City of Austin, Travis County consider gun show ban on public property, in public facilities (TX)

As gun control debates heat up across the country, Texas is no exception.  Central Texas may even become the Lone Star State’s ground zero battleground as Travis County commissioners consider banning gun shows on county property and the City of Austin investigates a similar measure that could also extend to requiring special permits for shows on private property within the city’s limits.

The county’s consideration of such action was prompted at a Dec. 21 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting during which citizen Ed Scruggs voiced opposition to the use of a county-run, public facility for nine gun shows scheduled in 2013.  “The fact this is happening on taxpayer supported property was shocking to me,” Scruggs told a local television station.

Based on his comments, an agenda item to discuss the county’s contract with Saxet Trade Shows was scheduled for the Jan. 8 meeting.  On its web site, company activities include Saxet Gun Shows described as “the landmark gun and outdoor product trade shows for south and central Texas.”

Per the Austin American-Statesman, County Facilities Director Roger El Khoury reported how each gun show generates an average of more than $14,000 in rental fees, concession sales and parking. He said the Travis County Exposition Center’s typical annual gun show schedule features eight gun shows which bring in $114,000.  In 2012, this represented about 10 percent of the facility’s total $1.15 million revenue.

Tuesday’s meeting brought eight people speaking against the ban and two in favor.  County Judge Sam Biscoe said 200 e-mail messages from people asking for the ban were also received.  In addition to decreased county revenue, opponents cited the loss of hotel/motel and sales taxes paid by out-of-town visitors as additional negative economic impact the ban would create.

Commissioners delayed a vote until their Jan. 15 meeting pending further investigation into the legality of the ban and of cancelling the Saxet contract.

The Austin City Council is meanwhile considering a similar measure.  While a stand-alone measure, it may also influence  the Travis County Exposition Center as the city reportedly owns the expo center land with the county having a long-term lease for the facility.

“This isn’t a silver bullet that is going to solve all of our problems, but this is our way of saying, ‘What we do have control over in terms of the Austin City Council, we should take a proactive stance to not further enable the distribution and sales of guns through public property or through public facilities,’” Austin Councilman Mike Martinez said.  A special permit requiring City Council approval for gun shows on private property is another avenue Martinez expressed interest in pursuing.

Gun rights advocates point out how the price of display tables often prompt gun shows being populated by Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders who either conduct their business exclusively at gun shows or else use the shows to promote their traditional shops.  In either case, their sales require use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to determine firearm purchase eligibility.  In addition to the loss of both government and private revenue, the bans under discussion would impede legal dealers’ commercial activities and deny legal consumers efficient buying opportunities.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a vocal gun rights advocate, termed the potential ban “pointless and self-serving for politicians.”

“It’s the worst thing about politicians, they want to knee jerk and do something so they can say they we did something about gun violence when they did nothing,” he said.

Patterson says if politicians wanted to make real change after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, they would tackle real issues, like mental health.

“The shooter in Virginia Tech had been adjudicated mentally incompetent but because of privacy laws, that wasn’t available and so that shooter went to a gun dealer and had a background check and was successfully able to purchase firearms when I say he shouldn’t have been.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott reportedly posted on his Twitter page:  “If Austin or Travis Co. try to ban gun shows they better be ready for a double-barreled lawsuit.”

A vote on the Travis County proposal is expected on Jan. 15.  Martinez said the Austin measure could be brought to a vote later this month.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist.  As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. She also addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at EstateofDenial.com, a web site that “shines light on the dark side of estate management” by providing news, analysis and commentary regarding probate corruption and estate abuse cases. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

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