headfirst into the cesspool they mislabel “criminal justice reform.” Many of these new laws have done nothing but reward violent criminals at the expense of crime victims. Last year alone, all three of these political leaders voted in favor of Assembly Bill 333, which made it harder for district attorneys to prosecute violent gang members. Assemblymember Bennett and Senator Limon voted yes on Senate Bill 81, which made it tougher for courts to impose sentencing enhancements, such as when an assailant uses a gun during the commission of a violent crime. Senator Min did not participate in the vote on this bill, but there is no record of him trying to stop it from passing, either.
Senator Limon, who has never met a pro-criminal law she doesn’t like, voted yes in 2018 on Senate Bill 1437, which favored murderers, and Senate Bill 1391, which made it unlawful to prosecute certain juveniles in adult court no matter how heinous their crimes. In 2020, she voted yes on Senate Bill 10, which eliminated the cash bail system, and Assembly Bill 1950, which drastically reduced the time a convicted defendant could be on probation.
What’s the real motivation for political leaders to ban gun shows at fairgrounds?
Look at a statement Senator Min made when he, Senator Limon and Assemblymember Bennett announced their new legislative proposals: “When I grew up, fairgrounds were meant to be places for family-friendly events. Today they have been identified with gun shows and all of the extremist anti-government, sort of violent characteristics that gun shows bring.”
There it is. The banning of gun shows isn’t about stopping gun violence. It’s the perception of the type of people who go to gun shows that concerns them.
This mass mischaracterization is completely unfounded. Gun ownership is a right. People from all walks of life attend gun shows for a variety of very good reasons. Owning a gun does not make one violent. Owning a gun does not make one extremist. Owning a gun does not make one hate the government. In fact, if any of these political leaders bothered actually to visit a gun show, they may be surprised at the large number of American flags displayed at many of the vendors’ booths.
When government leaders restrict citizens’ rights because they don’t like the perceived characteristics of the people who enjoy those rights, something is terribly wrong. Everyone should be contacting their local legislators to prevent AB 1769 and SB 915 from passing.
John Barrick has worked as a prosecutor in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office for over 17 years, where he has prosecuted some of the most violent crimes committed in the county. He currently serves in the Major Crimes-Homicide Unit. He is also a 2022 candidate for District Attorney. You can visit his website at www.Barrick4DA.com for more information.