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Protest outside a March 3 gun show in Crown Point

Protest outside a March 3 gun show in Crown Point

CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council didn't call for closure of the controversial Lake County Fairgrounds gun show Tuesday, but did ask state and federal officials to adopt new gun safety laws in the wake of last month's Florida school massacre.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a non-binding resolution for "common sense gun safety laws to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, domestic abusers and severely mentally ill persons by closing loopholes in the federal background check system and strengthening state domestic violence laws."

The resolution requests bipartisan legislation to "close the gun show and Internet sales loopholes."

About 20 members of the audience applauded the passage of the council's gun show resolution. No one spoke against the resolution.

The council waded into an emotional dispute between those who protested the March 3 Central Indiana Gun Shows, and gun owners and a state Legislature that is forbidding Lake County from placing any local restrictions on gun sales.

The seven-member County Council sets policy for use of the Fairgrounds. The three-member Lake County Board of Commissioners administer rental contracts.

All seven council members and Commissioner Kyle Allen, D-Gary are up for election this year.

Council members acknowledged the rights of both groups, but argued state and federal legislators must act in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass school shooting of 17 people, 14 of them students, in Parkland, Florida.

Ray Szarmach, the County Council's attorney, cautioned against any effort to ban or restrict fairgrounds gun shows, because state law forbids local government from regulating gun traffic. He said gun show organizers could sue the county for damages if an ordinance caused them financial damages.

Lake County Commissioners who have signed a contract with Central Indiana Gun Shows to host eight events this year at the Fairgrounds' Industrial Building have said the remaining six 2018 shows will go on as scheduled.

Lake County Attorney John Dull, who provides legal advice for commissioners, said this week state law requires the county to provide gun shows equal access to the Fairgrounds as any private group seeking a venue for its public events.

Although the resolution doesn't mention the Fairground gun show, council members, who are all running for election this spring, did in their remarks before the vote.

Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, said she sponsored the resolution at the request of constituents. "Some of them are concerned. I looked into the law as far as what the county could do to eliminating the gun show and we could not. Our hands on the council are tied.

"I didn't want it to feel like we were just passing the buck.We cannot make special law here, but we can give our opinion and tell our legislators and the federal government."

Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said, "Years ago, we tried unsuccessfully in the council to stop the gun sales in the Fairgrounds. I mourn for those families and I'm so sorry we cannot stop selling guns on our property.

Councilman Jamal Washington, D-Merrillville, said, "I wish we could stop the gun show, but that is illegal and we cannot make that motion."

John Halstead, an attorney sitting with the protesters thanked the council for passing the resolution, adding, "I would urge everyone to contact our representatives in Indianapolis and demand an repeal the (state law) which ties the hands of communities like ours so that we can't pass any laws to regulate the sales of guns and empower our council to protect our kids. The kinds of problems we have here in Lake County are not the same problems they have in other parts of the state," he said.

Gallery: Organizers protest outside gun show in Crown Point

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.