Despite the indefinite postponement of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, which had been scheduled to open today, Jaffa Shrine Chairman Rex Johnsonbaugh said the Jaffa Shrine is standing firm and organizers will not restrict any vendors at its annual sports show, scheduled for Feb. 22-24.
"As a person, as a Shrine, we fully believe in our constitutional rights, no matter what they are," Johnsonbaugh said. "We are in full support of the Second Amendment of the Constitution."
"Our agenda is already set. ... We don't worry about the rest of the sports show groups," he said.
Mirror file photo by Gary M. Baranec
Mike Bollinger from Big Sky Outfitters based in Broadus, Mont., answers questions about hunting trips to his state for muledeer last February during the Jaffa Shrine Center’s annual outdoors show.
Two weeks ago Reed Exhibitions, the England-based events company that organizes the Harrisburg show, the largest outdoor show in America, at the Farm Show Complex, unexpectedly announced a ban on the sale and display of military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
The company's President for the Americas Chet Burchett told news outlets the decision was "simply a product decision" to preserve a focus on hunting and fishing and prevent negative attention.
Reed's Senior Vice President Ed Several said the decision was made in consideration of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and ongoing gun control debate.
"We thought, 'Let's take a break for a year,'" he said.
The ban would have affected only five vendors out of 1,200, according to several sources.
But vendors didn't see it as a "product decision" and threatened a boycott. Within days, more than a fifth of the show's 1,200 vendors had pulled out, and on Jan. 24, Reed announced the postponement.
Mirror outdoors columnist Walt Young said although military-style semi-automatic rifles aren't permitted for hunting in Pennsylvania, hunters from other states use them, and the boycott was more about taking a stand on gun rights.
"It hit a real nerve," Young said.
He added the Harrisburg show's postponement "might be a death knell" for that event and it would take a long time for Reed Exhibitions to heal its wounds and draw vendors and attendees back to the show.
Johnsonbaugh said the Jaffa show's gun exhibitors represent only a small number of the more than 130 vendors. About half of the vendors are hunting- or firearm-related though, he said.
"Our show is geared toward our community and "involves multiple types of outdoorsmen, including hunters, fishers and campers, he said.
A National Rifle Association spokesperson will be attending the show to present seminars about the group and issues facing hunters and gun owners.
Johnsonbaugh said he expects to draw 14,000 people to the show, and said many attendees decide to come back later to explore the region.
While having one fewer competitor might be a good thing, he said he wishes the Harrisburg show was still happening.
"On a personal level, it's a shame, No. 1, that [Reed] took that standpoint, but also that things are changing" and influencing companies like Reed to make the decisions they did.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.