Questions emerge around North Carolina city's nixing of gun shows

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Gun shows have been a regular feature at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina for years. Well, at least they were a regular feature until they abruptly stopped in 2020. At the time, the city announced that it had entered into an agreement with the owner of Gun Show Inc. that allowed the city to bar the shows from the municipally-owned property as well as take control of the show’s branding and name for five years. According to city officials, all this was done without any cost to taxpayers, but now a local businessman and mayoral candidate in the city says a public information request for records regarding the deal has turned up evidence that the city’s actions may have violated the law.

Eric Roberts’ initial records request didn’t turn up any of the documents he suspected were out there, but after filing a lawsuit and submitting a revised request in early April, he says he recently struck pay dirt.

On Friday, he released documents he had received and complained that the city had taken illegal action to eliminate gun shows in violation of the Second Amendment. He called the entire plan “deceptive and fraudulent.”

Robert’s suit named Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, and City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba, and, in a press release, he specified the City Council and one of its members, Justin Outling, who also is running for mayor in a four-person primary that includes Vaughan, Robert and former judge Mark Cummings. Early voting began on April 28.

Vaughan at the time had confirmed to WGHP that the city had bought the gun show a couple of years earlier and had gained control over dates at the coliseum.

Robert circulated the purchase agreement drafted and executed by Brown in which the city agreed to pay Greensboro Gun Show at Greensboro Coliseum a sum of $400,000 — $80,000 a year through 2025 – for the rights to the event and its name.

As the local news site Rhino Times reports, the documents obtained by Roberts do not include any signed copies of that purchase agreement, only draft copies, which raises even more questions.

Since the Greensboro Coliseum has not had gun shows since 2020, the logical assumption is that an agreement was reached with Sorrell for at least a total of $400,000 to sell his rights to the “Greensboro Gun Show” to the Greensboro Coliseum.

So where is the copy of the signed agreement?  How can the city admit to having copies of the drafts of the agreement but not the signed agreement?

The same is true of other documents that Robert received in response to his public records request. Robert received a draft of an email from Coliseum Director Matt Brown to “Mayor Vaughan and Members of the City Council, City Manager David Parrish.”

The document has “DRAFT” at the top and is dated Dec. 15, 2020.

It is headed, “Re: Purchase of the Rights to the Greensboro Gun Show.”

If this draft of an email from Brown to Vaughan, Parrish and the City Council exists where is the actual email and why wasn’t that released.

These are great questions, and as Roberts himself says, the issue is not just about attempts by the city government to shut down the shows, which “involved hundreds of vendors and small business owners,” adding that Greensboro’s “actions took their livelihoods away while doing nothing to combat violent crime in our city as we have now the highest crime rate in the nation for a municipality our size.”

City attorney Chuck Watts told Fox 8 late on Friday that the deal was signed between the managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum and gun show promoter Rodney Sorrell, and that city officials had nothing to do with the agreement. As for the $80,000 a year payout to Sorrell for the rights to his show, Watts says he’s “pretty sure” that the money came from an “enterprise fund” used by the Coliseum, but that even if that’s not the case he’s “quite confident” that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the deal to keep gun shows out of the city-owned property.

Regardless of where that 400-grand is coming from, its hard to argue that the payment is anything more than a (so far successful) attempt to bar a celebration of the Second Amendment from the Greensboro Coliseum, and the only folks benefitting are the anti-gun politicians and the gun show promoter. What exactly have Greensboro residents gotten out of the deal besides the “joy” of watching elected officials virtue signaling at the expense of their Second Amendment rights?