SHOOTING -- Hunters and wildlife conservation groups are finding it difficult to stay out of the nation's gun control controversies.
Even the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation felt pressure from the gun lobby to pull out of a huge sportsmen's show in the East when the show organizers prohibited exhibits by makers of AR-15 assault-style rifles.
The site of the Reed Exhibitions show in Pennsylvania is 250 miles from the site of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.
Click here for a localized story on RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.
Click "continue reading" to see an Outdoor Wire industry perspective posted Jan. 25, with insight into the troubles for small outdoor businesses caused by the sportsman show boycott.
The Event Not Held...
By Jim Shepherd/The Outdoor Wire
Yesterday, Reed Exhibitions announced it was "postponing" the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. Originally scheduled to begin on February 2 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the nine day show is the country's largest outdoor show, and regularly attracts as many as 200,000 outdoor enthusiasts. It also puts an estimated $44 million in direct revenues into the region's economy.
Some hoteliers and restaurants say this decision will "make for a very long winter" in their area. Many of the more than 1,000 exhibitors come from out of the region and provide a huge boost to a slow season during the nine-day event.
Reed kicked off a controversy when managers announced their decision not to allow any presence of the AR-rifle platform at the Eastern Show. That prohibition even extended to images of the rifle used to solicit raffle ticket sales. In other words, the AR (initially, they called it an "assault rifle") was a non-starter at what Reed considered a pure hunting and fishing show.
"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," said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas. "In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day. "
It was seen by the industry as anything but a product decision.
Major sponsor Cabela's was the first to announce a pullout. Others, including Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Trijicon, and Crimson Trace followed along with organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Dozens of small exhibitors, many with products unrelated to the modern sporting rifle, pulled out in support of gun rights.
The small exhibitors' decisions not to attend were especially impactful. Many of them depend on sales at the Eastern Show's for a majority of their annual income. Recognizing their sacrifice, several in the industry reached out to these vendors with the support they needed by purchasing products from them.
At that point, observers realized this had the potential to become a watershed moment in the fight to preserve gun rights.
The tipping-point may have been the National Rifle Association's announcement that it, too, was pulling out. At that point, the matter moved from a widespread ad-hoc protest to a full-out Second Amendment fight.
Now every small exhibitor is faced with the same problem: finding a way to provide without the benefit of the Eastern Show. With Reed's announcing a postponement rather than a cancellation of the event, there are operational questions still unanswered. For example, does a postponement entitle exhibitors to refunds, or freeze money until a show IS held?
Not cancelling the show is probably the right call at this point. Historically, few shows ever cancelled return to their previous levels of attendance or participation.
Meanwhile, other shows across the country are working to get the word out they are not banning any type of firearms from their shows. The Portland Sportsman's Show, the second largest consumer sportsman's show in the country, contacted us with word that they have "no intention of outlawing any legal sporting product from their exhibit floor-and wants the entire industry to know that."
We've learned that at least one other exhibition company is attempting to acquire the Eastern Show from Reed Exhibitions.
And what of Reed's future in the outdoor industry? That's being discussed at the highest levels of the industry. Can a company that has taken (for whatever the reason) a stand against the most popular firearm in America continue to profit from that industry?
The NSSF's SHOT Show is the marquee event in the industry, and Reed is their longtime management partner.
The NSSF's statement on the Eastern Show made it very clear that their "intense, frank discussions" with Reed management in an attempt to change their minds were unsuccessful.
With their refusal to reconsider their policy, Reed essentially, rendered itself toxic in the outdoor industry. That's the reason the NSSF is "considering all options regarding the management of future SHOT events."
Ending the Reed relationship and finding a new SHOT Show management company, despite the difficulties that will cause, seems the only real option at this point.
This controversy has distracted many of the industry's leaders at a critical time in the battle to defeat Congressional efforts to institute restrictive new gun laws. With that legislation now formally having been introduced, the scene shifts from this skirmish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to a full-blown, set-piece political engagement in Washington, D.C.
Hopefully, many of the anti-gun legislators have taken note of the fact that the outdoor community- across the board- has made their position known when it comes to any restrictions on the modern sporting rifle.