Solano County Fairgrounds board votes to ban gun shows
October, December event contracts honoredVallejo Times-Herald, by Richard Freedman, August 10, 2021
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.”