Nashville Fairground Board of Commissioners Vote to Halt Gun Shows at Fairground

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After testimony from concerned citizens, neighbors, and a local prosecutor, the board of fair commissioners voted to no longer host gun shows at the fairgrounds beginning in 2016.

In a marathon board meeting this morning, the board of fair commissioners voted to no longer have gun shows at the Nashville Fairgrounds. There is a gun show planned for this weekend that will go on as planned, but that will be the last one for the foreseeable future. Instead, the fair commissioners will research and draft a new contract specific to gun shows that will address issues such as the need for additional security and attention to how gun sale transactions are taking place.

Before the discussion began, roughly a dozen community members spoke in opposition to having fairgrounds on city-owned property. Some of those speaking were parents of children lost to gun violence while others were simply community members concerned about the amount of gun violence in the city and the ease of obtaining guns at gun shows. One of the speakers was a buiness owner who lived nearby. All were in agreement: they do not want gun shows at the being held on the fairgrounds.

Assistant District Attorney Jenny Charles also spoke as a private citizen, but with the perspective of a prosecutor who has prosecuted numerous gun crimes. In three separate cases, she was able to link guns in the possession of felons to the gun shows held at the Nashville Fairgrounds. One case involved trafficking and smuggling of Nashville gun show guns to Australia. The other two cases cited involved felons in possession of guns purchased at Nashville gun shows.

Safe Tennessee Project Policy Director Beth Joslin Roth also spoke. She quoted an interview between investigative reporter Ben Hall and incarcerated gang member Jonathan Gutierrez:

“Where did you get the weapons that you used?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

Gutierrez responded,”Most of the weapons that were used were coming from the gun show.”

Gutierrez said at age 15, he and other gang members went to local gun shows with cash and were easily able to buy four to six guns each visit.

“Anybody will sell you a gun,” Gutierrez said. “I mean no matter what, if you want a gun and you show them the money, and tell them you want to buy it, he’s going to definitely sell it to you.”

Gutierrez said he bought most guns in the gun show parking lot, after going inside the show and picking out which guns he wanted.

Gutierrez said he has no doubt gang members go to gun shows now and buy guns that are used on the streets of Nashville.

He said it’s one of many easy ways for criminals to get guns.

Gutierrez admitted his gang also stole guns, but said sometimes gang members got arrested doing that.

He said they never got arrested buying guns at gun shows.

Roth also noted that she had recently attended a gun show at the fairgrounds and was concerned with the merchandise on display.

“I was appalled by some of the merchandise I saw being sold at the show- a show that is billed as being ‘family-friendly,’ said Roth. “Bumper stickers suggesting that to keep America Free, you should “shoot a liberal.” Confederate flags and items emblazoned with the confederate flag were everywhere. Everything from rebel flag hats, pocket knives, clocks, t-shirts, and firearm accessories were for sale. Possibly the most offensive was a t-shirt with a large confederate flag and the words “Defending Freedom since 1861. Exactly whose freedom are they talking about? ”

The issue of controversial merchandise being sold at gun shows at the fairgrounds was brought up at the last fair board meeting in November. At that time, Dave Goodman of the Bill Goodman’s Gun and Knife Show organization stated that he did not find such items to be racist or offensive.

“I support the first amendment,” Roth stated. “However, I strongly believe that words matter and that fanning the flames of racism with incendiary language and imagery is not only in poor taste, it’s divisive and dangerous. If someone wants to display the confederate flag or wear a racist t-shirt, they have that right. But I don’t feel that those kinds of items should be sold on city-owned property.

“I support the second amendment. In fact, I am an NRA member. If a person wants to go to a licensed gun store and undergo a background check to buy a gun, that’s fine by me. However, from my own observations and from interviews with convicted gang members, I am not confident that all gun show transactions are undergoing these important checks.”

It was made clear by Mr. Goodman today that he is not technically breaking any laws. It is legal in Tennessee for private sellers to sell to private buyers without background checks. The issue at hand, however, is whether or not the taxpayers of Nashville want gun shows being held on property that the city owns, especially when it is quite clear that some of the guns being sold are ending up in the hands of prohibited purchasers who use gun shows to circumvent background checks. Mr. Goodman has stated that all guns sold at his shows are only sold to people who have passed background checks. However, Commissioner Caleb Hemmer noted in the meeting this morning that he also attended a recent gun show and as he was paying to park, he overheard a conversation on police radio that law enforcement had just intervened to stop a gun sale in the parking lot.

“This isn’t an issue about the second amendment,” Roth continued. “This is an issue about how the citizens of Nashville feel about guns being sold to prohibited purchasers – felons, gang members, and domestic abusers – on city-owned property. As a taxpaying Nashville resident and after studying the issue and attending a show, I do not want these gun shows taking place on property that my tax dollar pay for. And, after learning today that revenue from gun shows makes up only 2% of the annual income for the fairgrounds, I’m very confident that there are many more family-friendly shows and festivals that could be held in their place. Gun sales should be left to licensed gun stores.”

(Photos from the last gun show held at the Nashville Fairgrounds)

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