Pennsylvania Outdoor Sports Show Caught In Gun Debate Cross Hairs
The debate over gun rights could cost Pennsylvania businesses tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue because a boycott by vendors starting this weekend at one of the nation's largest hunting and fishing shows has led to the event's indefinite postponement.
Some 200 shops and groups pulled out of the Harrisburg, Pa., event after organizers banned the sale and display of certain types of guns.
Rick Harro is one of the more than 1,000 exhibitors at the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show who will be missing out on sales. For Harro, who sells Gobbler Getter turkey calls for $50 each, that's likely to add up to about $4,000 in lost revenue due to the nine-day hunting and fishing extravaganza's postponement.
"This was my biggest show, and actually we were sort of counting on this to get me to my next couple shows," says Harro.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, the show organizer banned the display of assault weapons at the event. Britain-based Reed Exhibitions would not comment for this story.
The decision led to a boycott that started with a south central Pennsylvania gun shop. Trop Gun Shop was the first vendor to drop out of the show that draws some 250,000 visitors each year. Sales Manager James Diehl says the shop's owner didn't like being told what he could sell, especially because the rifles in question are legal.
Diehl says they had no idea the decision would spawn a movement.
"After we pulled out of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, and we got hundreds upon hundreds of likes on our Facebook page and the industry backed us up by pulling out of the show, subsequently, the business has been brisk," says Diehl.
Diehl says while he feels bad for smaller non-gun-related vendors who may be losing money, he thinks the decision to boycott the show has increased business at the shop.
The semi-automatic AR-15 rifle has been Diehl's hottest seller. It's so in demand there's only one in the shop, and it's spoken for. Diehl says it's popular not only because it was banned from the show but because many fear it will be outlawed if Congress approves new gun-control measures.
Drivers on the interstate outside Harrisburg can still see a billboard advertising the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. And while the advertising is already paid for, the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau estimates some $44 million in direct spending will be lost.
"I cried. I literally cried. I was devastated," says Sharon Altland, the visitors bureau's director of sales.
She says everyone from shuttle bus drivers to Girl Scouts who fundraise during the show could be affected. And she says some businesses may even have to close.
"Quite honestly, I don't know how they're going to survive. There's a lot of vendors that participate in this show that this is their number one show. They only do one show a year," says Atland.
The boycott and show postponement likely won't change any minds about gun control, but its impact will be felt in real dollars across a region where hunting and fishing are a way of life.