Sports show won't go on Controversy over ban on assault weapons stops it
BY P.J. REILLY, Staff Writer
The Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show has been postponed indefinitely this year.
Citing the growing controversy over show organizer Reed Exhibitions' decision to ban from the event assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, company officials announced Thursday that the show scheduled for Feb. 2-10 at the State Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg will not go on.
"It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment," said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions president for the Americas.
"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."
Owners of two Lancaster County companies that historically have exhibited at the show said Reed's decision to postpone the event was both good and bad.
"This is not good for anyone, because the Eastern Sports show was so popular," said Rob Kaufhold, owner of Lancaster Archery Supply, which had been a show exhibitor for more than 20 years.
"It did show the resolve the sportsmen's community has to be willing to make; a short-term sacrifice for the long-term good of the Second Amendment."
Joe Keffer, owner of The Sportsman's Shop in New Holland, said he's "not celebrating anything about this decision. I'm glad the solidarity of the industry was shown. I think that should send a strong message that we are together.
"However, I am saddened to see the show damaged. It had become such an important piece of the industry."
Lancaster Archery Supply and The Sportsman's Shop were among the more than 200 exhibitors and celebrities lined up to appear at this year's show who announced they were pulling out after Reed decided to ban from the show the sale and display of AR-style guns and ammunition magazines capable of holding 30 rounds or more.
Such guns and accessories have become the focal point of an intense debate over gun control in the U.S. in the wake of the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a gunman armed with an AR-15 and a high-capacity magazine.
"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," Burchett said.
"In the current climate, we felt that the presence of (modern sporting rifles) 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."
Kaufhold, Keffer and others said the ban was a slap to the Second Amendment.
Congressman Tom Marino, who represents a swath of northcentral and northeast Pennsylvania just north of Harrisburg, blamed Reed for threatening "the future success of this event, that provides tremendous economic benefits throughout Pennsylvania, generating an estimated $74 million in revenues for exhibitors, small businesses, and not-for-profits."
Reed billed the show as the largest hunting and fishing event in North America. It featured about 1,200 exhibitors, the biggest celebrities in hunting, fishing and the shooting sports, and drew hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Reed sent a letter to all show exhibitors Thursday informing them the company will be providing refunds "for all fees paid to date (January 24, 2013) to Reed Exhibitions for the 2013 Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show," the letter states. "We will detail the refund process on our web site and in an additional email by January 31, 2013."
It's unclear if the company plans to refund money only to exhibitors or advance ticket holders, or to both.
Some exhibitors paid $10,000 and up to rent space at the show. General admission tickets cost $14 for adults.
Reed officials did not return a reporter's phone calls for comment.
Kaufhold and Keffer both said they are worried about the future of the show.
Keffer doesn't think this year's event was postponed. He thinks it's canceled.
"It would be very difficult for them to try to reorganize another show for this year and get anyone to come," he said.
Kaufhold said there's only one correct next move for Reed, which both owns and organizes the Harrisburg show.
"I think they should sell the show," he said. "The Eastern Sports show brand right now is damaged.
"We, the sportsmen, allowed Reed to build a terrific event that was not built on values consistent with our own.
"Now we need another company to come in and build a new show that stands firmly behind the Second Amendment."
"This is not good for anyone, because the Eastern Sports show was so popular."
Lancaster Archery Supply