The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission did not want to host the gun show that is expected to draw up to 2,000 firearms enthusiasts to Upper Marlboro on Saturday.
But attorneys for the organization concluded it had no choice.
So it imposed safety restrictions that a spokesman for the National Rifle Association said are extremely rare — if not unheard of:
No live ammunition allowed on the premises of the Show Place Arena, where the show will take place. No dry-firing weapons. All firearms must have trigger locks. And at least five park police officers must be on duty providing security.
“I think they are trying to make it as hard as possible for a legal gun show to be held in the county,” said Dan Blasberg, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights advocacy organization.
The arena in Prince George’s County, which is owned and operated by the park and planning commission, hosted gun shows annually until 2013. That year, in the wake of the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., the agency issued a moratorium on such events while the General Assembly passed gun laws that are among the strictest in the country.
The Firearms Safety Act set tough guidelines for gun dealers and purchasers that require licensing, fingerprinting and background checks for handgun buyers. But the new legislation said nothing about regulating gun shows.
And so when Appalachian Promotions owner John Lamplugh sought to rent the 49,500-square foot arena for a gun show this fall, agency officials put their own restrictions in place.
And in addition to the $12,000 rental fee, the agency tacked on fees of up $5,000 for security provided by park police officers.
The concerns, said general counsel Adrian Gardner, center on legal liability: If something were to go wrong at a gun show, who would be to blame?
Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, called the ban on live ammunition a “terrific safety precaution.”
But Frank Krasner, owner of Silverado Promotions, which held gun shows at the arena from 1993 to 2013, said the restrictions are a deliberate attempt to discourage operators from coming back.
“They don’t want gun shows. Period,” said Krasner, noting that he never had any safety problems in 20 years of shows.
Many customers — sports shooters, particularly — come to gun shows to buy discount ammunition in bulk, Krasner said, because such material is difficult to ship.
“There are more deaths and shootings outside unregulated go-go parties than there ever has been at a gun show,” said Jack McCauley, a retired state police officer who has become a popular voice among gun-rights activists. “I’m not sure what the security risk is. These [gun shows] are not your source of violence.”
State law prohibits private dealers from selling firearms to unlicensed buyers at gun shows. Individuals who have a license and buy guns at the shows cannot leave with the weapons, but must wait seven days for the guns to be transferred to their possession.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, whose government partially funds the parks and planning agency, does not like gun shows, county spokesman Scott Peterson said.
But Prince George’s cannot stop them because they are not prohibited by law.
Gardner wrote to state lawmakers and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) this week, asking for new legislation that would set safety standards for gun shows and establish procedures for licensing both show venues and events.
“We decided to ask for help from the state once it became clear that a gun show at the Show Place Arena was a legal inevitability,” said Gardner. “The state needs to a take a fresh look” at regulating gun shows.
The possibilities listed in Gardner’s Oct. 19 letter include “mandatory active shooter training for the people working for gun show promoters and dealers.”
Lamplugh, the owner of the Carlisle, Pa.-based company that is running Saturday’s show, puts on 10 other shows elsewhere in Maryland.
He said his customers from the Washington suburbs asked for one closer to home, and he was eager to produce an event in Upper Marlboro, at the crossroads of routes 4 and 301, which could draw crowds from southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the Washington metropolitan area.
Lamplugh said he agreed to the stringent restrictions imposed by the park and planning commission because he knows he has to assuage fears.
“We are letting them push us some,” Lamplugh said. “We want to show that we’re not monsters, and we can run a decent show.”