In a tone-deaf action just one day after a 15-year-old boy in Michigan reportedly shot and killed four of his schoolmates, the Solano County Fairgrounds Board of Directors voted on Dec. 1 to allow a gun show to be held at the fairgrounds Dec. 4-5.
This unfortunate decision by a handful of our community leaders was a callous show of disrespect to the murder victims and an act of irresponsibility toward our community. We desperately need public servants who are going to do their utmost to protect our citizens, not turn a blind eye to the source of so much death, pain and grief in our world.
Director Jeff Moorhead apparently justified his yes vote by recounting how watching “animals loot a Walmart” two years ago changed him as a person. Apparently, the slaughter of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 didn’t affect Mr. Moorhead’s attitude toward people or guns.
Board member Valerie Williams, who opposed the gun show, pointed out that 27 people were killed in Vallejo last year — all of them by firearms. UC Davis has reported that there were 39,707 deaths from firearms in the United States in 2019. The report also said that the estimated annual cost of gun injury in 2012 exceeded $229 billion — about 1.4% of gross domestic product. (health.ucdavis.edu/what-you-can-do/facts.html)
Mr. Moorhead called for “gun safety” to be taught in our schools. Some of the most horrific mass killings in our country have happened in schools: Columbine, Colo., Newtown, Conn., Parkland, Fla., and now Oxford, Mich. Why on earth would someone advocate bringing guns into our children’s classrooms? Our students need to improve their academic skills, not their ability to handle firearms.
Mr. Moorhead also leaned into that old, tired cliche that “guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people.” No, Mr. Moorhead, people with guns shoot people, and if fewer people had guns, fewer people would be killed and maimed by them.
We are in the midst of a long gun-violence epidemic in this country, and our leaders must help to contain, not contribute, to it. Guns are a fact of life and death in our society and they aren’t going anywhere. But courageous public servants must stand up against the unbridled promotion of weapons that are doing so much harm to our people, economy and the soul of our nation.
FAIRFIELD — A true silent majority – nine unfilled seats on the Solano County Fair Association’s 15-seat governing board – could prove to influence greatly whether gun shows will be allowed at the fairgrounds.
The Solano County Fair Association directors on Wednesday take up the issue again after voting 4-1 Aug. 9 to stop gun shows at the fairgrounds starting in 2022.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at McCormack Hall, 900 Fairgrounds Drive in Vallejo. Access is also available online. Log-in information, including Meeting ID and password, can be found at www.scfair.com.
The August action was challenged as a violation of open meeting laws, and rather than push the matter into the courts, the Fair Board opted instead to take up the question a second time.
“Since that meeting, our board has received a fair amount of feedback from our community, as well as a concern about whether the SCFA was in full compliance with the Brown Act,” Lee Williams, the lone dissenter in August and current board president, said in a statement announcing the Wednesday meeting.
“The board has therefore decided to conduct another meeting where the gun show question can be revisited. We believe this will further ensure that anyone who wishes to have their opinion considered before the board takes its final action may do so,” he said.
The upcoming meeting is considered to be a “correction” of the Aug. 9 meeting, according to fair association Executive Director Mike Ioakimedes, after speaking with the association attorney Kim Alexander-Yarbor, a deputy county counsel assigned to provide legal advice to the association and its directors.
That means the Aug. 9 action is nullified, and currently, the official policy of the fair association is to allow gun shows at the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds has traditionally hosted four or five gun shows each year, generating between $40,000 and $50,000 in revenue, Ioakimedes reported.
That is why the makeup of the board – and the unfilled positions – could be an important factor in the outcome.
The board currently has three members from the 1st District and three members from the 5th District.
The supervisors who appointed them to the Fair Board – Erin Hannigan, 1st District, and Mitch Mashburn, 5th District – land on opposite sides of the issue. Hannigan favors the ban; Mashburn does not.
One board member from each of those districts – Rhonda Smith, 1st District, and Jeff Moorhead, 5th District – were not on the board in August.
The other sitting members are: Norma Placido and Manuel Angel, 1st District, and Valerie Williams, 5th District. All favored the gun show ban in August.
Hannigan and Mashburn could not be reached to ask whether they have talked to their appointees about the gun show issue or the upcoming meeting.
It leaves a very real possibility that the board vote could end in a 3-3 tie, and by doing so, would leave in place the policy that allows gun shows at the fairgrounds.
For that to happen, however, Valerie Williams would have to change her vote to ban the gun shows.
At the time she noted she had “mixed feelings about whether we should be hosting gun shows . . . I don’t think a person’s gun rights trumps the right of a (student) to go to school and come home.”
Missing from this current board, but who represented the 2nd District at the August meeting, is Kari Birdseye. She resigned Oct. 26, but did not give a specific reason for leaving the panel in her email to Ioakimedes.
Birdseye voted in favor of ending the gun shows, citing Sen. Bill Dodd’s position that the state – and by extension the county – should not be in the gun and ammunition business.
Supervisor Monica Brown, who represents the 2nd District, said she favors the fairgrounds ban, so potentially there are missing votes there to support the prohibition.
She said in a phone interview Friday that it can be difficult to find people who want to serve on the Fair Board, and she did not have any time to replace Birdseye.
She fully expects gun shows to continue to be held at the fairgrounds.
“The fact the board is doing this over again indicates the pressure put on the board to bring (gun shows) back,” Brown said. “Sometimes that’s the price you pay when you don’t have votes on the board.”
That brings the issue back to those empty board seats, and how appointees might have influenced the decision.
Supervisor Jim Spering represents the 3rd District and has said he disagrees with banning gun shows at the fairgrounds, but called “fair” the criticism of him for failing to appoint anyone to the Fair Board.
Those are missing votes that may have opposed the gun show prohibition.
Supervisor John Vasquez, who represents the 4th District, could not be reached for comment about the upcoming meeting and did not return calls seeking comment after the first vote in August. He has not appointed anyone to the Fair Board for a number of years.
Three days after the Fair Board votes on the issue, a two-day gun show is scheduled to open at the fairgrounds.
The question is, will it be the last gun show at the fairgrounds?
[Editor: PLEASE let the Fairgrounds Board members and staff hear from you! The Fairgrounds Board should continue the ban on these horrible gun show events (as have officials in other local fairgrounds sites). Too many guns are already in our homes and on our streets – stop the gun violence now! – R.S.]
Board voted in August to ban gun shows – pro gun advocates pushing another vote
SCFA Board of Directors President Lee Williams explained, “At our Aug. 9 meeting our Board met and took action to no longer host gun shows at our fairgrounds. Since that meeting our Board has received a fair amount of feedback from our community, as well as a concern about whether the SCFA was in full compliance with the Brown Act. The Board has therefore decided to conduct another meeting where the gun show question can be revisited. We believe this will further ensure that anyone who wishes to have their opinion considered before the Board takes its final action may do so.”
SCFA Executive Director Mike Ioakimedes added, “To maximize public participation, our Board has decided to host the Dec. 1 meeting in-person, here at the fairgrounds, in addition to offering a means to attend electronically. McCormack Hall is large enough to accommodate this meeting while still providing for ample social distancing.”
Ioakimedes noted that, at the time of this news release, the Solano County Fairgrounds was observing Vallejo’s indoor mask mandate.
The partnership between Code of the West and the Solano County Fairgrounds is no longer rising with a bullet. The 20-plus year welcome mat was yanked off the front porch Monday night with a 4-1 vote banning all gun shows at the north Vallejo venue.
The gun show ban is cast in stone — for now. At the advice of counsel, the board of directors will honor signed contacts for Oct. 9-10 and Dec. 4-5 Code of the West events.
“My crystal ball is not very clear nowadays, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this question comes back again,” said Mike Ioakimedes, president and CEO of the Solano County Fairgrounds.
In a “Special Meeting by the Board of Directors,” Kari Birdseye, Valerie Williams, Norma Placido, and Manny Angel voted for the ban. Lee Williams voted against.
Photo: The art of making a mess in Vallejo
“I respect the careful thought this independent governing body gave to a very serious problem,” said Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell.
Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan and state Sen. Bill Dodd supported the fair association’s vote.
“That’s a good decision. There are enough guns in our country,” Hannigan said. “The Solano County Fairgrounds does not need to continue to support gun purchases.”
“Gun violence is a serious problem across our nation and here in Solano County,” said Dodd on Tuesday. “I’ve been clear that the state should not be involved in gun sales and I appreciate Solano County taking a close look at how they use the fairgrounds.”
While praising Code of the West for adhering to gun and ammunition purchase restrictions, with no issues at the shows, the prevalent reason cited for the ban was Vallejo’s high weapons-related crime rate.
Lee Williams vehemently disagreed.
“Stopping the gun show (at the fairgrounds) is not the answer. Education of guns is the answer,” Williams said. “I’m sorry the gun violence in Vallejo is really bad. A lot of the gun violence you’re seeing is due to the drug level going on in our communities. I see the professionalism at these gun shows and everything is on the up and up. If something went down (illegally), this should not be at this venue or other places in the state.”
Birdseye was the most vocal against hosting gun shows.
“This (gun violence) is a crisis in Vallejo and now is the time to take action,” she said. “I have learned that the gun shows sell out of ammunition, the first thing. To me, that is really concerning. A lot of people are showing up to get their ammo and to go. They take in a (safety) lesson or look at the antique guns. They are there to get ammunition and Vallejo is a pretty violent city with a lot of crime going on and the last thing we need is more ammunition in the streets.”
Birdseye said she believes in the Second Amendment, “but we are talking about a severely-impacted community and the fairgrounds sits in the middle of it.”
Board of Directors chair Manny Angel wavered on both sides of the issue, wanting to vote “yes” and “no,” initially abstaining, and finally voting to ban the gun shows.
“This is a pretty sensitive topic. It’s a hot-button issue,” Angel said. “We’re just operating these fairgrounds. This isn’t something I think we should be able to make the call on. We’re just hosting events and activities here.” Angel said the decision on banning gun shows “should come from upstairs.”
Birdseye immediately disagreed.
“We ask for autonomy from the county on many occasions,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s our position to say, ‘Oh county, make the decision for us’ because we are in charge of the events.”
“The majority of people obtaining guns in town aren’t getting them from our gun shows,” Angel said. “People obtaining these firearms already have issues with the law. I don’t have all the answers. All I know is we have an opportunity here to do something about that. I don’t want to take away anybody’s ability to own a gun. On the other hand, you see in the news, see everywhere what’s happening in town.”
When roll call began, Angel said that “I am going to abstain on this vote. I wanted to vote ‘yes’ and I ‘no.’ I don’t think I have the authority to make that call. I think it’s on everyone else to make that call.”
When Ioakimedes asked Birdseye to repeat the vote for the meeting’s minutes, Angel changed his mind, voting “yes” on the ban.
“I don’t think it’ll have a direct impact on Vallejo’s violence. At least I know we’re trying to do something make an effort to make it right by the community,” Angel said.
Valerie Williams said she had “mixed emotions whether we should be hosting gun shows or not.”
“My husband is a hunter and my dad was a hunter,” she said. “We were taught to handle firearms properly. But I understand not everyone lives the same way. We all see the news — these mass shootings. Often these people have mental illness or other problems. That’s my concern. I feel our gun shows are following the laws that dictate how they can transfer firearms. I don’t think anybody’s right to purchase firearms trumps someone’s right to survive the day and come home.”
Placido said that crime “is really terrible here in Vallejo and we have to make sure we will not continue to host a gun show.”
Jason Smith of Code of the West defended more than two decades of shows his family has produced at the fairgrounds “in a safe environment for gun enthusiasts, whether they are collectors, hunters, or like to go to the shooting range. We never had a single issue at the fairgrounds.”
Smith squelched the “false rumor” that there’s a “gun show loophole” in buying firearms, “that you can buy a gun and leave that day with it or buy ammo without having a background check. That’s all false.”
The same background checks and wait period laws that a gun store has to follow are the same laws restricting gun shows, Smith said.
“We definitely follow all the state and federal guidelines or we would be shut down by the Department of Justice,” said Smith, who said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that he “didn’t expect” a board vote Monday.
“I knew there was a meeting scheduled to discuss the future of gun shows at the Solano County Fairgrounds but I did not realize there was an actual vote taking place on Monday night,” he said.
Smith criticized the board members’ knowledge of the gun debate.
“People that are against gun shows tend to base their decisions off of misinformation and are not educated about the industry,” he said. “For example, one board member mentioned people arriving to the gun show and buying all of the ammo first thing Saturday morning. This has been true the past couple of shows because there is an industry-wide ammo shortage right now. Arriving early is necessary if you want a chance to purchase ammo. People are not hoarding or stockpiling. There is simply a shortage.”
During the public comment segment of the Zoom meeting, gun show proponent Jeff Moorhead said he has been a Code of the West participant at the fairgrounds “for a long time.”
“Why would we not allow gun shows to continue at the Solano County Fair? I have never witnessed at any time an illegal transaction. The gun shows have been very professional,” Moorhead said, calling it “a fundamental right of Americans to be able to obtain firearms.”
The gun shows bring in “about $40,000 to $50,000 in gross annual sales,” Iokimedes said, acknowledging that replacing the income “will be a tough nut to crack.”