Officials Told They Can't Ask Newsom To Veto Gun Control Bill

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

California Democrats have been taking aim at gun shows for several years now, and in some cases local officials are more than happy to play along. In Orange County, however, the board of the county fairgrounds isn’t happy about a bill in Sacramento that would ban gun shows from taking place at the OC Fair and Event Center. In fact, they’d like to see Gov. Gavin Newsom veto the legislation, but they won’t be officially communicating their desire to the governor because a representative of the California Department of Justice said that might not be allowed under state law. Seriously.

Faced with the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue, the fair board met Monday to discuss sending Newsom a letter that, in a draft shown at the meeting, would have said the gun show ban “will not enhance public safety” and asked him to veto the bill.

The Crossroads of the West gun show has been held at the OC fairgrounds since 1996 and takes place about three or four weekends a year, each time drawing thousands of visitors. Data previously received from fair officials shows that the events – not including parking fees – have brought in between $300,000 and $750,000 in each of the past 10 years (except for 2020, when most events were canceled due to the pandemic).

“As the governing body we need to have it on the record that we are losing this revenue,” fair board chairwoman Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia said. “This is not a political fight.”

But some board members were uneasy with the strong wording of the letter. The board of the 32nd District Agricultural Association, which is what the state calls the fairgrounds, is appointed by the governor and is subject to state guidelines on lobbying and political activity.

“I do not know that the board has the ability to advocate, for example, for a specific veto,” said Joshua Caplan, a state Department of Justice lawyer who took board members’ legal questions Monday.

After some discussion, the board decided to have the letter rewritten to stick to factual points, such as the expected revenue loss if gun shows are canceled, and resume discussion of whether to send it at a Sept. 23 meeting.

It seems crazy to me that the fair’s board of directors can’t urge the governor to veto a bill that specifically dictates what activities can take place at the fairgrounds itself, and if I were sitting on that board I think I’d go ahead and risk Newsom or CalDOJ trying to sanction me for speaking out. In fact, I’d be happy to have that fight, but I guess the current members would rather go along to get along. So now they’ll maybe send a letter to the governor pointing out the loss of revenue if the gun show ban is signed into law, or maybe not. They’ll figure it out in a couple of weeks, unless of course Newsom signs the bill before then.

While the board is pussyfooting around, the sponsor of the gun show ban bill is threatening to sue fair officials if they approve any gun shows before Newsom signs the ban into law.

The fair board got its own litigation threat from [State Senator Dave] Min, who sent a letter criticizing what he described as an attempt to rush approval of gun show contracts to evade the purpose of his bill. If signed into the law, the bill would become effective Jan. 1, 2022 – and contracts in place before that date would be exempt.

In the letter, Min said if the board were to pre-approve future contracts with any gun show operator, “I would explore litigation and legislation seeking to void these contracts.”

In a phone interview, Min said approving new contracts shortly before a bill to ban them could become law would be “acting in bad faith.”

“My concern was that certain members of the board were essentially looking to do an end run around this legislation because they disagreed with it,” he said, adding that it “looks to me like they’re acting outside the scope of their duties.”

Min is threatening to sue the board for signing contracts that are specifically allowed under the language of his own bill, and what was the fair board’s response? To delay the signing of any contracts for gun shows next year until an unspecified future meeting. They caved, in other words.

I assume (along with Min, apparently), that Newsom will end up signing this bill into law, and that litigation challenging the ban will shortly follow. Someone needs to stand up to this unconstitutional attack on the First and Second Amendment rights of Orange County residents, but it sure doesn’t look like it will be the fair board itself. Instead, I suspect that 2A groups in the state and perhaps gun show promoters will be the plaintiffs challenging any gun show ban. Maybe the board members of the Orange County Fairgrounds can send a letter in support… at least if CalDOJ says it’s okay.