Travis County Commissioners Court did not renew its contract with Saxet Gun Shows during its Jan. 7 meeting.
Saxet has requested leasing the Travis County Exposition Center for gun shows in 2014 and 2015 using the same terms as in previous years, Judge Samuel Biscoe said.
He added that residents voiced concerns that because not all gun sales at gun shows require background checks, leasing space to gun shows was an inappropriate use of county facilities and a potential public safety risk.
The county wanted to include new terms requiring background checks on all gun sales as part of a new contract. The judge said there were four specific terms the county pitched:
Requiring all gun show sellers to be federal firearms licensees
Requiring unlicensed sellers to undergo federal background check procedures for private transfers
Reducing rent to offset any disadvantages Saxet may face by agreeing to background checks
Trying background checks at the first gun show of the new contract as a pilot project, and then possibly renegotiate the terms depending on the results.
“Saxet has not been receptive to any of the county’s proposed new contract terms,” he said.
Because of this, Biscoe made a motion to suspend negotiations until Saxet “indicates a willingness to address issues raised by the county.” The motion died for lack of a second.
An alternate motion to continue the gun shows also died for lack of a second. That left the county without a contract, but with the matter still pending, Biscoe said.
Prior to the motions, the court heard from supporters and those opposing the gun shows.
Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, described Saxet Gun Show owner Todd Beiter as an ethical and law-abiding person who pays his bills and gets his insurance.
“We object to any pilot program requirement that the county might add to its contract that would require individual purchasers to get some kind of background check,” she said. “This is not covered by state law. This is not required by federal law, and it appears to be an inappropriate manipulation to require it as before extending his contract.”
Emily Dietman, membership coordinator for the Texas State Rifle Association, called Saxet a responsible tenant.
“They do everything possible to adhere to the current laws and to protect their patrons that go there to shop for firearms,” she said. “They have security going in, they have security going out and they have security in the parking lot. We can’t prevent criminals from getting guns. We just can’t. So what we want to do is protect people’s freedoms.”
Liz Foley, south Texas field representative for the National Rifle Association, called Beiter a strong supportor of millions of gun owners and Second Amendment supporters in the region and nationwide.
“Rather than asking someone to go through a test of a potential—not even a law, but an enforcement at a local level—perhaps we should look at enforcing existing laws,” she said. “The criminals are not following them anyway.”
Garry Brown, a candidate for the Precinct 2 commissioner’s seat, questioned whether Travis County should allow county property and taxpayer dollars to support a system that includes loopholes for high-capacity ammunition magazines and other weapons “that are designed for mass murder [and] certainly not self defense.”
Brown said he supports legal and responsible gun ownership and notes that there have been no problems with Saxet in the past.
He cited the tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and in Aurora, Colo. that have pointed out glaring flaws in gun laws and how easy it is for people to have access deadly weapons, he said.
“Travis County should not be in the business of making it easier to get these items. I believe it to be inappropriate,” Brown said.
He said the county does not know if sales are taking place in the parking lot during events, and that the risk of an incident was not worth the $100,000 in revenue the events generate for the county.
Resident Ed Scruggs said he could live with gun shows continuing at the Expo Center if the promoter volunteers to require background checks on weapons sales. Without it, he said he would continue to oppose hosting the gun shows there “as a matter of public safety and a community statement of our priorities.”
“By law, the county has the authority to negotiate business transactions and cannot be forced to enter into new contracts with vendors,” he said. “That’s what this is: a new contract. Failing to enter into a new contract does not ban gun shows in Travis County. That is not true. It does not place any additional regulations on shows in private facilities. It does not place an undue burden on consumers. It does not prohibit commercial gun sales anywhere in the county and it does not violate state or federal law. It is strictly a business decision.”
Resident David Thomas said Travis County must use its authority to keep citizens safe.
“Background checks do work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill,” he said. “So the county, through its commissioners acting for all of its citizens, must set standards for a gun show to be allowed to do business on public property. Standards take nothing away from anyone’s rights.”