Dubious banning of firearms dooms Harrisburg show

By now, I’m sure most folks who are regular readers of our outdoors page are well aware of the cancelation of this year’s Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show scheduled for Feb. 2-10 in Harrisburg.

This event has been around for 50 years and in that time has grown to be the largest consumer hunting and fishing show in the world, attracting around 1,200 vendors from all over North America and 200,000 attendees from throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, so calling off the show creates huge ramifications from several perspectives.

Officially, Reed Exhibitions, the show organizer, has called their decision a postponement, saying they hope be able to reschedule the event “when the time is right.”

The logistics involved with putting on such a massive affair will likely preclude any chance of the show happening this year, and given the highly charged set of circumstances that ultimately caused its cancelation, the chances of Reed presenting this particular event again in years to come don’t look good right now.

This fiasco started on Jan. 15 when Reed announced it would forbid the display and sale of MSRs at this year’s show. In case you don’t know, “MSR” is an acronym for either “military-style rifles” or “modern sporting rifles,” which are intended to be politically fashionable buzzwords for the more sinister-sounding name, “assault rifle.” But all that sematic drivel aside, each of those terms generally refers to semi-automatic rifles styled after current infantry weapons such as the M-16, which are full automatic weapons. And yes, a so-called MSR is what one deranged individual used to commit those unspeakable crimes at a Connecticut school recently.

The backlash to this gun ban was immediate and widespread as many major show vendors and outdoor celebrities scheduled to appear there pulled out in protest. By the middle of last week, the number of vendors who had joined the boycott totaled well over 300 and growing. Apparently unwilling to reconsider their stand, Reed announced their stunning decision last Thursday morning to pull the plug on the show.

Looking at the situation strictly from a business perspective, many things don’t make sense. A statement on the show website, Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas said the decision 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 would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests.”

That is somewhat disingenuous at the very least. MSRs have been displayed and sold at the show for years, but this year the mere presence of such guns would upset many folks attending the show? I think not.

According to one report, Ed Several, general manager of the show, said the MSR ban would have affected just five exhibitors. That would certainly make the presence of MSRs practically miniscule among the vast sea of more than a thousand vendors at the show. Of course, there are some who might believe semi-automatic, military-style rifles have no place at a hunting show. While semi-autos, even in .22-caliber rimfire for small game, aren’t permitted for hunting in Pennsylvania, they are perfectly legal and desirable for hunting in many other states, and that includes the military lookalikes.

That is certainly nothing new, as many of our most popular sporting firearms and cartridges were originally developed for military use. My grandfather carried a bolt-action rifle chambered for .30-06 in World War I; if he were alive today, I think he would be proud to know his oldest grandson has taken every deer of his career with a bolt-action rifle chambered for .30-06.

As a gun owner, hunter and sport shooter, I think I found one line in Reed’s press release announcing its gun ban to be the most unsettling of all: “Clearly, we strongly support the 2nd Amendment.”

What has become abundantly clear is those responsible for the ban do not understand the Second Amendment and what it means to all sensible, law-abiding hunters and shooters.

Not all gun owners are hunters or target shooters, but virtually all hunters and target shooters are gun owners. For most of us, we have little need to draw a line between gun owner, shooter and hunter, but all too often those lines are drawn for us. That’s why I cringe every time I hear a politician or some other gun-control advocate who wants to take another bite out of the Second Amendment say something like, “We don’t want to take guns away from hunters or target shooters.”

As much as I wish it was otherwise, the Second Amendment guarantees us the right to be gun owners, not deer hunters or skeet shooters. Are we really gullible enough to believe the same anti-gun crowd that continues to erode our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms would hesitate to do away with hunting and target gunsif they had the slightest chance?

In simplest terms, that’s why so many hunters and shooters have always been staunch supporters of the Second Amendment as the management of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show apparently just discovered.

Gun-related crime and violence are serious and complex problems for which there are no easy or satisfactory solutions.

I can certainly offer no answers to such brutal and senseless behavior. One thing I am sure of, however, is that responsible, law-abiding gun owners are not a part of those problems, never have been, never will be.