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The Gun Community Still Thrives in O.C.

On the weekend of Jan. 26-27, the Crossroads of the West Gunshow made one of its annual appearances at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Given that one of our nation’s hottest debates is over gun control, the gun community takes a lot of flak from anti-gun groups and the citizens that those groups influence. Furthermore, it was not surprising that my presence, as a reporter, was met with a note or two of apprehension from some of the vendors that I spoke with at the show – after all, reporters aren’t always as neutrally aligned toward controversial groups and organizations as they ought to be. All said and done, what went down was that people with shared lifestyle interests gathered to buy and sell products associated with those interests, enjoyed their time in a setting where they would not be harassed or judged, and traded stories that revolved around their trade and/or their attitudes and beliefs. No laws were broken, no ugly behavior was exhibited and everyone seemed to have a good time.

I was not allowed to take photographs of the event due to security issues; apparently, in the past, people had cataloged the products of some vendors by taking pictures, and then had broken into the vendors’ shops and stolen the photographed merchandise. Additionally, even though the Crossroads website makes no reference to photographic restrictions, people did not seem inclined to snap away with their cameras. In fact, it was kind of odd to see such a huge event – an estimated 10,000 people for the weekend – without seeing every other person playing with their cellphone in pretty much any capacity. It was as if there was an unspoken notion of privacy going on; either that, or it was a coincidence.

In any event, what I wasn’t able to take photos of included hundreds of types of products and displays. There were revolvers, rifles, semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic handguns, gun build kits, holsters of all sorts, realistic toy BB guns, stun guns (some came in pink for the ladies), rifle scopes, gun manuals and books on all things gun-related, t-shirt vendors (with a predominance of pro-Trump / anti-Liberal messages), bayonets, ammunition, shell casings (for people who make their own ammo), ammo clips, ammo boxes, jewelry and pens fashioned from ammo, numerous varieties of targets (ranging from paper circles to bowling pins), custom-molded earplugs, tripods for rifles, home security systems, tons of hand-guards for semi-automatic rifles, exotic wood gun stocks, Kevlar vests, samurai swords, custom knives, bows, crossbows, laser practice guns with realistic kickback, shoulder straps, and, of course, wooden plaques engraved with the Second Amendment. That and registration booths where you could sign up for a firearms training or safety course – or be recruited to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department – pretty much sums up the vistas that one could expect to see at a gun show, but there were other odds and ends such as beef jerky, Beanie Babies, cosmetics and Nazi paraphernalia, as well.

The show’s vibe was pretty relaxed, overall. There was no pomp or entertainment of any kind, just folks wandering around shopping. The people there all seemed blue-collar; I believe I could count the Polo shirts that I saw with one finger. They were just down-to-earth family folks – many of which had brought their children along.

Tracy Olcott, who manages the show, and whose family has been organizing gun shows for the past 43 years, pointed out that there is an information disconnect between many people and what goes on at gun shows. She recalled that there was some difficulty in Orange County last year with people petitioning the county board members, who issue contracts for the gun shows to take place. She said, “Early in the summer, last year, there was some of that, but that has subsided and most of the board members have come to the show and seen it. In fact, one of the new board members came today to look at this show and said, ‘This is not at all what I thought it was. This is just fine.’” She continued, “I think a lot of it is people [hear] ‘gun show’ and they’re not entirely sure what it is. … There’s no loaded firearms here at all. Every gun in here is tied. You can’t fire any guns here. You can’t walk away with a firearm because you need to go through the background check and waiting period. So I think understanding what we really do here is a vital part of what board members need to do and Orange County, to their credit, has done their research and knows that we’re in compliance with the law.”

Not all boards have been as tolerant as those of Orange in recent times. One of the regular stops for the Utah-based Crossroads of the West’s gun shows for around the past 30 years has been the Del Mar Fairgrounds, in San Diego County. Last year, the board members of Del Mar Fairgrounds were petitioned by NeverAgainCA, a lobbying group and vocal opponent of gun shows, to stop issuing contracts for Crossroads to hold their gun shows. Their action was apparently successful, as Crossroads has not been granted any contracts for 2019. However, the story doesn’t end there; on January 21, the California Rifle & Pistol Association filed a lawsuit alleging that the Del Mar board’s actions are a violation of the First Amendment. Crossroads is one of the plaintiffs in this case, and Olcott pointed out, “The fair board isn’t a political appointee position, and so they’re really supposed to be speaking for their community. They listened to a few vocal locals, and we had just as many or more people signing petitions and showing up at the meetings in support of the gun shows. It was very clear in the course of the meetings that the president and the vice president of the fair board at Del Mar had predetermined, before they even listened to anyone, that they were going to be doing that.”

The 2010s have been plagued by a significantly higher number of high-profile mass shootings, so it is not difficult to understand why anti-gun organizations would flourish. However, given the fact that Olcott’s family has been organizing gun shows for nearly half a century, it seems to follow that there is no correlation between their shows and the increased instances of mass murder. Olcott indicated that people outside of the gun community should learn more about the lifestyle before rushing to judgement of them. She said, “If you didn’t grow up around guns … it’s hard for you to comprehend what we do, and we get that. … They had their hobbies growing up, and we had ours – that might be hunting or target-shooting or just being active in outdoors activities. When people understand that, we’re no different than them. … We here in this community and the gun show are here to do things in compliance with the law and to make sure that things are done right to make them safe too.”