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Daily Pilot

Fairgrounds to increase gun show security

Deputies to patrol one of several events that bring in $600,000 annually to the OC Fair & Event Center.

By Bradley Zint

7:04 PM PST, January 23, 2013

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It's likely to be business as usual, but with some increased security, for this weekend's Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds, organizers said.

The show, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, happens multiple times a year at the 150-acre facility in Costa Mesa.

The fairgrounds, whose relationship with the Utah-based company spans nearly 25 years, annually receives some $600,000 from the shows in revenue from parking, rent and food and beverages, said Jerome Hoban, chief executive of the O.C. Fair & Event Center.

"We're increasing the security because these gun shows are wildly popular, and we want to make sure it's a secure and safe event," he said. "With more people, it's more security, and that's with any event."

Gun shows are in the sights of local governments since a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 children Dec. 14 and accidents at three gun shows left five people injured Jan. 19, Gun Appreciation Day. The Glendale City Council took the first step toward banning gun shows Tuesday and moved toward banning all firearm sales on city-owned land.

Also motivated, however, are gun enthusiasts who fear new regulations; they are stocking up on ammunition and guns and vowed to fight the Glendale proposal. The recent Ontario Gun Show, also sponsored by Crossroads, was packed with enthusiasts.

"I'll tell you right now, Obama is the No.1 gun salesman in the nation," one attendee told the Los Angeles Times. "The NRA should give him an award."

Unlike Glendale, there are no plans to discontinue the Costa Mesa event, according to members of the Fair Board, who approve contracts and vendors at the fairgrounds.

"The California gun laws are some of the best laws in the nation," said Board Vice Chairman Stan Tkaczyk. "I'm very comfortable for the gun show being there and for the other ones we've booked."

"They do a fantastic job, and I hope they continue," said Fair Board Member David Ellis.

The state-run fairgrounds has its own on-site security and it contracts with the Orange County Sheriff's Department for supplemental help.

Four deputies are planned to patrol the show, in addition to the two at the fairgrounds' weekly Orange County Market Place, said Sheriff's Department Sgt. Scott Baker.

"We're not foreseeing any problems," he said. "I know there is a heightened sense with all the stuff going on, but we haven't addressed it any further than that."

Having four deputies there is more than have been on hand for past shows, Baker said.

There is no set number of deputies at events, he said, adding that each fairgrounds occasion is individually evaluated.

There will be a "free-speech area" for people to voice their concerns, Baker said.

He stressed no heightened sense of alarm. The event has always been staffed with sheriff's deputies and, historically — unlike other fairground events such as Fight Club OC or the New Year's Eve Block Party — the gun show has been incident-free.

"It's about as safe as you're going to be," Baker said. "We're not projecting any problems.... We're not gearing up, we're not going to a higher level because of the situation, or anything of that nature."

Hoban expressed confidence in security at the fairgrounds.

"We don't take any event lightly," he said. "If we have the public on our facility, it's our responsibly to keep everything safe."

Sales of handguns and rifles at the show are subject to state and federal mandates, organizers said.

"The rules aren't changing because it's a gun show, or you get an exemption … the rules still apply there," Baker said.

State laws include a 10-day waiting period, valid identification and a registration fee.

"It's not the kind of event where everybody's walking out the door with firearms," Hoban said.

In accordance with state law, Baker said, attendees cannot bring loaded weapons to the show. Unloaded handguns must be transported in an approved case. Rifles may be hand-carried or taken inside within cases.

Bob Templeton, owner of Crossroads, said the Costa Mesa show typically draws 10,000 to 14,000 attendees but that number could swell to 16,000 to 20,000 this weekend.

He expected 8,000 people at the recent Ontario gun show but 16,000 showed up, as did some protesters.

"People are concerned about all the discussions at the national level about gun control and so forth," he said.

He called the fairgrounds "a very local event," adding that it's staged about five times a year with about 80% of attendees living in Orange County.

Crossroads plans to feature 200 to 240 vendors and 13,000 product tables in Orange County. The company does about 60 gun shows a year, mostly in the Western United States.

More than 407,000 customers went to Crossroads gun shows last year, which is the most of any gun show in the United States, according to its website.

Despite increased security, however, some have expressed reservations.

Kevin Wilkes, an Eastside Costa Mesa resident and father of a 7-year-old daughter, said the event's proximity to Costa Mesa High School, Orange Coast College and area parks is too close for his liking. He alluded to recent gun show shootings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

"You have kids and sports fields and TeWinkle Park," he said. "Especially with what has just occurred recently at a gun show and at Newtown, it makes you stop and think … we're literally playing with a loaded gun here."

He said he favors the 2nd Amendment but would like to see an assault weapon ban, among other restrictions. Like most parents, he said he wants a safer environment for his family.

"I don't want to take anything away from people who collect … I'm gathering most people are good, law-abiding citizens," Wilkes said. "It's just a few who mess it up for everybody else."

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint