Gun Shows Paid Not to Show

Greensboro Coliseum Complex managing director Matt Brown

Greensboro Coliseum Complex managing director Matt Brown

During the final battle in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Klingon General Chang incessantly quotes Shakespeare while Spock and Dr. McCoy try frantically to prepare a torpedo that will put the chatty villain out of his misery. “I’d give real money if he’d shut up,” said McCoy. And so, even centuries into the future, we humans are willing to pay for someone not to do something. In Dr. McCoy’s case, he was willing to pay Chang not to talk. This kind of self-inflicted, or reverse extortion is nothing new. 

During World War II, the federal government provided support to America’s farmers to help them ramp up crop production. After all, an army travels on its stomach. But, according to, patriotic growing soon exceeded demand and, by war’s end, we were left with an “oversupply for basic crops such as corn, cotton, tobacco, rice, peanuts, and wheat.” Soon, the government found itself paying farmers NOT to grow certain crops. Eventually price support became a political hot potato (pardon the pun), and folks who struggled to make ends meet, weren’t too happy about their tax dollars paying farmers (including large conglomerates) not to farm. That’s when the Feds started putting a spin on the compensation program. According to PBS News Hour’s Robert Frank, the justification was that retiring acreage would reduce fertilizer and pesticide run-off into the nation’s water supply. Said Frank, “The Federal government described the price support program as an environmental program rather than an ‘income maintenance scheme.’”

But agriculture wasn’t the only industry affected by the “pay not to play” system. For decades now, it has been common practice for top executives, TV anchorpersons, and others to be paid huge salaries in return for signing a non-compete contract. In other words, “we’ll compensate you extremely well now, so that whenever you leave, you can’t work for the competition.” And then there’s the more recent “catch and kill” scheme in which a newspaper or media outlet is paid to sit on a story that it owns, to the benefit of the person who paid them not to publish that story. The thought of an editor being paid not to publish something is offensive, but then, so is a city government paying a vendor not to vend, and that brings me to the Greensboro gun show saga.

For as long as I can remember, gun and knife shows have been held at the Greensboro Coliseum. But, given the rise in mass shootings and a growing feeling among many on the left that gun manufacturers and ineffective laws are to blame for the carnage, some venues across the country are being pressured not to book these weapons extravaganzas. To that end, last week it was revealed that the city of Greensboro has agreed to pay gun show promoter Rodney Sorrell, almost $400,000 NOT to hold his gun show at the Coliseum (or anywhere else within the city limits) for the next five years. 

Just as the Feds once put a spin on price supports, a Coliseum spokesperson did his part by telling the News & Record that not having gun shows would free up the facility for holding “youth sporting events.” Meanwhile, managing director Matt Brown says that the city can make more money from hosting other types of events. But invoking youth and new revenue streams amounts to nothing less than gaslighting the public, which was left out of the loop on the decision to pay a gun show not to show up. It’s also ironic and runs counter to local efforts to curb gun violence because in 2018, city council voted to designate gun show revenues to a program that rewards citizens for reporting illegal guns. 

Paying someone NOT to do something is always problematic for one reason or another. It’s also self-inflicted extortion. In this case, the City of Greensboro isn’t being extorted by the gun promoter. Rather, the city voluntarily offered Sorrell a fat paycheck when Matt Brown pointed a gun at his own head and said, “Please take our money.” Yes, our gun laws need to be more comprehensive, but we also need to be careful about canceling legal events, much less paying them not to occur. True, Mr. Brown has sole authority to deal with contracts, but he is still a City employee. Moreover, he is the City’s highest-paid employee, yet doesn’t seem to answer to anyone, including the taxpayers. Perhaps as we re-evaluate the way we regulate guns, we also need to re-evaluate the parameters of Mr. Brown’s autonomy before he pulls the trigger on any more deals.


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