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County, promoter at impasse over background checks at gun show

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 by Jimmy Maas

Travis County Commissioners and the promoter of the Saxet Gun Shows reached an impasse Tuesday over a contract provision that would require the promoter to perform background checks on all gun sales. Negotiations for a year’s lease to hold eight gun shows at the Travis County Expo Center have broken off. 

 

Background checks for sales at gun shows are not required by state or federal law, but County Judge Sam Biscoe said the county can require them as a condition of the Saxet lease.

 

Opponents of the county’s stance are calling the move “political” and claim that commissioners are trying to unconstitutionally create a new gun control law. Though it is not too late for more negotiations before the contract is set to begin in February, as of Tuesday it looked as if there would be no deal.

 

After public comment, an executive session and Pct. 2 Two Commissioner Bruce Todd leaving for a funeral Tuesday, Biscoe offered a motion to suspend negotiations with Saxet based on the company’s unwillingness to bend on the background check rule. The motion failed after there was no second.

 

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty followed that up with a motion to renew the lease “as is” with Saxet. That motion also failed with no second.

 

“That leaves us without a contract,” announced Biscoe before he closed discussion on the agenda item.

 

“It’s a tough issue,” said Biscoe after the meeting. “In my mind, it would have been better to take some action.”

 

According to the Texas State Rifle Association, Todd Beiter, the promoter of the Saxet shows, has hosted near-monthly shows at the county facility since 2010.

 

“Saxet has been a good lessee, said Biscoe. “Always paid the rent on time.”

 

For months now, commissioners have been trying to get the promoter of the show to sign a new contract that stipulates background checks will be performed on all purchases, even private seller to private buyer.

 

Arguing in support of Saxet, Liz Foley of the National Rifle Association said the provision won’t stop criminals because they don’t obey laws.

 

“Enforcing a statute against a man who has not violated any law just to test something is in violation of the constitution,” said Foley to the court.

 

But Biscoe doesn’t see this as a constitutional matter.

 

“It (the provision) is constitutional,” said Biscoe after the meeting. “It’s a simple contract term. It’s possible we don’t come to an agreement.”

 

Garry Brown, candidate in the Democratic primary Precinct Two Commissioner, was on hand to voice his support for the contract provision. Another candidate in the race, Brigid Shea, also released a statement supporting background checks. She has addressed commissioners on the matter in the past.

 

“Sandy Hook, Newtown, Aurora and so many other travesties over the last few years have pointed out many flaws with our gun laws and how easy it is to get these deadly weapons,” said Brown. ”Travis County doesn’t need to be in the business of making it any easier to get these items.”

 

Biscoe says the county is trying to be flexible. If there is any evidence of an impact on the show’s profits, he said the county could adjust terms at a future date. But he has his doubts of an economic impact to vendors.

 

“Eighty-five to 90 percent of the sellers are federally licensed,” said Biscoe, “leaving only 10 to 15 percent (of sellers) affected.”

 

For now, there will be an economic impact on the county. The contract would have been for eight shows and worth more than $100,000. But Biscoe is confident there will be a tenant.

 

“We try to rent it (the Expo Center) out every day of the year,” said Biscoe. “We’ll try to rent out those dates, too.”

 

And Biscoe said it still could be Saxet. Tuesday’s failed motion still leaves an opportunity to get a deal done with the promoter.

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