Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — A growing list of vendors, more than 200 as of midday Wednesday, have pulled out of the popular Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show — set to open Feb. 2 in Harrisburg, Pa. — because modern or military-style sporting rifles will not be shown or sold.
In a statement on its website announcing its withdrawal, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation called the decision “detrimental to the Second Amendment and our right as Americans to bear arms” and pointed out that the firearms being eliminated are legal.
Over the years, the show has been a popular winter destination for Cumberland area hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts.
“I’ve been there the past five years, but there’s no sense going if a lot of vendors are leaving,” said Jerry Zembower, president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association. “I really wouldn’t be going to see the banned firearms anyway.”
The show’s organizer, Reed Exhibitions, said in a statement on the show’s website: “As a hunting-focused event, we welcome exhibitors who wish to showcase products and firearms that serve the traditional needs of the sport. Clearly, we strongly support the Second Amendment. However, this year we have made the decision not to include certain products that in the current climate may attract negative attention that would distract from the strong focus on hunting and fishing at this family-oriented event and possibly disrupt the broader positive experience of our guests.”
The “current climate” referenced by Reed refers to firearms legislation being considered at the federal and state levels following the mass murder of school children and teachers at Newtown, Conn., in December.
According to the website mynortheastoutdoors.com, big names associated with hunting merchandise have withdrawn, including Cab-elas, Hoyt Archery, Cody Turkey Calls, Excalibur Crossbows, Foxpro Game Calls, Hevi-Shot, Hunter Specialties, Outdoor Edge Knives, Primos Hunting Calls, Smith and Wesson, Thompson Center Arms and Leupold & Stevens.
Organizations that have withdrawn in support of the Second Amendment include National Rifle Association, International Bowhunting Organization and National Wild Turkey Federation.
Outdoor television personalities have joined the boycott as well, including Lee and Tiffany Lakosky of “The Crush,” Jim and Eva Shockey of “Jim Shockey Outdoors,” and Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo of “Archers Choice.”
In addition, numerous guides and outfitters have bailed out.
The protest has a Facebook presence at Boycott the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.
Veteran Frostburg hunter Joe Mills, an officer of the Western Maryland Chapter of NWTF, said, “I can’t speak for the chapter, but I’m concerned that my Second Amendment rights are being threatened. ... I’m very disappointed that the show that makes its money from gun owners isn’t willing to support us.”
Mills said this will be the first time he has not attended the show in 27 years.
Bonnie Friend of Accident works the show annually for Raven Wear of Canada, the company that sells the Convert-A-Muff hand warmer she designed. Friend said she was waiting Wednesday to hear from the owners.
Dave Ragantesi, a regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, told the Times-News that the organization will set up its display and elk-calling contest at Bass Pro Shop in Harrisburg after receiving an invitation from that company.
Ragantesi said the foundation would be there “at least during the weekends of the sport show and possibly more.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation reported that it will reschedule its sanctioned calling contest once a suitable venue is found.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has not been an exhibitor at the show for about a decade, according to an agency spokesman.
The Maryland Office of Tourism Development said Wednesday it would honor its committment to attend the show.
“We have always received an enthusiastic crowd at our booth during the show that is very interested in all that Maryland offers to the traveling public from our mountains to the ocean,” said spokeswoman Connie Yingling, who added that the tourism office fully supports hunting and fishing in Maryland.
“The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show attracts consumers from our core regional market, and gives us an opportunity to interact one-on-one with visitors looking to return to favorite Maryland vacation spots and with potential visitors looking to discover something new.”
A Maryland company, Ultimate Camo, Damascus, an official corporate sponsor of the NRA, has withdrawn.
“We’ve gone to Harrisburg five of the last six years, but we won’t be going back as long as Reed is in charge,” owner Andy Cuttitta told the Times-News. “We’ll be at the NRA-sponsored show in Frederick this weekend and I’m hearing there will be protesters there on both sides of the (gun) issue.”
A.J. Fleming of Swanton, president of the Mountain Maryland Chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association, said he supports the organization’s decision to avoid the Harrisburg show.
In a statement posted Wednesday afternoon on its website, QDMA reported, “Until yesterday afternoon, we remained hopeful that Reed Exhibitions would reconsider its position,” said Brian Murphy, CEO. “This opportunity disappeared yesterday when Reed defiantly refused to change its position or compromise in any way.”
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.