BY Jordan Cohen
A Youngstown-based ministerial group that had hoped to meet with gun sellers during this weekend’s gun show at the Eastwood Expo Center canceled its plans Saturday, citing what it said were threats from a representative of the Cafaro Co.
A spokesman for Cafaro, which owns the Eastwood Mall complex that includes the Expo Center, said the individual has denied threatening anyone.
ACTION (the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing our Neighborhoods) had wanted to attend the show and ask individual gun sellers to get background checks of buyers before selling.
Federally licensed dealers are required by law to conduct background checks of all purchasers, but there is no similar requirement for individual sellers.
Lori O’Neill of Cleveland, who advises nonprofit organizations on reducing gun violence, said the Cafaro employee threatened them with lawsuits, prosecution and worse.
“He said to us, ‘You might encounter some violence [from gun dealers], and as far as I’m concerned, that’s your problem,’” O’Neill said.
The group, composed of area pastors and ministers, wanted to pass out leaflets at the show encouraging individual seller background checks. But Joe Bell, director of Cafaro corporate communications, said passing out materials is a violation of company policy.
“We don’t permit leaflets or proselytizing of any religious, political or social action agenda on any of our mall properties,” Bell said.
The communications director said that the man accused of the threats is not a spokesperson for the company or its positions.
“He denies threatening anyone, and we’re not in the business of threatening people,” Bell said.
Richard Walters, president of Niles Gun Shows Inc., said there have been no incidents of illegal sales in Niles since he began having shows in the 1980s.
“We see ATF [Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] agents here all the time, along with police and sheriff’s deputies, and there have been no problems,” Walters said. “We’re adhering to the law.”
Walters said ACTION’s suggestion to have the dealers conduct background checks on behalf of individual sellers would place a burden on the dealers.
“The [individual] seller would first have to sell the gun to the dealer before he could put it into his records and conduct the background check,” Walters said. “The dealer would be liable should there be any problems.”
The Rev. Lewis Macklin, ACTION president and pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Youngstown, said the organization wants only a dialogue and has no objection to gun shows.
“Our challenge is that ownership should only be in the hands of responsible law-abiding citizens and not felons or juveniles,” the Rev. Mr. Macklin said.