The largest sports and outdoor show in the United States has been postponed indefinitely following severe backlash over a recently enacted policy banning the display and sale of "modern sporting rifles," or semi-automatic rifles. The Harrisburg Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show was originally scheduled for Feb. 2-10 in Harrisburg, Pa.
To put it into perspective how quickly gun owners pushed back, consider that the new policy was implemented on Monday and just five days later, on Friday, the show was postponed indefinitely amid the outcry.
Reed Exhibitions, the British-based organizer of the event, has not showed any sign of backing down on its ban of "modern sporting rifles." Chet Burchett, president of Reed Exhibitions for the Americas, released the following statement:
"Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event's historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families. In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs [modern sporting rifles] would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests.
It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing. ESS has long been proud to participate in the preservation and promotion of hunting and fishing traditions, and we hope that as the national debate clarifies, we will have an opportunity to consider rescheduling the event when the time is right to focus on the themes it celebrates."
The decision to ban legal rifles prompted boycotts by several companies, celebrities, conservation groups, outdoor media and outfitters including Cabela's, Rough Country Outfitters, Ruger Firearms, Rough Country Outfitters, Ruger Firearms, International Bowhunting Organization, IScope, J & M Traditions, Katahdin’s Shadow Outfitters, Keystone Country Store, Major League Bowhunter, Masterpiece Outdoors, Inc. and hundreds more, Townhall's Katie Pavlich reports.
"It's a shame that it had to come to this and we feel sorry for everyone that has been affected by it," Pat Ronsenberry, manager of Keystone Country Store, told TheBlaze. "I think Reed [Exhibitions] made a big business mistake on their behalf and everyone is kind of suffering from it."
Rosenberry said the backlash stems from the wide support for the Second Amendment as it is written in the Constitution. One of the unintended consequences, she explained, is several vendors who aren't even involved with the gun industry are being hurt by the decision.
Joe Staudt, owner of Staudt's Gun Shop based in Harrisburg, Pa., told TheBlaze that the organizer's decision was "very troubling" and it only "enables people to attack the Second Amendment."
"My initial reaction when they decided to ban these rifles was obviously the fact that these weapons are perfectly legal," he said. "A lot of states will allow people to hunt with a semi-automatic rifle so this term 'assault weapon' doesn't really apply."
Staudt said his company's Facebook page was flooded with angry customers urging them to boycott the Harrisburg Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. He added that he couldn't in good conscience support the show without feeling like he was supporting their flawed policy.
Gun rights advocates demonstrate at the Pennsylvania Capital building Wednesday Jan. 23, 2013, in Harrisburg, Pa. The rally comes amid calls for a boycott of the nine-day Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg next month, and a growing list of vendors pulling out of the show. Credit: AP
The National Rifle Association, a huge sponsor of the show, also released a statement Tuesday and announced it would be withdrawing from the show due to Reed Exhibitions' ban on "modern sporting rifles."
"Due to Reed Exhibitions' refusal to reconsider their decision to ban Modern Sporting Rifles from the February 2-10 Eastern Sports Show in Harrisburg, PA, the National Rifle Association has decided to withdraw from the show. We had called on Reed Exhibitions to reconsider their decision; unfortunately they have steadfastly refused to do so. As a result, the NRA will not be participating in the upcoming show in Harrisburg or in any other shows hosted by Reed Exhibitions that maintain this policy. We are disappointed that Reed Exhibitions has ignored the concerns expressed by attendees, the outdoor industry and the NRA in not reconsidering their position to ban the display of Modern Sporting Rifles."
Reed had initially refused to refund the fees to exhibitors, but changed their decision after the show was shut down, Townhall reports.
"Refunds will be provided for all fees paid to date (January 24, 2013) to Reed Exhibitions for the 2013 Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. We will detail the refund process on our web site and in an additional email by January 31, 2013," Reed Exhibitions reportedly wrote in an email to exhibitors Thursday.
In an effort to recoup any money and effort lost as a result of the show's cancellation, Tom McConnell of MyNorthEastOutdoors.com will hold a "virtual show" for vendors on Feb. 2-10.
"This now will allow the vendors to sell their products online through this common market place, without the fret of having to make up huge monetary losses due to REED Exhibitions stance on weapons bans at the show," he wrote in a statement.
"We will launch the Virtual Sports Show on Feb 2nd and run through Feb 10th, 2013. Only vendors who have boycotted the show will be permitted to have products on the website during this time."
You can see the full boycott list by clicking here.