Gun show attendees browse at the Ontario Convention Center on Jan. 6. (Christina House / For The…)
As the nation debates the idea of new gun laws, the decades-old Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds this weekend will be business as usual, organizers said — with the exception of increased security.
The fairgrounds, whose relationship with the Utah-based Crossroads company spans nearly 25 years, receives about $600,000 from parking, rent, food and beverages from the shows, which are held several times a year, said Jerome Hoban, chief executive of the O.C. Fair & Event Center.
"We're increasing the security because these gun shows are wildly popular, and we want to make sure it's a secure and safe event," he said. "With more people, it's more security, and that's with any event."
Gun shows are under scrutiny from local governments nationwide following the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting last month and after accidents at three recent gun shows left five people injured. The Glendale City Council this week took the first step toward banning gun shows and banning all firearm sales on city-owned land.
Also motivated are gun enthusiasts who fear new regulations; they are stocking up on ammunition and guns. The recent Ontario gun show, also sponsored by Crossroads, was packed.
The state-run fairgrounds has its own on-site security and contracts with the Orange County Sheriff's Department for supplemental help.
Four deputies are scheduled to patrol the show, in addition to the two at the fairgrounds' weekly Orange County Market Place, said sheriff's Sgt. Scott Baker.
"We're not foreseeing any problems," he said. "I know there is a heightened sense with all the stuff going on, but we haven't addressed it any further than that."
Having four deputies on patrol is more than have been on hand for past shows, Baker said.
"It's about as safe as you're going to be," he said. "We're not projecting any problems.... We're not going to a higher level because of the situation, or anything of that nature."
Hoban expressed confidence in security at the fairgrounds. "We don't take any event lightly," he said. "If we have the public on our facility, it's our responsibility to keep everything safe."
Sales of handguns and rifles at the show are subject to state and federal mandates, organizers said. "The rules aren't changing because it's a gun show, or you get an exemption. … The rules still apply there," Baker said.
State laws include a 10-day waiting period, valid identification and a registration fee.
"It's not the kind of event where everybody's walking out the door with firearms," Hoban said.
Bob Templeton, owner of Crossroads, said the Costa Mesa show typically draws 10,000 to 14,000 but that number could swell to 20,000 this weekend. "People are concerned about all the discussions at the national level about gun control and so forth," he said.
He said he expected 8,000 people at the recent Ontario gun show but 16,000 showed up — as did some protesters. The Costa Mesa show will have a "free-speech area" for people to voice their opinions, Baker said.
Templeton called the fairgrounds "a very local event." He said about 80% of those who attend the five shows a year live in Orange County.
Despite increased security, some have reservations.
Kevin Wilkes, a Costa Mesa resident and father of a 7-year-old girl, said the event is too close for his liking to Costa Mesa High School, Orange Coast College and parks. He alluded to the recent gun show shootings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
"You have kids and sports fields and TeWinkle Park," he said. "It makes you stop and think … we're literally playing with a loaded gun here."
He said he supports the 2nd Amendment but would like to see an assault weapon ban, among other restrictions on gun ownership. He wants a safer environment for his family.
"I don't want to take anything away from people who collect.... I'm gathering most people are good, law-abiding citizens," Wilkes said. "It's just a few who mess it up for everybody else."