Youth sporting events funding city's payoff to gun show promoter

Julie Jacobson

A couple of days ago we covered some interesting developments regarding the end of gun shows at the Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina; namely the fact that after submitting Freedom of Information Act requests (and ultimately a lawsuit) a mayoral candidate in the city turned up documents showing that the promoter of the gun shows was apparently paid $400,000 to not host shows at the city-owned facility for a period of five years.

There were questions about where that money came from, with city officials denying that any public funds were used. Instead, the Greensboro city manager said he was “pretty sure” the Coliseum’s general manager had used money from an “enterprise fund” to pay the promoter, which raises the question of where that money came from.

Now we know. Accocrding to FOX 8 in Greensboro, gun show promoter Rodney Sorrell’s payout was made possible thanks to several youth sporting events held at the facility.

Coliseum Managing Director Matthew Brown executed an agreement with Gun Show Inc of Stokesdale and its owner, Rodney Sorrel Sr., in which Sorrel turned over the rights to the show and its name in exchange for $400,000 — $80,000 a year through 2025.

“The dates previously allocated to the Gun Show allowed the Coliseum Complex to solicit and book an increased number of multi-day state, regional and national youth sporting events,” coliseum spokesperson Andrew Brown wrote in an email to questions from WGHP.

“Event-related income from the additional youth sporting events will fund the five annual payments for the Gun Show.”

Now, it’s important to note that there doesn’t appear to be anything illegal here. Whether or not voters will think it’s proper to, in essence, use the labor of youth athletes to pay a gun show promoter to stay away from the facility for five years is another story, however. The lengths to which Greensboro has been willing to go to keep gun shows off of city property isn’t sitting well with many folks, including local businessman and mayoral candidate Eric Robert, who filed the FOIA request (and lawsuit) that uncovered the deal between the Coliseum’s general manager and Sorrell.

Robert’s suit named [Mayor Nancy] Vaughan and City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba, and, in a press release, he specified the City Council and Outling. He called the entire plan “deceptive and fraudulent” and said in a release that his lawsuit “is not just about the Gun Shows, it is about the systemic corruption manifested by the deceptive and fraudulent maneuvers employed by Mayor Nancy Vaughan, with the complicity of city staff. Collectively, they continue to blur the lines between ethical and legal all while refusing to be transparent and held accountable.

“The Gun Shows involved hundreds of vendors and small business owners. “The City’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.”

Greensboro’s mayoral primary is coming up next Tuesday, and the top two vote-getters in the four person race will square off in the general election. Robert is smart to try to tie in the city’s anti-gun show stance to the failure of city leaders like Vaughan to adequately respond to crime in Greensboro, which isn’t going to be impacted by curtailing gun shows on city property. Vaughan has tried to pass off responsibility for the gun shows’ demise onto the general manager of the Coliseum, but she was the one that really got the ball rolling by calling for the city to ban gun shows from the property back in 2018, shortly after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Vaughan’s failed attempt at the time ended up launching the political career of North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, whose impassioned speech to the city council slamming Vaughan’s proposal and standing up for law-abiding gun owners went viral.

Four years later Robinson is being talked about as a gubernatorial candidate, while Nancy Vaughan is fighting to remain on the job as Greensboro’s mayor for another term, and once again Greensboro’s gun shows (or the lack thereof) is an issue front and center before voters. Vaughan’s objections to the gun show didn’t lead to her defeat four years ago, but then again, they were still being held at the time. We’ll know next Tuesday just how much the demise of the gun shows has been a drag on her current campaign, and I’m hoping that voters will decide they’ve had enough of the incumbent’s anti-gun agenda.