Gun shows halted at Nashville fairgrounds (2023)

NASHVILLE—In a win for gun control advocates, Metro Board of Fair Commissioners took unprecedented action Tuesday to end the 35-year tradition of holding gun shows at the city-owned Fairgrounds Nashville until operators of the events accept new rules.

Gun shows halted at Nashville fairgrounds (1)

Citing threerecent criminal cases in Nashville that link guns purchased at the fairgrounds to felons, the Metro Board voted 3-0, with one member abstaining, to terminate future gun shows at the fairgrounds after fulfilling any existing contracts with show operators.

The fair board plans to later adopt new safety measures and other rules that would govern any future gun shows at the fairgrounds before deciding whether to continue hosting such events.

The board's action means Bill Goodman's Gun and Knife Shows, which has rented space in the fairgrounds since the 1970s, will still hold an already scheduled set of gun shows at The Fairgrounds Nashville on Saturday and Sunday. But the board canceled future events more than 30 days away.The action affects Goodman’s gun shows as well as events put on by RK Gun Show, a separate gun show operator that rents space at the fairgrounds.

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“We’re responsible for this facility and the activity that goes on here,” said fair board chairman Ned Horton, who was among the three commissioners to vote for the halt. He said that he believes there’s clearly been inappropriate activity at fairgrounds gun shows that needs to be controlled.

“Based on what I’m seeing here —we’re not trial judges, but we do have information in the court system —it seems to me that our promoter, or our promoters, have not been good stewards of our property.”

David Goodman, operator of Bill Goodman's Gun and Knife Show, which puts on about 36 gun shows at the fairgrounds each year, told The Tennessean he has not breached his contract with the fair board, and said he shouldn't be blamed for criminal cases involving guns when he has followed laws governing gun sales.

“If somebody goes in and steals something at Walmart, Walmart didn't do nothing wrong, the person did," Goodman said. "Everything I've done is legal."

He also said he plans to challenge the vote.

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"You bet your ass,” he said when asked whether he would appeal. “This place is going to be packed with people at the next meeting.”

The board’s decision comes during a year of several high-profile mass shootings in other parts of the country and as the total number of homicides in Nashville hasalready surpassed the past two years. Fair board members, led by commissioner Kenny Byrd, in recent weeks have floated possible new rules for gun shows, including adding more police to make sure guns aren’t sold from the backs of vehicles and new security to monitor background checks during gun sales.

Plea for action

The fair board weighed its decision Tuesday after 14 Nashville gun control advocates used a public commentperiod to demand that the city stop hosting guns shows on property owned by Metro. They included impassioned pleas from multiple Nashville parents of children who were killed by guns.

Goodman has said that he voluntarily requires his vendors to be federally licensed and therefore perform background checks during the sale of guns at the fairgrounds, whichwould go beyond what is required by Tennessee law. Under state and federal law, private sellers, including those at the fairgrounds, must simply not knowingly sell guns to individuals who are prohibited from owning them.

But Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Jenny Charles,among the gun control advocates who spoke before the board Tuesday,raised doubts over Goodman’s claims of mandatory background checks by providing details of three criminal cases in Nashville that she said involved people who purchased firearms at gun shows at the fairgrounds.

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•One example she cited is a federal case involving defendant Mohammed Metleg, who Charles said purchased a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber firearm that had previously been purchased at the Nashville fairgrounds in 2011. That gun and other guns possessed by Metleg later surfaced during an illegal smuggling ring that sent guns to Australia. Australian authorities believe the guns were used in gang activity in that country.

•Another case, one prosecuted by Charles, involves defendant Desmond Hosten, a multiple-convicted felon who Charles said was not legally permitted to possess a gun. Charles said ammunition was found in his car this year during an arrest for a drug charge. Hosten acknowledged to possessing a gun, she said. Later,in an interview with detectives,Hosten said he purchased an AR-15 firearm at a gun show. That gun show was later determined to be held at the fairgrounds.

•A third case, she said, came in April when officers responded to a narcotics and weapons complaint at the residence of Parrish Wilson, a convicted felon. Police found multiple guns, including a Rocker AR-15 and a Winchester 30 Rifle, inside his home. According to court documents, the individual told authorities he was a gun collector and purchased the guns at the Nashville fairgrounds.

"It begs the question, how many more are there?" Charles said. "We don't know and we can't know because there's no paperwork required in Tennessee when a private seller sells a gun.

“We've got to ask ourselves at the end of the day: What is hosting a monthly gun show at the fairgrounds add to the community of Nashville?" she said. "Is this activity enhancing safety in Nashville? I would submit in these three instances, it did not.”

Charles made clear that she was not speaking on behalf of the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office. But District Attorney Gen. Glenn Funk showed up Tuesday andexited as the meeting began.

Reaction to decision

When asked for comment, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s spokesman Sean Braisted directed The Tennessean to a previous statement on the issue.

“Mayor Barry believes that our fairgrounds should be safe, secure, and free from illegal activity,” Braisted said last month. “She supports efforts by the fair board to ensure that happens.”

Key to the board's decision was communication Goodman's attorney had with Metro's lawyers threatening to challenge a proposed rule floated by the board. The board has discussed requiringoperators to post signs at the entrance of gun shows that state guns must be sold with background checks.

Byrd, the fair board commissioner who has led the charge to regulate fairgrounds gun shows, acknowledged that Goodman could have a Second Amendment defense if he were to challenge the requirement of signs. Instead, Byrd and Metro attorneys said a better option would be to halt fairgrounds gun shows altogether until operators accept provisions.

Byrd said he would love to sit down and try and develop new provisions that work.

"But we have been lied to consistently about how these gun shows operate," he said.

Fair board member Jessica Thomas was not present for Tuesday’s vote. Commissioner Caleb Hemmer abstained, calling the move “a very big rush to judgment” with major ramifications, including lost revenue, that needs more vetting.

The majority of fair board members seemed swayed by accounts from gun control advocates.Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, who heads the Tennessee Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, acknowledged gun shows at the fairgrounds fall within the parameters of the law. But she called the events “dangerous and reckless.”

“There’s no telling how many guns have been sold over the years right here, at our fairgrounds, to people who cannot legally own them,” she said. “This needs to stop.”

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Goodman said he doesn't know the mechanics of his appeal of the fair board’s move, but predicted the National Rifle Association would be involved. An NRA official attended last month's fair board meeting to demand that the board continue holding gun shows at the fairgrounds, claiming that less than 1%of guns used in crimes originate at gun shows. There was no NRA representative at Tuesday's meeting.

In a statement, Tennessee Firearms Association executive director John Harris slammed the fair board's decision.

"We will stand up for the 2ndAmendment and gun owners in Tennessee against this intentional usurpation of our God-given rights as citizens to engage in lawful conduct on public property,” Harris said.

Follow Joey Garrison on Twitter: @joeygarrison

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