Two of the nation’s largest hunting-oriented conservation groups have joined a fast-growing Second Amendment-based boycott of the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show in Harrisburg, Pa.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation have joined more than 200 other vendors and outdoor celebrities who have backed out of the show in protest of what they say is an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
Reed Exhibitions, an international company based in Great Britain that is organizing the show, recently announced it would not allow the sale or display of modern sporting rifles, also known as assault weapons, nor high-capacity ammunition magazines. Congress is contemplating a ban on the rifles and magazines, among other measures, following the massacre of children and teachers at Newtown, Conn.
“As a hunting-focused event, we welcome exhibitors who wish to showcase products and firearms that serve the traditional needs of the sport. Clearly, we strongly support the Second Amendment. However, this year we have made the decision not to include certain products that in the current climate may attract negative attention that would distract from the strong focus on hunting and fishing at this family oriented event and possibly disrupt the broader positive experience of our guests,” according to a statement posted on the show’s website.
Soon after the company’s decision was announced, Tom McConnell of MyNortheastOutdoors.com in Cresson, Pa., began to organize a boycott of the show, which typically attracts up to 1,200 vendors and is described as one of the largest outdoor shows on the East Coast.
“They more or less cut out a good part of the vendors and a lot of people who were going to go to the show. They just alienated them,” he said. “They more or less told us where we can take our guns and stick them and still charge us a fee to get in the door.”
Vendors, many of them mom-and-pop operations, quickly started to drop out, he said. Eventually big companies like outdoor retailer Cabela’s and gun makers like Smith and Wesson and Ruger Firearms joined the boycott. On Tuesday, the elk foundation and wild turkey federation pulled the plug. Both groups cited feedback from their members and support for gun rights.
Josh Flemming, a spokesman for the turkey federation, said his organization doesn’t want to participate in anything that might prevent people from hunting. While many argue assault weapons are not commonly used for hunting, Flemming said many people use them to hunt hogs, coyotes and other small game.
“Any time you add additional barriers to hunting you are making it that much more difficult to sustain the hunting movement to future generations,” he said. “We see a direct correlation between starting to chip away (the right to bear arms) and starting to increase other barriers to hunting.”
He said the turkey federation will likely take a higher profile in the near future when it comes to the debate over balancing gun rights with safety and security.
“Whenever we see something that falls into the realm of making it more difficult to pass that (hunting) heritage on, we are going to step up and take a stance.”
Mark Holyoak, a spokesman for the Missoula, Mont.-based elk foundation, said the group did not react at first but instead waited to hear from members, who overwhelmingly asked them to back out of the show.
“As we considered the feedback we have received from our members and volunteers and others in the outdoor industry, it became apparent a decision needed to be made and we did so.”
He said some members advised staying in the show, but those sentiments were overshadowed by those who wanted to join the boycott.
As far as future participation in the national debate over gun rights, Holyoak said no decisions have been made.
“We just have to wait and see,” he said. “It’s important we pay attention and receive feedback from our members.”
He also noted there is some irony in the stance taken by Reed Exhibitions. The company just wrapped up hosting the Shot Show in Las Vegas, an annual show for manufactures and retailers that features firearms, hunting and outdoor products as well as law enforcement products, including assault weapons and accessories.
“All of a sudden there was this change in direction and that is what caught us and so many others off guard.”