Because of a dispute regarding the display of the controversial AR-15 rifle, the 2013 Eastern Sport Show, held at the Farm Show Complex and Convention Center in Harrisburg, Pa. for the past 65 years, was ultimately cancelled. In my opinion this was too bad because the show was about more than just guns. Fishermen, campers, hikers, recreational vehicle owners and even ATV riders attended because the show offered something for everybody.
Needless to say, tens of millions of dollars vital to the local economy was also lost and tens of thousands of showgoers were disappointed. Many vendors pulled out of the show because they felt the show’s promoter, Reed Exhibitions, violated their Second Amendment rights. The boycott was a response to a decision by Reed Exhibitions’ to ban semi-automatic firearms – accurately called “modern sporting rifles” but also labeled by some as “assault weapons” – from the 2013 show after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn. The show, extremely popular with many New Yorkers, was an excellent opportunity for hunters and fishermen to walk the aisles looking for outdoor-related equipment or to book the hunting or fishing trip of a lifetime.
Initially, it was thought the hullabaloo would die down and the show would go on. The good news is that it will again next year, but Reed Exhibitions will no longer promote the hugely popular annual show and it will no longer be called the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. For 2014, the show will be known as The Great American Outdoor Show and will be promoted by the National Rifle Association.
A few weeks ago, NRA President David Keene announced the NRA was thrilled to be the new promoter under the long-term agreement they’ve reached with area officials. Apparently, the organization has been looking to do a large outdoor show for some time and this presented the best chance.
Because of the controversy and politics surrounding the group in its political fights over gun rights and gun control, it was feared by some there might be a backlash about the NRA being the show’s promoter. Although all legal firearms will be permitted to be displayed at the show, attendees will not be able to purchase one there, which has been typical policy at the show over the years. When asked about possible recoil from some show attendees, local officials dismissed these concerns as insignificant. Let’s hope so.
Keene pointed out the boycott by vendors other than gun shops demonstrated the solidarity among the outdoor community for firearms to have their place at outdoor shows, and he vowed that all legal weapons would be allowed at future shows. According to Keene, the NRA plans on investing millions of dollars in an effort to expand the new show to include venues and events in midstate communities as well as in the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.