WASHINGTON – The Montgomery County Council voted Tuesday to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the county cannot restrict gun shows in the city of Gaithersburg.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis said Friday that a county law withholding funds from any organization that allows gun shows could not be enforced in the city, where a semiannual gun show has been held for 10 years at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds Agricultural Center.
The privately owned, non-profit Ag Center had threatened to pull the plug on a January show sponsored by Silverado Promotions, because of the new law.
County officials argued that the law was simply meant to control how county money can be used, but Garbis said called it little more than a “gun sale regulation enacted by Montgomery County in the guise of a discretionary spending provision.”
He said Gaithersburg has a right to regulate the sale of weapons and ammunition in the city and the county has no power to regulate that trade.
“I think the judge is wrong,” said Blair Ewing, president of the Montgomery County Council. “We are going to appeal.”
Ewing said the county has “very broad and general spending authority” and that it has “strong grounds on which to appeal.”
Frank Krasner of Silverado Promotions said he is confident that Garbis’ decision will be upheld on appeal, but thinks “the council and the county could better spend their citizens’ money than to try to appeal this.”
“I always felt I was in the right,” said Krasner, who will also be holding an Oct. 21 show at the Ag Center. The county law does not take effect until Dec. 1.
Krasner and the Montgomery Citizens for a Safer Maryland, a gun advocacy organization, claimed that the county law infringed on their First Amendment rights. Montgomery Citizens for a Safer Maryland aims to mobilize gun supporters, and its most common and useful venue is the gun show, said Bob Culver, a co-chairman of the organization.
“Without the gun show venue, it would destroy our means to get our message out to the general public,” Culver said. Spreading that message “requires the personal contact that requires the assembly of people, and without the gun show that would all disappear.”
Garbis said both sides raised serious First Amendment questions: Whether the gun show is a constitutionally protected effort to assemble people of similar viewpoints and whether there are circumstances under which the county can limit spending without violating free speech rights. But the judge did not address either question, which could be raised on appeal.
“I think we have a strong case,” Culver said. “It looks like the county got . . . to run the high-hurdles race and they tripped over the first hurdle.”
Gaithersburg officials, meanwhile, said the city has not taken a position on the case and does not currently plan to change city law.
“At this point, we have not done a full analysis,” said Assistant City Manager Fred Felton.
“It seems certain that they’re going to appeal that at the next federal level,” he said, and staff recommended that the city wait for the results of further litigation.
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