EVERETT — The organizer of a weekend gun show at Angel of the Winds Arena postponed the event a day in response to criticism that multiple Everett Public Schools graduations were to be held in the building at the same time.
“We don’t want students’ memory of graduation to be that of controversy,” said Craig Terry, owner of Big Top Promotions, the company behind the gun show.
Nobody asked the company to change the dates of the event, Terry told The Daily Herald. But, he said, “we live here too, and try to be good citizens in our community.”
The company chose to move the event “out of the potential for bad optics and conflict,” Terry said. The two-day gun show was scheduled to open Saturday at Angel of the Winds Arena but will now start on Sunday.
Spokesperson Kat Guenet said the arena “appreciates everyone’s assistance and all organizers working together to come up with the best solution.” She declined to say whether coinciding events are typically communicated to groups that book the space on the same dates.
After the school district sent an initial email to families notifying them of the gun show, many parents took to social media to share their concerns.
“My daughter is graduating this weekend and I’m disgusted this was allowed to happen,” wrote one mother in the comments of a public Facebook post. “… The scheduling of these two events should never have happened.”
State Rep. April Berg’s daughter also will be graduating Saturday. When Berg opened the district’s email Wednesday, she said, she had to read the message a few times before it set in.
The country has been reeling from the second-deadliest school shooting on record at a Texas elementary school just three weeks ago. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, there had been 268 mass shootings in the United States in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Leaders of Everett Public Schools only learned of the adjacent event this week.
“It was just happenstance,” said Kathy Reeves, district spokesperson. “We were doing a walkthrough (Tuesday night), and the event manager said, ‘Oh, by the way, this (gun show) is happening.’”
The district reserves Angel of the Winds Arena up to five years in advance, according to an email to families. Reeves told The Herald that Everett graduations are currently scheduled through 2030. Their contract with the event space does not require the arena to notify the district of other leasers or reservations, Reeves said.
The district updated parents by email Thursday afternoon.
“We are pleased to let you know there has been an adjustment to the schedule at Angel of the Winds Arena for Saturday, June 18. Everett Public Schools graduating ceremonies will be the only event occurring that day,” the email said. “We appreciate working with our community partners, all of whom live in the community and care about our community and want to have a day that is focused on celebrating our amazing class of 2022 graduates.”
Twila Wilkin, whose daughter graduates from Henry M. Jackson High School on Saturday, said she is “relieved” the event schedules changed, but she worries about how to prevent future incidents. Wilkin has another daughter set to graduate in 2027, “but even if this were my last child to graduate, this year, I’d still have an interest in saving future graduates from this kind of thing.”
She suggested a city code or state law preventing disparate event bookings from intersecting — or, at minimum, venue staff should be aware of potential conflicts and alert event organizers.
“I can appreciate that mistakes happen, and it’s easy to look at someone else’s job and criticize or over-simplify. However, there should be someone responsible (like the venues) for ensuring that they don’t book conflicting groups,” Wilkin told the Herald via Facebook Messenger. “The venues know who they’re selling space to. If the gun show organizer was the one to offer to reschedule, then kudos to him.”
Terry, the gun show organizer, said he booked the conference center, which is part of the arena complex, about a year ago. The arena did not tell him at the time what other events were planned, he said.
Few customers will walk out with guns on Sunday, Terry said. Background checks for people buying handguns or semiautomatic rifles take about two business weeks. The only exception is shotguns, which can be taken home hours after a federal background check clears. All purchases come with a locking device.
Customers cannot carry loaded firearms into the event, and all firearms for sale at the show are tied and inoperable, Terry said.
He told the Herald he feels his event should be treated no differently than “a hot tub show” or “Disney on Ice with all the little princesses,” which also are held at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“We are not a menace to society,” he said.
Signs with QR codes for customers to scan will be posted around the gun show, Terry said. The code will launch a website where people can get in touch with their legislators and advocate for better mental health care and locked schools.
Still, she wondered why Angel of the Winds allowed the two events to coincide. Graduates have “gone through 12 years of active shooter drills in school,” Berg said. “And it’s this flagrant display of — ‘Guess what? You’ve gone through all that, you’re crossing the finish line and here’s a gun show.’”
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.