On Sept. 14 and 15, thousands will head for the Pima County Fairgrounds, as Crossroads of the West hosts its third gun show of the year. There will be some 375 tables loaded with handguns, semi-automatics and other weaponry available for purchase. But there won't be any metal detectors, surveillance cameras or much of a law enforcement presence. And, most disturbing of all, there won't be any background checks for a great many of the guns that get sold there.
While most of those paying the $12 entry fee will be law-abiding folks looking for good deals, it's a known fact that nationwide the "gun show loophole"—from 25 percent to 50 percent of the sellers are private parties and can legally sell without background checks—attracts dangerous buyers. Which means that in the second weekend in September, it will be easier for a felon, a domestic abuser or a seriously mentally ill person to buy an AR-15 at the Pima County Fairgrounds than it would be for me to get into a City Council meeting, where I have to go through a metal detector and empty my purse. For that matter, it will be easier to buy a dozen semi-automatic weapons that weekend than it would be for you to volunteer this fall at your grandchild's school, where fingerprinting and background checks are required by state law.
Gun shows are a risky business in Arizona, where gun violence outpaces the rate in most other states, drug cartels terrorize the border and government oversight is next to nil. So why wouldn't Pima County government be interested in doing everything possible to cut down on illegal gun sales that occur on public property?
That's a question three of us in a local group called the Tucson Committee Against Gun Violence, or TCAGV, set out to discover last March. Our group was formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, where 20 first-graders and six staff members were riddled with bullets from semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines. From the beginning, TCAGV's agenda has mirrored the national legislation put forward after the tragedy in Connecticut: universal background checks; harsher punishment for gun trafficking; and a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines that were designed for killing human beings in military combat.
As we all know, not one gun safety law made it out of Congress. Like many Americans, our group had been optimistic that Sandy Hook would break the disturbing NRA stranglehold on politicians: God forbid any elected official should ever lose a child to such horrific violence.
We were heartened when the city of South Tucson supported gun safety laws, and the city of Tucson got out of the gun show business. That's when we set up appointments with county supervisors Richard Elías and Ramón Valadez (chairman of the Board of Supervisors), hopeful that the county would feel responsible for making the sale of weapons on public property as safe as possible. While both supervisors were sympathetic, neither believed there was anything he could do: the county was trumped by state law. We were directed to the Southwestern Fair Commission, an appointed body that supposedly oversees the management of the fairgrounds.
In May, we emailed questions to the commission via Jon Baker, director of the nonprofit that manages the fairgrounds for the county. After receiving no response, we attended the commission's June meeting to ask them in person: How much does the county make from gun shows? How many sellers are private? How much security do you have? What can you do to make gun shows safer? How can you cut down on illegal sales in the unpatrolled parking lot? They considered our questions to be "political," and referred us back to the Board of Supervisors.
We sent letters to all of the supervisors, hoping the other three might weigh in on keeping guns out of dangerous hands. They did not. Finally, we tried to get answers from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Again, no success.
If the "gun show loophole" prevents our county supervisors from stopping illegal gun sales and ensuring community safety, perhaps it's time for them to get out of this risky business once and for all. We plan on bringing up our questions at the Sept. 10 board meeting. At the very least, we need them to weigh in on national gun control legislation. After Sandy Hook, 90 percent of all Americans polled said they believe Second Amendment rights went hand in hand with universal background checks. Let's be sure our elected officials have not forgotten: Call the board members at 740-8126.