Friday, April 19, 2013

National Rifle Association is taking over the Eastern Sports & Outdoors Show

The National Rifle Association next year will run a new show at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg to replace the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.

Scheduled to run Feb. 1-9, which is about when the Eastern show traditionally was held, the Great American Outdoor Show will be bigger and better than its predecessor, according to the NRA.

"Next February ... the place to be if you're an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman, if you're a family that's interested in the outdoor sports, the place to be will be Harrisburg, Pennsylvania," said David Keene, president of the NRA. 

"This is going to become a national show with implications way beyond the borders of this state and this county, and it's going to attract people from all over the country — not just next year but for years to come."

Keene said the show will include country music concerts, national speakers and conferences, all to be held after show hours.

The desire to expand the show is what made the NRA rise above the 16 other promoters who applied to the state Department of Agriculture, which owns the Farm Show Complex, to take over the show, according to Jeff Haste, chairman of the Dauphin County commissioners.

"Going through the proposals, there clearly was one vendor that stood out from the rest," Haste said. "There was one producer who looked at the show as a reason to be here."

That applicant was the NRA, Haste said.

"Having been the host of this show for over 60 years, here in Dauphin County, it's become a tradition of ours," he said. "It has been something that has driven our economy."

When Reed Exhibitions, which owns the Eastern show, canceled this year's event, Haste said, it "was like a stock market crash — our own economy took a crash right there. It had over an $80 million economic impact to our citizens." 

Reed canceled the show after hundreds of vendors and celebrities boycotted the event, due to a rule imposed by Reed just three weeks prior to its scheduled start on Feb. 2.

Under that rule, Reed banned the sale and display of semiautomatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines — both of which can be legally bought and sold in Pennsylvania.

Reed officials indicated such products might have created a distraction at the show, given the political turmoil in the wake of the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a man carrying a semiautomatic rifle.

One of the first exhibitors to pull out of the Eastern show and to denounce Reed's actions as an attack on the Second Amendment was Lancaster Archery Supply.

Owner Rob Kaufhold said Tuesday he was pleased to hear the NRA would be taking over the show, and he said Lancaster Archery will exhibit at the new event.

"The whole reason for the boycott was there was someone running the show that obviously was working against the interests and core beliefs of sportsmen — those of us that believe in the Second Amendment," he said.

"The NRA is very good at organizing sportsmen and gun people."

Keene promised "all legal firearms and products" will be allowed to be displayed and sold at the Great American Outdoor Show.

That was good news to Joe Keffer's ears.

Keffer owns The Sportsman's Shop in New Holland. He said he was directly affected by Reed's weapons ban.

The Sportsman's Shop had planned to sell semiautomatic rifles at the Eastern show.

"I'm looking forward to it," Keffer said of the NRA-led show. "At this moment in time, it would be our intent to pursue space at the show."

And if the show grows under the NRA, that's even better, he said.

"Anything you can do to make it bigger and better — I'm all for that," he said. "If they bring in more people, we can sell more stuff."

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