By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG — Outdoors enthusiasts were angered Thursday upon learning the Harrisburg-based Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show had been postponed after 25 percent of its vendors pulled out in retaliation for organizers’ ban of assault weapon sales and displays.
The show, scheduled for Feb. 2-10 and one of the largest outdoors events in the nation, was canceled when more than 300 vendors and nearly 50 speakers withdrew after Expo organizer Reed Exhibitions banned the sale and display of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
As a result of the massacre, Reed Exhibitions said, an “emotionally charged atmosphere had been created that would make it impossible to hold an event designed to provide family enjoyment.”
“This is a very sad day,” muttered David Broadt, owner of the Early Bird Sports Expo, which was under way Thursday night in Bloomsburg. “Heck. It’s an outdoors show that involves hunting and hunting involves guns. Once (Reed Exhibitions) start narrowing what can be sold and displayed, it will never stop. The field of weapons available to the public will just keep getting narrower and I’m against that. I’m a believer in the Second Amendment.”
The anger by gun vendors at the Early Bird Sports Expo, held at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds, was noticeable.
Robert Hart, co-owner of RW Hart Inc., of Nescopeck, said he was one of the Harrisburg show boycotters, “because those of us in this business are a small group and we have to stick together, even if it hurts the bottom line. We are slowly losing our rights. That’s what the National Rifle Association is fighting against and we all are standing together, but personally, this really is tough for my business.”
Not having a stand at the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show would cost him 30 to 40 percent of his annual business, Hart said.
“Typically at this show I’ll sell 70 to 100 rifles, so that’s a real hit to me, upwards of $15,000,” he said. “But it’s not just me that’s being hurt. The nearby hotels and businesses that live off this show every year are going to feel it.”
Steve Zimmerman, a gun vendor from Bedford, was outraged at Reed Exhibition’s decision to ban assault weapons.
“I don’t sell those kinds of guns,” he said, “but you should be able to. I’m against the kind of gun control they’re talking about in Washington. As for the Expo, the organizers deserve what’s happened to them, thanks to the vendor boycott. I think a lot of people, not just gun vendors and hunters, are very angry at this attack on the Second Amendment.”
Standing nearby, Joanne and Arthur MacReady, of Milton, were dressed in matching camouflage. They said that although they didn’t see any reason for hunters to want or need assault rifles, they were against their Second Amendment rights to buy them being taken away.
Bob Garrett, who writes an outdoors column for The Daily Item, spoke to Melody Zullinger Schell, who works closely with the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. Schell characterized the Reed announcement as “possibly the biggest bone-head move of the year.”
Garrett also spoke to show vendor Mike Martz of Martz’s Gap View Game Farm, in Dalmatia.
“Among my earliest and fondest memories is going to the outdoor show with my father,” he said.
Martz was outspoken in his criticism of Reed for its ban on assault weapons. “We support the NRA, and we support gun ownership by law-abiding citizens.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-10, Cogan Station, said he was “extremely disappointed in Reed’s stance of prohibiting the display or sale of many kinds of modern sporting rifles at the 2013 show and the subsequent decision to postpone the show indefinitely.”
In his statement, Marino added: “These decisions .... threaten 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.”
More than 1,200 vendors participate in the annual show, which is held at the Harrisburg Farm Show building. It routinely attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the country.