Cow Palace Gun Show Brings Crowds, Protests and Civil Dialogue

Lick-Wilmerding student David Gales organized the gun show protest at the Cow Palace. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

Amid recent Bay Area bans of similar events on county property, the Crossroads of the West gun show was held at the Cow Palace this weekend, free from similar local control.

The two-day event, in its third decade at the Daly City venue, drew thousands of attendees and some protests led by San Francisco high school students.

"There’s a local popular opinion that [residents] don’t feel comfortable with guns being sold right in their backyard," said David Gales, a student at Lick-Wilmerding High School who organized the protest.

A survey from the Public Policy Institute of California last month found that 80 percent of likely voters in the Bay Area think that laws covering the sale of guns should be "more strict."

But the Cow Palace does not fall under the jurisdiction of Daly City or San Mateo County authorities.

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True to its name, the building is operated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. State bills to allow San Mateo County to ban gun shows at the arena have been vetoed, most recently by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013.

In his veto message, Brown wrote that the legislation "totally pre-empts the Board of Directors of the Cow Palace from exercising its contracting authority whenever a gun show is involved."

The continuing operation of the shows, according to Gales, "means that a very minor demographic of the population is being represented over the voice of the majority."

Gales said he got interested in gun policy last year, and was spurred to activism following the shooting death of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

A group of protesters rally against a gun show at the Cow Palace in Daly City on Sunday, April 15, 2018.
Protesters rally against a gun show at the Cow Palace in Daly City on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

But with California's strict regulations of firearms at gun shows, many attendees said that they came to the Crossroads to purchase other items, including ammunition, clothing or knives.

Kirby Carmichael of Pacifica said he even hoped to find bath toys for his young grandson.

"There’s not too many guns and rifles anymore. The climate isn’t right for it, I guess," Carmichael said.

He said that given the strict oversight of sales, there's no reason to ban the event.

"Why shouldn’t it be happening? It’s a commercial activity," Carmichael added. "If we want to start restricting commercial activities, there’s a lot of them they could go after. We still haven’t gotten rid of cigarettes."

Daly City police Sgt. Ron Harrison said that federal officials within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives run checks of the show "on a regular basis."

"They want to make sure that all laws are being complied with and people are selling items that comply with current regulations," he said.

In California, gun show sales must go through a licensed dealer, and a 10-day waiting period means that no one can apply to purchase and leave with a firearm on the same day.

Advocates for shutting down the show worry that even legal purchases will flood the nearby Visitacion Valley and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods, which have historically had some of the city's highest homicide rates.

"We’ve been screaming about this for over 20 years," said Mattie Scott, president of the San Francisco chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "A dealer gets to buy what he wants, and the next thing you know, he has his trunk up in the projects, selling them to someone who doesn’t need them."

Steven Mills comes to the Crossroads shows regularly from Hollister. He said the regulations have contributed to higher prices at the gun shows.

"I'm just kind of looking today," he said. "I love shooting, I love all the accessories, I love looking at the stuff, so it’s just fun."

Mills did take time to walk to the side of the show's entrance to speak with the protesters, who were asking passersby to join them in a conversation about gun policy.

San Francisco resident Steve Guttmann joined students in the protest. He said the small size of the demonstration was inviting for civil dialogue.

"Because we’re such a small group, people were actually willing to talk to us," he said. "We had a series of amazing conversations to really try to build some understanding."

Three more guns shows are scheduled at the Cow Palace for June, September and November of this year.